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Against an Increasingly User-Hostile Web (neustadt.fr)
1307 points by livatlantis on Nov 2, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 503 comments

This is a good an informative essay.

However, there's another element of "user-hostile" that I didn't see addressed (maybe I missed it in my haste?) -- that is the websites trying to control exactly how the content is consumed by the user.

It seems increasingly that web content is being delivered in video form. That itself is hostile to some people. Some of us want the freedom to read (or scan quickly). But many of the providers of "content" know they have little to provide, so they drag it out in video form, saving the actual information for the last 10% of the video (if ever!) This I find incredibly hostile, and it makes me eventually abandon that source as a matter of principle. Then there are javascript-jacked sites, sites that are unbearably slow and clunky because of a mix of javascript/ads. I won't mention any specific sites, but I stopped reading one similar to Mired.com long ago for that reason.

This problem isn't just limited to the web though. If you're unfortunate enough to see modern television (or movies, for that matter), it's clear that the amount of content has gone down, the noise has gone up, and the efforts to lock the audience in have increased.

There are some people who advocate avoiding all news and media. I think it's a bit extreme, but it may be more beneficial than harmful.

I'm with you on this. Honestly at this point, if the information is only contained within a video, I skip it and move on[1]. (I usually leave video in the browser crippled, only turning it on when I actually want to watch something.)

[1] The trend of support docs for enterprise software going video is horrible, stupid, and a negative mark when I'm evaluating products. If someone has to spend hours of eyebleed rewinding some bullshit video over and over while writing actually usable documentation for incident response, of course that cost is part of the cost of the product in question.

My office provides a license for Pluralsight. I have found some courses with high quality content and interesting information, and it's really useful to have it all in one place. BUT, especially with programming, I find video to be a really challenging medium. It's so much more useful to scan for things you don't know or context of examples and spend some time digesting, or just playing around with sample code. Not everyone can learn at the same rate and text is great for allowing people to learn at their own pace. I really wish they provided a full text log of video caption instead of requiring the content to be consumed solely in video. Udemy suffers from this as well. I might as well look up the info on youtube.

One thing I loved about RailsCasts was that I could watch the video and then go back to an ASCIICast to actually review the source if I needed to implement something like it. While I don't do rails development anymore I truly miss the days of cutting my teeth on the web with Ryan.

I love the transcripts that Pluralsight provides to go with the videos. I use them after I have watched the video to find the section I'm interested in. I only actually noticed them when another staff member pointed them out to me, but they're available from the course details page.

Oh wow, you're right! I hadn't seen that before, that's exciting. Thanks for the info!

I find the best mix is talks with slides, and that way you can see the slides along with the text (if the text is even needed). Often I'll just go through the slides by themselves without the talk. Good presenters often have slides that can be followed on their own.

With one exception: text editors. Videos on Vim are genuinely helpful, especially those recorded with software displaying keystrokes. You get to see an experienced programmer and his editor workflow, things that he now does from muscle memory and he may take for granted.

Same here. I simply hate sites with videos and no related text content/summary. I’ve noticed that especially news sites are increasingly employing this “feature”. I assume the main reason for this is that can force you to watch the 20-30s video ad. There is no way of avoiding it other than opening a new tab and doing something else for 30s... what a waste of life time

Yes, I noticed it on news sites as well. Every minor article is accompanied by a video, which would be fine if it was an actual video with meaningful content, but it's usually a slideshow with a few quotes, which renders the whole video format useless and doesn't contribute to the article at all.

Of course I understand that they want ad impressions and I'm guessing the shortened attention span of users favors videos over text, but if you want to train users to simply skip those low quality, low effort videos without purpose that's one way to do it.

I still remember the first time I saw a pre-roll ad on YouTube, and the first time I saw one in the mobile app. For years, the thing that separated YouTube from the other video sites was that it didn't have these video ads that got in your way. Then they ran out of new land to conquer and I guess they decided to milk what they had.

What would be a better solution for ensuring the video's producers continue to receive funding to make more videos?

I don't want people who produce videos like that to continue to make videos. I want them to go out of business.

That's not really fair. Those people are simply using the current rules to their advantage to help them make a living.

That is entirely fair. You are not entitled to a business model, especially not to a business model that is malicious.

I don't like this stereotyped answer but isn't this what "move fast and break things" was supposed to be about?

Why did we become afraid to diverge from the norm and trends on the internet? From a consumer standpoint, uniformisation makes content parsing easier in the sense that you know what to expect and how to compare content more readily but why do people not go on a limb and take more "risk" in differentiating content? Why don't we have a glorious mess of different formats and the opportunity to choose medium?

At some point I believe A/B testing and optimising for reachability put a negative pressure on variation from the norm and platform standards, and that's a tragedy of the commons.

> Why did we become afraid to diverge from the norm and trends on the internet?

Because “we” wanted to get rich, or at least make a living.

Well we can't all make a living as authors or librarians. Ads supported this delusion for a while but historically most people trying to live from their creativity/written work (or modernly, video work) have actually starved to death.

If you're in it to get rich or to mke a living exclusively from your art, you better be good enough rather than expecting a sense of duty from your public to subsidise your effort.

Not to say one shouldn't be incentivised to be creative, but just that I do not agree that wanting to make a living makes ads or extracting value from your public by all means ok.

> makes ads or extracting value from your public by all means ok

Certainly not by all means. But it isn't unreasonable to expect that if people gain value from something you create, some of that value accrues to you as the creator.

I make most of my living as a freelance writer, but I just charge other people to write the content they can't or won't.

There is also another problem here: the market doesn't typically incentivize the sort of content we'd like to see created. Long form investigative journalism is hugely expensive, and in a world awash with free content, few people think they should have to pay for it. But do we really want to see that sort of content go away?

The use-case you describe as freelance writer or proper investigative journalism is the one place I expect targeted (and author curated) advertising to be able to pay the bills in the ideal market-fit theory. If as an author and "provider of opinions" you can't convince commercial actors in your niche to funnel value to you, I'd argue you shouldn't be writing non-fiction commercialy.

And in this not strictly commercial writing context, I believe client side mining may be a good form of low-commitment compensation.

I think the point is we don't want them to continue making videos.

Not to be facetious, but I'd really prefer there to be fewer drawn-out videos of the nature described in the posts above. The issue of payment for content is of course real though.

Mining cryptocurrencies while the current tab is in the foreground. (supposing a suitable GPU/ASIC-proof cryptocurrency is available)

What is with the huge percentage of users here that think this sort of thing is okay?

Because the bitcoin bubble has expanded so much and tech people like to think they should all be millionaires now. Greed.

I think it’s ok because I think it’s unreasonable to expect site owners to provide content free of charge: people hate paywalls and ads/tracking because they prevent access to content, add unwanted content and/or infringe on the user’s privacy. An automatic cryptocurrency micropayment system (like the Brave browser’s BAT system, if I understand correctly) could be designed to address some or all of these problems without making it impossible to monetize your content.

So in other words, site owners are entitled to an income?

Pish posh. Not everything on the web is worth paying for. The content that is worth money will draw subscribers, and content producers are going to just have to live up to the fact that not all of what they produce is worth paying for.

Amen. If people aren't willing to pay for your content, then it's literally not worth paying for. You're still welcome to create it and distribute it for free. If you don't care that much, others probably don't either and we'll all be better off with less crap content swirling around out there.

The ad model has left us mired in a suffocating heap of crap content people claim has "value" because they're able to hack the system and get ad revenue from it. But in reality the content is secondary and just an excuse for the ads.

Well, I'm entitled to use my processors as I see fit, which means not visiting sites that try to run bitcoin miners.

It's not my responsibility to make sure some website I go to gets monetized. It's especially galling to me because I spent many formative years providing content to people for free, just because I wanted to and because I had an interest in it. In my personal opinion, all the people trying to ride the wave of monetizing their content should go run off and jump on that "new thing", whatever it is, as long as it's not the web.

> people hate paywalls .... An automatic cryptocurrency micropayment system

and yet they are willing to expend more electricity, at a huge inefficiency, to produce vastly less monetary value to the site. I would rather just pay the 1cent.

Yes the inefficiency in mining coins and the hefty fees impact the game theoretic value of this method but it doesn't mean there is no value in that form of compensation.

If the choice is between a barren wasteland of providers removing useful content from open access or waiting on 1% of users to subsidise the rest or giving the option to users to pay while they're accessing content, I'll take some form of choice to put my hardware to use for a while if thay eventually pays for hosting and a couple meals to the admin.

I think we agree that this does not work at scale but for small operators and some niches, I'm convinced this is a safe option for the siteowner not to have to mess with a payment processor and personnaly identifiable information.

This last point especially might become more important with the EU regulations on the horizon.

The inefficiency makes it too unprofitable to even bother with it for small actors. What am I going to do with the fraction of a fraction of a cent my homepage mines over one year?

I may be in a minority, but I believe the incentives of this method are "better" for the spirit of the open web, and I for one am prepared for the low revenue if it means this ideology may perdure.

The motivation is not to use *coins for their own sake, but that the alternative is getting scarier everyday.

Yeah, the incentives are better, to be sure. Personally, I just don't like the implementation. I see current cryptocurrencies as a huge and completely unnecessary waste of energy. I don't like waste, but the concept of paying with computational resources isn't bad per se, IMO, and definitely better than paying with my attention (and then again with the data the site collected on me).

[0] - in the days of energy crisis, when we can't even switch to safer sources fast enough not to risk cooking ourselves on this planet.

It is rude to use people's property without asking[1]. I blackholed DNS for two sites who do this.

[1] I'd be OK with it if they prominently indicated that, how and why they were being electricity vampires. I still wouldn't use them, but at least it wouldn't be dishonest.

Playing a video without my consent, even if that is an implicit contract (i.e. lead advertising video) to watch content I want, is inherently dishonest.

The goal as always is to divert my attention, sell me something of dubious value or some other equally vacuous purpose.

If it pays the bills for worthwhile content producers to mine crypto currency as a form of micropayment, I think that's a better trade with lower psychic cost.

I have managed to make periods in my life completely free from unwanted content, and they are blissful compared to the never ending attention grabbing bs of the advertising and public relations engines of modern industry.

They are simply a waste of people's time and energy.

If crypto-mining is done openly, of course. It's certainly dishonest if it's not disclosed.

Consider it from the site-owner’s perspective: if I visit someone’s site and if they are using the content on that site as a source of income, isn’t it rude for me to consume that content without paying for it? Ads and tracking have well-known trade-offs cryptocurrency mining have other tradeoffs but, in the end, might end up to be a better option.

Also, I’m conceiving of this more as a web API browsers can implement that sites can tap into than as a chunk of JavaScript that a site pushes to its users. So, arguably, you’d have consented to this scheme by installing the browser and enabling the feature.

Not if you do the equivalent of hanging a sign on the front door saying "please come in". Which I would argue is the equivalent of what you are doing by putting your content on a communication protocol designed to make it freely available.

Indeed, such behavior is reminiscent of one of the oldest tourist scams in the book, no doubt experienced by anyone who has traveled the world in any amount.

That is to say, the mark is offered something for free, usually some trivial trinket, or a photo, or something like that. The mark believes it is for free and accepts it. Once the mark has accepted the "free" item, then the scammer changes tune and implies that they should be paid for this exchange, playing on the marks feelings of guilt, obligations and fairness.

Apparently this is now a respectable internet business model. Hah!

I believe the general thought here is more to have the mining (and content) behind a good old paywall, featuring prominently your different options, with "mine for access" just one of the available options.

Well, implemented that way it would be honest. I'll happily commend people doing that even though personally, I would most likely not use their site (and especially the cryptocoin option, which is a hure resource waste).

Honesty breeds honesty. I disable ad blocking on sites that ask nicely and don't spam with ads too much.

sure and drain the whole battery on my smartphone/laptop while I watch that video? thanks but no thanks.

The browser could throttle the cc mining based on your battery level/power state. In theory, your device could even mine while charging and then distribute the mined tokens later.

Or you could distribute tokens mined from a computer that's plugged in somewhere, or even purchased with normal currency. But I'm not sure I'd want to navigate a web where I'm constantly making purchase decisions with every hyperlink.

so why bother with additional steps (and cryptocurrency) instead of just pay with real money from the beginning? you are suggesting to introduce just additional unnecessary steps.

Some kind of micropayment system would be ok with me, but the nice thing about a system that doesn’t use real money is that it doesn’t factor into my budget in the same way.

how could it not use real money (i.e, it has no monetary value), and yet be an acceptable form of payment?

so I could not get access to content if my battery is low and I cannot mine cc ? or would I get access with "credit" so I would need to return "load" later?

I’m not sure, I’m just sketching out a solution to content monetization that might solve problems with current monetization schemes.

I understand, I just wanted to show that there are lots of implications and it’s not that easy to solve.

That's even scummier than most of the ad targeting stuff out there.

This is going to be very easy to block: disable processing after page-load, block the most popular cryptomining JS scripts...


Yeah personally I learn much faster and better by reading than via most videos. You can't keyword search a video, with text documentation I can keyword search within the page to find out exactly what I'm looking for.

Another problem I have with videos is that I can't go at my own pace---I'm stuck at the pace of the speaker. Some videos I'll watch at 2.5x speed, but the speaker may speed up and slow down at times.

With text, I can speed-read, slowing down at key points as needed. And if it's a text I want to devote more study/attention to, then can print it (which facilitates speed reading as well.)

Exactly. There are obviously use cases for video - which you can't present in text. Visual tours of architecture, nature, machines, etc. - or other kinds of visual information.

But for facts - reading is simply superior.

What sometimes works, if it is wellmade, is a mixed presentation: text, pictures and video, where you can controll the pace of information. But I seldom see something like this wellmade.

It's not just pace, but order. If someone presents information out of the order you need it in a video, it gets really awkward to consume. If text is out of order, you can easily skip around and re-read portions.

I have this problem with books vs movies too. I find all but the best made movies less immersive than books. With books, my brain and eyes are the engine pushing plot forward. I by definition need to catch all that is happening.

I'm with you on this. Honestly at this point, if the information is only contained within a video, I skip it and move on

Same, and I've noticed this trend for quite a while now. Text can always be trivially copied, even by a granny, and inserted into an email or forum. A video? You can have a DRM arms race with video.

Videos also prevent skimming, and demand consumption of all content.

> even by a granny

Please don't use this as a substitute for "novice computer user" and similar. I've encountered people twice my age with grandchildren who are experts, and people younger than me who are novices.

I have found that grannies have a much higher understanding if the terms privacy and 'I have nothing to hide'

Right, they’re notable exceptions to a trend, aka outliers.

Why is reinforcing that stereotype important to you?

“When did you stop beating your wife.”

I never beat her. The question you were aiming for is "Do you still hit your wife?"

It demands a yes/no answer and thus always appears to be an admission of guilt. Your question leaves it open to answer any way you like.

Your answer still works for your formulation of the question, "I never hit her."

It's not that it's a true Catch 22, it's just leading and begs the question.

> Videos also prevent skimming, and demand consumption of all content.

To an advertiser, that's a feature. This is half of the problem.

As someone who reluctantly works in advertising, I can tell you that advertiser's view themselves as God's gift to the internet and think they're doing great things for it. So many people in the industry have drunk the coolaid and honestly, earnestly think that exploiting anyone they can for information just started to to make an add ever so slightly more (creepily) personalised is a good thing.

They need to be put back in their box and have a bunch of their toys taken away. GDPR is a good start.

And that's why I keep repeating that advertisers are enemies of users, and - from the POV of users - malicious actors. They literally benefit from making life difficult for you and wasting the finite amount of time you have on this planet.

This needs to get into people's head - as long as the incentives are so misaligned, there's no chance for peace here.

> But many of the providers of "content" know they have little to provide, so they drag it out in video form, saving the actual information for the last 10% of the video (if ever!)

0:00 - 00:10 Useless video animation

00:10-2:00 "Hey guys welcome to my channel. Make sure to like and subscribe and let me know how I'm doing in the comments. Also make sure to check out [sponsor] and use coupon code [code] for 10% off"

2:00-5:00 Useless personal story about why creator is making the video

5:00-10:00 Useless history of the subject matter

10:00-11:00 The actual useful content

There was always a lot of high quality content on the web, created and shared not with the intent of making money. This still exists but is crowded out by people incentivized to make content to monetize it ie the old publishing model.

This now makes up the bulk of 'content' and is heavily monetized and driven by monetization where the 'content creators' have a more intimate relationship with advertisers and platforms to essentially sell out their audience ie back to the old media model of 'influencers'.

The content is also derivative and repetitive but easier to access and consume. Thanks to the monetization the presentation and production values are higher. There is definitely some decent content produced by this model but it becomes harder and harder to find.

There is a certain desperation to capitalism that infects everything. Sell, sell, sell, make money, forget everything else unless it affects your ability to make money, and it becomes the primary driver.

> There is a certain desperation to capitalism that infects everything

I just quoted you on twitter as I think that expresses very well how I feel. Underlying capitalism is the thought that if you fail you'll starve.

But (and bringing this back to the original topic) the businesses behind the web have gone even further. It's not sufficient to make money, you must make ALL the money you can ALL of the time. This leads to the behaviour as discussed in the article - no regard for how you are treating your customers/fellow human beings, just get rich, and by winning you justify your shitty actions. This is probably nothing new, robber barons have been around for a long time, but it now seems to be standard practice for all businesses, especially web-based ones who don't directly deal with people.

This is what the bulk of Meditations on Moloch[0] is about - under competitive pressure, if you can forgo a value in order to get ahead, you outcompete those not willing to do so. Iterate over it, and you can see how competition gradually throws all values under the bus, until all that remains is the money-making core.

(I like to sometimes phrase it as "the market optimizes for creating the most useless thing that you can still trick people into buying".)


[0] - http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/07/30/meditations-on-moloch/

meditations on moloch seems to include several false premises. eg, in the fish farming scenario, it neglects the obvious: libertarian pacts are created to recognize property rights, which would yield a libertarian response to defectors - they're stealing productive capacity of the lake, ergo they're initiating a conflict.

Property rights themselves are a coordination problem - i.e. why should one respect the property rights of others when it benefits one to ignore them?

In real world, we solve this the usual way - by having a government enforce them.

I often feel this way about podcasts. Many great podcasts have a 0:30 intro, 1:30 of ads then 08:00 of random babble before getting into 5:00 of the meat of the podcast. The most recent one I can think of is 99% Invisible, though they're not even close to the only ones that do it.

Podcasts are following the same pattern as other media. I think it's a vicious cycle. The medium starts out with a few ads, at a higher price. Once the novelty wears off and people are used to seeing these ads, they can't fetch as much money. So the publishers start shoving more and more in, driving up the ad saturation and driving down the value (and income) from each ad.

I've been listening to podcasts since about 2010, and in that time I've witnessed podcasts that used to be ad-free jump on the Blue Apron / Stamps.com / Dollar Shave Club bandwagon. First they started with a little sponsored ad at the end of the show. Then one at the beginning. Then one commercial break. Then multiple commercial breaks. It's the same downward spiral that television went through and it's absolutely painful to watch it happen and be powerless to do anything. Maybe I should have done a better job of supporting those podcasts; I did donate to many of them. But I envision a time in the future where I'll no longer be able to feel good about listening.

There are podcasts like that, but I admit I am strange because all my favourite podcasts are multiple hours long, getting really deep into the content. Jocos podcasts, which doesn't really have ads other than for his own products, fx are often more than 3 hours, Dan Carlins Hardcore History is typically that long per episode, but often they are also part of a series, like his 5 episodes on the first world war (probably about 20 hours).

This. Exactly this. I don't get why anyone would listen to a podcast with ads and/or bad information density.

I mean, the whole point (and value) of podcasts is to remove the private radio station crap, not to replicate it.

BTW, the German podcast scene is a quite positive example of the directions podcasts can go.

To be fair, a lot of podcasts have ads, but ads aren't what I'm objecting to. The modern web doesn't suck because of ads. It sucks because of the technologies around ensuring you look at the ads, around sharing your behaviors as you look at the ads, etc.

Any podcast player I can imagine anyone would ever use has a convenient way to skip ads, and the neither the presence of the ads themselves nor my decision to skip them degrades the experience of listening to the podcast. My podcast player doesn't demand I look at Forbes' "thought of the day" or disable my fast-forward button in order to play. It doesn't connect to 280 random third-party tracking domains as I listen to an episode. It downloads a file and plays that file for me.

Who really cares that much about ads that don't track you or destroy your experience?

> and the neither the presence of the ads themselves nor my decision to skip them degrades the experience of listening to the podcast

I beg to differ.

I see the ability to skip ads immediately, at any time, as a fundamental user right (and websites that try to deny this right should be prosecute by consumer protection). In other words, this is not the distinction between good versus bad quality. It is the distinction between merely acceptable versus totally inacceptable.

With regard to quality, it is a huge jump upwards if a podcast has no ads at all, nowhere, not even hidden or implicit. It is a really noticeable difference if the whole audio simply doesn't care about pleasing any stakeholder besides its audience.

I cannot agree with this sentiment. You're basically demanding that these creators work for you, for free.

If you choose to skip the ads, then how should the creators be compensated for the content that you consumed?

"With regard to quality, it is a huge jump upwards if a podcast has no ads at all, nowhere, not even hidden or implicit. It is a really noticeable difference if the whole audio simply doesn't care about pleasing any stakeholder besides its audience."

You know what else is a huge jump in quality? Actually being able to continue to do the show.

Nobody is entitled to a business model. If ads don't work for your users, find one that does (I hear people have some success with Patronite these days, for example). If there is none, then maybe it isn't good to try to make a business out of it in the first place.

There's way too much "content" these days anyway, and the worst of it is the one that is done to make money (as opposed to labour of love, or having external funding independent of content's performance - like patronage, being considered a "marketing expense", etc.).

> I hear people have some success with Patronite these days

Moreover, direct donations [1] are working quite well, at least for the popular podcasts. (But then, only the very popular podcasts make a fortune anyway.)

Here in Germany, SEPA standing orders are quite popular for fans to support their favourites.

Also, buying stuff and sending that to the Podcasters is quite popular for some formats (either specialized stuff like high-quality chocolate from people working in that business, or just buying random stuff from a podcaster's Amazon wishlist.)

[1] Well, legally this is still plain income rather than donations, so you still have to pay taxes. Unless, of course, that income is very small and/or you create a non-profit organization around your podcast.

You're saying this like you're entitled to the content, though. You're not. And quite frankly, I find taking the content without supporting the creator to be much, much worse than you consider ads to be.

Either talk about something you care about a lot and do it for the love, or remember you're competing against students doing this for the fun or as an exercise.

> My podcast player doesn't demand I look at Forbes' "thought of the day" or disable my fast-forward button in order to play. It doesn't connect to 280 random third-party tracking domains as I listen to an episode.


There's an easy-to-imagine scenario where advertisers bribe podcast playing software creators to embed these "features" for a cut of the money.

What are some podcasts from Germany (in German or English) that you would recommend?

but main question is how to monetize this content ... it seems patreon is the only option?

Do you mean podcasts in German or by Germans? If the latter, any good suggestions?

Omega Tau - a Science and Engineering Podcast is fantastic:


Long episodes, such as 2 hours interviewing a physicist at ITER are really well done.

And of course: (all German language)

- CRE Technik, Kultur, Gesellschaft https://cre.fm/

- Deutschlandfunk Nova - Eine Stunde History https://www.deutschlandfunknova.de/eine-stunde-history

- Methodisch Inkorrekt http://minkorrekt.de/

- Raumzeit https://raumzeit-podcast.de/

- Logbuch Netzpolitik https://logbuch-netzpolitik.de/ (prefer the episodes where they have guests)

If you're on iOS you should try my Podcast client, SkipCast. http://skipcast.net/ The marquee feature and indeed, the app's name, is for this exact reason. Large buttons make skipping much faster and accurate that other players, letting you get to the content you want faster. It's also got Skip Silence to eliminate extended moments of dead-air.

This is why I stopped listening to back to work. There were useful tidbits, but I didn’t want to wade through an hour of random drivel to get to it.

You forgot the trailer asking you to subscribe, with some clickable areas, and optional "bonus content at the end" :)

Makes it harder to estimate where the information in the video is.

> 0:00 - 00:10 Useless video animation

I'm happy when it's only useless. It's often useless and loud.

That's because it's an unconditioned stimulus (classical conditioning theory). If you repeatedly watch their videos, and like them, you'll start to associate their intro animation with the content you like, and you'll like the intro animation. Later, you'll even come up with post-rationalizations for why it's not quite so loud or useless.

Unless of course you're so turned off by the intro that you bail out before giving their content a chance.

The TED intro (standard series) bmakes me gag now Ten seconds.

Mind, mobile YT doesn't have keyboard sip, but mpsyt does.

Trick: Skip straight to halfway. If the meat is being covered, roll back, else forward.

Binary search works well.

You also forgot the slow unboxing if it's a product review. I mean I guess some people like that, but for me, it's just another point in favor of text.

The whole "unboxing" hype, as if that were a thing. "Now let's enjoy getting this [thing] out of its packaging!" -- as if that were an essential part of the enjoyment of [thing]. It's just a prerequisite to the actual use and enjoyment of [thing], because packaging is a prerequisite of transport, storage and sales.

Who the heck came up with the silly idea that this is an event in itself? And above all, why did anyone -- or, worse, seemingly everyone -- fall for it?!?

Stop the darn lunacy now.

I read some sports related sites. Many have auto play video that seems to pop up just a bit after you've already started reading.

The video almost always is unrelated (different team, different story) to what I'm already well into reading. This is annoying 100% of the time. It's never useful to me.

Even worse. Some stories will be just a few words and a video. So I go to a site, read, play video.... and that same site's autoplay video will pop up and play ON TOP OF THEIR OWN CONTENT. I don't even know what to think about that, what could they possibly feel they're accomplishing?

Do they visit their own site? Do they feel like shotgunning content at me and having me fight to close different windows is a good thing?

In Firefox, in `about:config` you can set `media.autoplay.enabled` to false to permanently disable auto-play video everywhere. I love it. Now videos only play when I press play. A slight annoyance when watching netflix/etc, but well worth the price everywhere else. If I could whitelist a set of domains to allow autoplay it would be perfect.

Thank you. I hear chrome is going to or maybe has and is going to make a similar option more visible.

I agree, having to hit play is a small price to pay.


I'm convinced nobody at ESPN has tried to use their website in a long time. I remember it not being a dumpster fire of UX once, but that was like 10 years ago.

The only ESPN property I have an interest in is CricInfo, which has been a UX disaster ever since it became ESPNCricInfo.

But it has been an ever-evolving disaster, always finding ways to get worse.

Safari disables autoplay by default.

If video content would be so "hostile", it would have failed on its own already. People would flock to other places where they can read instead.

I don't buy this idea where everything is always imposed on us by evil corporations.

More and more websites using video to me seems more like a proof that people prefer videos over written content. That's why videos usually autoplay, also on YouTube and Facebook: if a person starts watching and listening, it's much more likely that they will stay instead of closing the page.

We have taught things to each other by talking for as long as hundreds of thousands of years, probably more. By contrast, reading has been common among a large percentage of the population only for a couple of centuries.

We evolved using verbal communication, not written one. Written form has, of course, its advantages, but it does not mean that it's the preferred medium for most people.

Videos and audio are also easier to watch/listen to while you are doing something else like cooking, gardening or commuting. There are a ton of contexts where you cant read, but you can at least listen.

That's why even books are converted into audio formats nowadays.

The fact that a small crowd on HN prefers reading is not the proof that video is "user-hostile". HN is rarely the reflection of the general public.

Although I keep reading a lot of online content or books, lately I have consumed a lot more valuable information in a podcast/video lecture format than in a written one.

I do agree that not everything is imposed by evil corps, but hostile products don't necessarily fail by their own: cigarettes and junk foods are just one example of this.

In general I'm not against video content in a web page, as it actually can be a good source of raw data that we can use to understand something in great details, but I would argue that in many cases video is objectively inferior to text: texts are much easier to parse (both for computers and humans) and also some irrelevant information included in the audiovisual format can reduce the entropy of a content (e.g. how a reporter looks like physically).

Cigarettes and junk food are not hostile in this context. We are talking about things that people don’t like but are forced to get anyway.

Cigarettes and junk food are definitely unhealthy, but people love them. So much that it’s hard to take them away from them.

That's a very bizarre definition of love. Few people are happy about their addiction to an unhealthy habit. Don't you think it's disingenuous to talk about user preference without talking about reward hacking? I think the internet is actually worse in this respect because much of it is systematically designed to induce addiction with no upper limit.

Your evolutionary arguments are also pretty bizarre and reductionist. Maybe we did evolve using verbal communication, but we didn't evolve to be schizophrenic voyeuristic mutes without face-to-face nonverbal feedback.

Can we stop framing arguments as "bizarre"? It's unduly personal.

I don't think their arguments are bizarre, and it's better to meet them head-on than to insinuate they're weird.

> We are talking about things that people don’t like but are forced to get anyway.

- Driving: a lot of people drive, very few of them like it or they would learn how to do it properly

- Public transport: 99,99% of people using public transport hate it

- Going to the dentist

- eating vegetables

- taking kids to the pool

and so on…

all of this things are incredibly annoying to many, yet they have not failed

so watching ads is a job?

http://www.empowr.com is a 10+ year old tech company with this as a premise.

In a way, it is.

But I don't understand the connection.

The core of the issue is the proverbial "worse is better"

All the walled garden on the web are optimising one particular feature - engagement - leaving behind many others that are equally important if not more, like user's freedom or privacy.

It's no wonder that investing so much money in getting users to subscribe and use the platform results in an increase of time spent by the users on the platform.

It is orthogonal to the problem highlighted in the original post.

The net effect is so strong that any other platform that tries to enter the market either has to waste a lot of money (if they have them) or use the same techniques that are already in place to sustain their businness

The choice is on the users, but for the majority of them it's not worth it until it's too late.

>I do agree that not everything is imposed by evil corps, but hostile products don't necessarily fail by their own: cigarettes and junk foods are just one example of this.

Cigarettes and junk foods are not hostile -- they are incredibly enticing. What they are is harmful (which is something different).

Video, similarly, whether harmful or not, is very welcome by lots of people who strongly prefer it to reading.

No, it's still hostile, you just don't know it yet.

Just as the Trojans how that big wonderful Horse statue worked out for them :p

What's enticing about cigarettes?

What's not, considering that half the global population looked forward to a pack or more every day?

They're a great way to fidget, they go great with coffee, they look majestic on the big screen, and nicotine is extremely addictive.

Heck, whole movies and books, and poems and songs have been written about them in a positive light. And lots.

If it wasn't for the health concern people would still be smoking on airplanes and there would just be a small "non smoking" area (like in the 70s).

Is this the media consumption version of the efficient market hypothesis?

The argument sounds like, "If Comcast was such a bad company it would have failed on its own already."

Could there other forces at play that would explain how video as a format might succeeding despite not being preferred by users?

Comcast has a monopoly, or, at worst, a duopoly in huge swaths of the country. How is anyone being forced to watch web videos online? There are dozens of alternate entertainment sources, and several high quality news sources that don't use much video.

It's easier to make money from videos than from text, and that's why websites would prefer that. There's not much else to it.

It's also harder to block the ads if they're woven into the video itself (in the form of endorsements / product placement, or in the form of commercial breaks in traditional TV broadcasts). Same with audio. Text-based media can emulate that somewhat, but (IMO) with nowhere near the same effectiveness.

Maybe it’s easier to make money from videos because they people actually like them?

No, the videos are distracting and seize the user's attention for ad delivery.

Imagine that I followed you around all day bumping into you, waiting for you to drop some money and then walk away without noticing, so I could pick it up. That's annoying and hostile to you, but profitable to be with sufficient automation. That's the modern commercial web.

sigh No, no it isn't. Not even close.

The fact of the matter is, people want to be paid for the stuff they create. That's how they're enabled to create more of that stuff. We learned a long, long time ago that people didn't want to outright pay for things. That doesn't leave many options.

Well, you could force people to pay you at gunpoint. There are plenty of options, it's just a matter of how far down the ladder of morally reprehensible alternatives you are willing to go. Actively manipulating people into wasting time to make a buck from your particular diversion-of-many by exploiting their curiosity is already low enough as far as I'm concerned.

We need to discern between unrelated videos for an article or the content being in the video. Because I know that many, many people prefer content in video form (I absolutely hate it and only watch them as a last resort).

Remember that in advertising, they scam each other as much as they scam their users. Videos may or may not be actually more effective, but that's irrelevant if they can be spun as more effective to those who pay for the ads.

People do like them: they have a lot stronger emotional impact than text.

They are also (considered as a single or primary channel) a much worse mechanism for actually effectively communicating anything other than emotion (though they can be a useful accompaniment to text.)

No, because they are easier to produce

Writing an article takes a lot of time

Writing a good one, is not for everybody

But making a video is really easy

I dont know why this was downvoted. I heard this exact thing from coursera teacher and some youtubers - that they found making video was significantly less time then equivalent writing.

I would not say it is really easy for everyone, it would not be easy for me. But it is easy for people accustomed to talk a lot.

I agree. videos of product features are much easier to make than written documentation about those features.

The videos that I speak of are ones that have replaced basic informational articles -- information that might only take a few paragraphs to disseminate, and which allow the reader to quickly glean the content. When given as video, they impose a time and data penalty just for the viewer to either get the nugget of information or to realize there's nothing of value for them. +Edit autocorrect

So write those articles yourself.

Can you please stop being personally thorny towards other users here, like we've already asked?


IMHO how-to's of manual activities are better in video form. Other than that, text form is way better.

recipes are absolutely a lot better in video to get an idea

but when you have to actually cook something, having something in writing with some illustration is much easier

you don't have to start/pause/skip/rewind the video with your greasy hands, you can just skim with your eyes

that's why in a lot of cooking books from the past the recipes take one or at maximum two pages that can be read side by side

I think people don't want to admit that the reading experience on mobile is mediocre-at-best.

There are a lot of folks here on HN and around the web that are upset at Google's AMP cache system, and somewhat rightly so. But at least it is an attempt to make mobile internet less hostile -- at least less in-your-face hostile.

No. I am talking about the physical experience of looking at text on a cell phone screen.

I find it much more enjoyable than looking at a monitor on my desk.

> If video content would be so "hostile", it would have failed on its own already. People would flock to other places where they can read instead.

Video ads pay a lot better than ordinary display ads. 15$ CPM vs 30¢ CPM on my media sites. It's not a 1-1 comparison on UX (you may lose half your reader base and still come out ahead).

If that’s true, doesn’t that mean that dark patterns would not exist?

> If video content would be so "hostile", it would have failed on its own already. People would flock to other places where they can read instead.

That is not the slightest bit true and is in fact the entire basis for the conversation we’re having.

> That is not the slightest bit true and is in fact the entire basis for the conversation we’re having.

Is it? The original article is talking about web tracking, the entire point of which is to give you more of whatever you like. Facebook just gives you more of whatever you click on, so if you're disappointed with the stuff you get on Facebook then probably you're just in denial about your own tastes or identity.


Anecdotal, but I recently managed to reorient my Facebook feed into a more "positive" light.

- I systematically un-followed sources of "negative" content (e.g. stupid, demeaning, cynical, deceptive/disingenuous, etc.) One strike, max two. This included some friends (repeated offenders - lol). No engagement whatsoever with these posts (no 'angry'/'sad' reaction, no display of comments).

- I liked/followed many "positive" pages/communities (notably authors, non-fiction books, self-help or growth-mindset).

- I made a point to like/comment/share "positive" posts and comments (e.g. clever, beautiful, grateful, fair, virtuous, etc.)

My main criteria was quality, above topic. E.g. bye-bye "petty" content even if it's "science" (which I like). I was quite selective, as it's easy to re-sub later.

I stayed unusually long on the site over a few days, to extensively clean/curate my feed.

Within a week, everything changed to suit my newfound tastes: basic feed is great, ads/sponsored content more relevant; it even seems there's been a positive shift in post sentiment selected from my contacts.

My Facebook feed is actually somewhat pleasant now. It fits my mindset of choice (away from the overly critical/cynical/negative individual I used to be in previous years). All it took is a little self-discipline and some manual curating (I've always refrained from liking too many sources, so there wasn't much to deal with).

Microsoft is the worst for providing content in video only form (Channel 9). There have been tons of potentially interesting content posted to HN from Microsoft but I'm not going to sit through an hour long video at work. And they almost never provide any alternative text content (an article) for what's in the video.

Unity is terrible too. The text documentation is terse and barely complete. All the details and workflow information is in video form.

UE4 has OK text documentation that tends to be a bit out date, but when you want to do something practical you pretty much have to watch one of Epics live streams.

Same with Apple. There are some weird behaviors that don’t get mentioned in the docs, yet if you stumble upon the _right_ WWDC video from 2014, it’ll explain everything.

But at least the content is covered by search engines via asciiwwdc.com

Am I wrong or usually channel 9 provides a transcript of the video content?

Apart from the normal Facebook detractors, this is big part of why I deactivated my account. 95% of content on facebook is now in video format. Aside from the reasons you mentioned, it's also a huge drain on battery and slows the responsiveness of the site down considerably.

If I want to see videos, I'll go to youtube or vimeo. Don't force them on me when I'm trying to find quick info.

I cannot remember the last time I saw a video in my facebook feed (in the feed, not directly linked). Maybe your facebook friends were just particularly annoying.

You are exceptionally lucky then. As of several years ago, they autoplay in my and everyone I've seen using facebook's feed all the time, many (perhaps even most for some) of them are ads rather than friend posted content. Fortunately they appear to stay muted until selected, but it's still annoying none the less. This is both via the website and in app (iOS, I'm sure other platforms suffer the same).

There's an option to disable autoplay in the settings.


This setting is not available in my Facebook video settings.

Firefox has an option to disable autoplay everywhere.

Thanks for this, I was unaware, I suspect I am not alone!

I hate the trend to video as well (I can read and comprehend faster than any video can speak), but I wonder if it is just the inevitable result of the continued expansion of who is on the web. Many people in the world are not nearly as literate as HN readers.

I think it is the result of the reduced copyability of video compared to plain text. This makes it easier to monetize video. Since lots of writers don't have a secondary source of income and have to pay for housing/food/loans/etc, they have an incentive to spend the effort to write video scripts rather than essays/articles.

it's because video ads pay better

It's strange that text content needs to be semantic having all kinds of divisions for different kinds of text. Yet video can remain an unstructured unnavigatable blurb of content. It should have semantic stuff like menu, header, footer, h1, h2 or p as well.

PornHub is making some headway there already. Though they are using other tags than h1, h2 and p.

I’ve noticed this thing on social media lately where a single image is turned into like a 10-second video...of nothing but the still image (and sometimes stock background music). This is usually done by low-effort clickbait sites, but I don’t get why.

Better "retention" metrics?

I figure it's harder to download a video from Facebook (for the average person, anyway) than it is to download a still image, which makes it more likely that someone will just share the post instead of saving and posting the image.

Videos might have more weight for the suggestion algorithms or other timeline filtering probably. (or at least they think it's otherwise effective)

Exposure period

>It seems increasingly that web content is being delivered in video form. That itself is hostile to some people. Some of us want the freedom to read (or scan quickly). But many of the providers of "content" know they have little to provide, so they drag it out in video form, saving the actual information for the last 10% of the video (if ever!) This I find incredibly hostile

Isn't that a kind of entitlement?

I might prefer text myself, but it's up to the content provider, who gives me FREE content, to put up whatever they like.

And they have a reason that they put out videos, as they are much more popular with certain demographics.

It's not entitlement, it's just an opinion. OP said they move on to a different source with their preferred format.

Well, entitlement is just an opinion too -- surely it's not an objective fact that someone is entitled (except we're talking about a king, an inheritance, and so on).

Specifically, it's the opinion that something must be a certain way because you want it like that.

Saying it's inconvenient, or that you'd prefer text is an opinion. But that's not what OP said; they said it's hostile. That is an entitlement.

No, entitlement is demanding all sources conform to OP's preference

It's enough having a problem with things others put out (and for free) not being to your specifications to consider it entitlement.

Besides, one can't make actual demands when they have no power.

Yes, I think we cross a line when we begin making demands about the content itself. If you want content created to your specifications, you can produce it yourself or pay someone else to do it.

Video content isn't "user hostile" any more than a movie you don't like is "user hostile".

Video that is deliberately structured to keep people watching without delivering much information is absolutely user hostile. That's why TV is full of shows with bullshit cliffhangers leading up to ad breaks and so on. Stringing users along in order to monetize the content is somewhat voluntary but easily tips into being exploitative.

Not all video is, or is meant to be, about maximizing information density. Mere entertainment isn't "user hostile" if people enjoy it.

Sure, but I thought we were talking about the context of documentary /instructional /information videos.

For entertainment that's fine, I enjoy cartoons, drama etc. as much as anyone.

>Sure, but I thought we were talking about the context of documentary /instructional /information videos.

Even in that context, amateurs and people starting out with a subject, might prefer to have less information density and have things explained in easy steps -- instead of lots of stuff they don't get crammed in 5 minutes.

This was my main reason for leaving Facebook, almost every post in my feed seemed to be a video or an image with text in, why not just type the words instead of wasting all that bandwidth?

Generally the value of the content was extremely poor and very click bait-y. My analogy I use is I see using Facebook like eating junk food when I could be spending that time consuming more meaningful content.

I've probably been off Facebook now for a year and I don't miss it one bit.

>that is the websites trying to control exactly how the content is consumed by the user

You seem to be arguing against the content being served by websites, and by extension, the freedom of the owners of those sites to choose to serve content you don't like. I would agree with you as far as DRM and javascript dark patterns go, when sites try to take control over the browser in ways that are harmful to users' freedom, but if someone wants to serve video or ads (useless as they are) instead of plain text, then that's entirely their right, because it's their server, and they get to decide what goes on it, not you. It's not user hostility, it's merely a decision with which you personally disagree.

Of course, once the response gets to your browser you're free to block, filter or do whatever you like to it, but user freedom is only half the equation here. Publisher freedom is important as well.

It's entirely my right (depending on country) to glare at people, or to offer them a contract that is significantly skewed in my favour in the hope that some of them won't read the small print.

Hostility is not about rights or freedom.

Speaking as someone who works for a site who produces a lot of video content and is trending more that way I can give you a simple reason why.

People consume it more.

They stay on the site longer, they tend to watch more videos than read articles, and they share videos more.

Now obviously the videos still need to be good content but the reason you’re seeing more video content is not because of some nefarious scheme: it’s because content producers see better user engagement with it.

Well, of course people stay longer in the site. You're forcing us to, since skimming and searching is no longer an option.

It's a worse experience, and I avoid that sort of site if at all possible.

Yes, I know you may think that that but that's not based on the numbers I'm afraid.

It can be true for you of course. But if so you're an outlier.

Long story short - we see people actively engage with video content more (ie - they share it, they comment on it, they respond to it more positively, etc etc).

The numbers don't lie, and they're pretty clear.

Article-based/written content isn't going anywhere, but it's not the only delivery stream anymore. It hasn't been for years really but it was contained in YouTube for the most part. But social videos (instagram, twitter, etc) really blew the lid off that and now videos are becoming a whole new and different category of content.

Now obviously sites that just do a 5 minute video full of junk instead of a 3 paragraph article are just that - junk. But that's why I said the video content still needs to be good content. Sites that don't do that deserve to be ignored - and not all sites are good at producing video content.

I work at Bleacher Report and we very specifically craft our videos to be more than what you're describing (they respect the medium and don't replace articles at all). But we're still producing more and more videos because they are extremely popular.

Are you giving people a real choice, though? And to what extent are they just hooked on your eye candy?

Yes, absolutely we are: videos don’t replace written content. We produce as much (or more) written content as before.

They’re complementary content - doing things in a different medium that wouldn’t be as effective (or possible) in written form.

That’s resulting in more positive user engagement and social activity.

More choice in fact.

As much as I dislike it, I don't understand your argument. They're the ones that produce the content and you consume it. They can make it however they want as far as I'm concerned as I always have the choice to be as discriminating or not.

Wow, I'm very surprised by the amount of people here who dislike videos. I absolutely love video courses, and I have learned 60-80% of everything I know about programming through them.

As a specific example, Stephen Grider's udemy courses took me through the process of learning full stack Node/React app development, and it was awesome.

I find it much harder to focus and be productive while reading books, videos (especially with good slides and diagrams) feel way more natural.

I wonder what percentage of people prefer learning from books to learning from (good) video courses. Is this HN being contrarian, or does the majority really prefer text?

I've got to be able to go through it at my own pace, rather than the pace dictated by the video/podcast.

The worst is anything that has terminal commands or code displayed in a video. Screenshots aren't much better, although at least they stay put without having to futz with the pause controls. Text - that is searchable and copy/pasteable - is king [1].

I can do podcasts and videos for other subjects; I've been loving Dan Carlin and the Great War youtube series. But technical stuff is too hard.

[1] Nothing boils my blood like a bug report with a screenshot of a logfile open in notepad, or a very low resolution, downsampled jpeg of the browser JS console... It means you worked harder to give me less useful information

I think there is a large difference between searching for key info you need and trying to learn a bunch of information through a course.

If I want quick information on how to install or troubleshoot something that realistically should only be one or two lines of code, watching someone's youtube video is a very inefficient way to provide that content.

[Note: I am the aforementioned Stephen Grider]

This comment is on point. I am told that many students on Udemy use videos courses as a reference, where they skip through videos to find the exact content they are looking for. I'm sure people do this, but I don't think its an effective use of video teaching.

My goal with videos is to show the entire beginning to end process of building some arbitrary app. Many commenters here on HN are advocates of apprenticeships for learning tech; I view video courses as an easily distributable form of apprenticeship.

I have no idea if it's actually majority - maybe there's just a lot of people here who share the discontent and wanted to add their two cents.

Video instructions are usually directed to people who are beginning their adventure, and in programming I usually need to just skim over some text these days to know what's relevant for me and what not. I guess many people have the same sentiment.

For me videos were insanely useful trying to get into Blender. Something that helped me a lot, but I guess mostly thanks to my 0% knowledge of the topic.

an example of controling how the content is consumed is gifs. gifs work great, there needs not be a replacement for them. one of the beautiful things about a gif is you can save it.

the current web hated that, it didnt have control. they are trying to 'wean' us off gifs through companies like giphy.

how many people cringe when you click on a link on reddit and realize its a link to youtube and you have to watch a commercial for a 30 second video? I am like omg, youtube, close

Same problem with messaging these days.

People increasingly do voice messages.

1. Because messages are faster spoken than written

2. Your "listeners" can't interrupt you, like on a phone call

3. Your messages aren't searchable as easily as text-messages

4. it's easier for people who are driving etc. which is at least somewhat valid

It doesn't help that Google (the owner of the biggest video platform) is giving videos increasingly more power in its search engines.

Sadly a lot of people these days are TERRIBLE at reading.

Consider that as of 1800 or so, perhaps 5-10% of the population were literate. That climbed to 90%+ throughout much of Western Europe and the US by 1900, but the level of education was still low: in the US, a high school diploma was an accomplishment only 6% of the population realised in 1900. That climbed to about 90% by 1950 or so. By contrast, more people have graduate degrees today.

Though the content and quality expressed by education ... has shifted. On the one hand, there's clearly been advances in knowledge and education, but at the same time, those are being presented to a much, much larger share of the population.

I've seen people (children, students, professionals) with widely varying levels of literacy and cognitive skills, ranging from frighteningly high to almost none at all. I think this may be underappreciated.

Or, TL;DR: yes, a lot of people are terrible at reading.

it wasn't required


I'm sorry, but I cannot get behind the idea that a creator choosing to deliver their content that they made in a form they chose can be hostile to you.

Why not? Content creators are not inherently virtuous beings. Many, I would say, are quite the opposite.

I wouldn't, because they could just as easily not make the content, and then you wouldn't have it in any form.

And the greater point there, that you appear to have missed, is that content creators don't really owe you anything, unless you've paid them. Thus, their actions are not hostile to you.

What? That's stringing together a bunch of things that have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

The primary motivation of many "creators" is to gain more income; to that end, they do not need to produce user-friendly content, they just need to produce content that earns money. That doesn't even require maximizing readership.

Aside from that, whether one person is being hostile to another person has absolutely nothing to do with anybody "owing" anybody else anything. These are two totally unrelated concepts.

No, the idea that something can be "hostile" hinges on the idea that you were entitled to it in the other form to begin with. Someone not providing content in the form you wish is an inconvenience at best.

I could be hostile to you right now, and you wouldn't have even requested anything from me. Hostility has nothing to do with what someone owes someone else.

Have you ever seen the soup Nazi from Seinfeld? Would you say he's not hostile because no body is owed his soup?

I just cannot buy this argument. Comparing the Soup Nazi to someone who chose to make content for you, is just ludicrous. For one, the Soup Nazi actively berated people. Someone making videos because they want to make videos is not doing anything close to that to you.

The worst you can claim a video is, is an inconvenience. That's it. Saying it's "hostile" because you'd prefer text is entitlement to the point of craziness.

To me, content creators using psychology tricks to try and get the value out of me, my eyeballs for advertisers, before I have the ability to evaluate their value to me, the actual useful part of their content, is hostile.

Maybe the soup Nazi was a bad analogy, but how about a car salesman who knowingly sells you a lemon? They could be nice and polite up front and do everything they could to make you feel comfortable with making the purchase. They are still knowingly doing something to benefit themselves at your expense. If it was a choice where one side got a benefit and the other remained neutral I would see it as not hostile, but when it's a benefit for one side at the expense of the other side, it's become hostile at that point

Your analogies are not working. They are not at all on point, and they are not at all relatable to the situation.

I think we don't agree on the definition of hostile. For me, if someone does anything to benefit themselves at my loss, it's a hostile act. There is a spectrum, trying to stab me certainly rates higher than trying to squeeze a few pennies out of a deal with me, but it's still hostile

You're not the only one here that thinks someone describing something as "hostile" means they feel entitled to have it. I don't agree and I don't understand the connection.

Speaking personally, when I find user-hostile content, I simply leave the page/close the window/throw away the magazine. I don't feel entitled to have the content in any way.

However, I do feel entitled to make an appeal to content producers that they try to come up with a way to make their content less hostile. It's just an appeal, though, and they are absolutely free to ignore it.

> and then you wouldn't have it in any form.

This would be a blessing for much of the "content" out there.

Do they owe me anything? Of course not. But if they want my precious, precious attention and the opportunity to advertise to me then they need to play ball my way. Otherwise, fuck them.

So don't consume it, instead of complaining that they're being "hostile" to you. Or, even better, create your own content in written form to compete.

If I could make written content to compete then why would I be watching said video in the first place? The objective of consumption is to learn, but what you advocate only works if one has already learned something.

What about when the video contains exclusive, important trade-related info? Is dismissing someone to go create their own content on exclusive information really a coherent counterargument (or useful strategy)? Do you really want the internet to be even more polluted with more second- and third-source crap than it already is?

Video is creators stroking their egos. The creator is unimportant, only his/her ideas, which internally manifest as words and should be transcribed as cleanly and accurately as possible. Video is an extremely poor medium for most ideas.

All content creators are stroking their egos.

I'm sorry, but I still see nothing "hostile" about them choosing one medium over the other. You might have a slight inconvenience, but that's it.

If you don't like things being in videos, then write written content to compete with it. Otherwise, stop with the over the top exaggerations and feelings of entitlement from content creators.

Like I have the time or desire to compete with most of these yokels. We give in some areas and take in others, that's how the world works. Content creators are not some unassailable gift horse immune from inspection or criticism. People are free to criticize the things I contribute to this world; and my feelings will not be hurt if they do. Perhaps you could learn from this.

Video needs smothering, not competition.

"Like I have the time or desire to compete with most of these yokels."

Then stop complaining.

"Content creators are not some unassailable gift horse immune from inspection or criticism. People are free to criticize the things I contribute to this world; and my feelings will not be hurt if they do. Perhaps you could learn from this."

But you're not criticizing. You're getting all in a tizzy because others aren't doing things exactly the way you want them. You're demanding that your entitlement be fulfilled.

"Video needs smothering, not competition."

Not according to the vast amounts of people who find it just fine. If you wish to prove that another medium is better, then feel free to create competing content in that medium to show it.

So one should just be happy with everything they have, dislike, and cannot change or compete on? How is that a reasonable expectation?

"Vast amounts of people"? Vast amounts of people kill other vast amounts of people, are you ok with that? Vast amounts of people vote for laws that screw over other vast amounts of people, is that cool? A vast amount of people boarded the Titanic, look where that got them...

If some idiot Youtube personality wants to flap their jaws for an hour, droning on and on about whatever stupid pointless thing in their life is stuck in their craw or whatever, fine. But for information dispersal, unless the video is densely packed with visual content, it needs to be text. Doers all over the world will thank you.

Entitlement is, if anything, forcing poor viewers to sit through a 15-minute life-story-slash-prologue just so they can continue to participate in a Reddit discussion or finish their task or whatever.

> It seems increasingly that web content is being delivered in video form. That itself is hostile to some people. Some of us want the freedom to read (or scan quickly).

And what if some of us want the freedom to watch? Maybe I'm illiterate? Just like you, I could say that putting something in writing instead of a video is 'hostile' if it doesn't meet my preferences.

Talking about 'hostile' is hysterical.

I think we are at a point at a species where, if one can't read, then one really needs to learn to read. It is such a requirement for so many things. Or get a screen reader...

It's fine to make a video, but if your work is serious at all, it should also be in written text. It's much quicker to read than listen to someone talk. I'm sure there are exceptions where video format makes more sense, but, as a rule, it's incredibly stupid.

I can’t understand the arrogance of telling other people that they ‘should’ produce their content in a format of your preference.

When I use should like this, I mean that it's the only sensible thing. They can do what they want. I don't view their content anyway, so it's no skin off my teeth.

Videos articles are far more difficult to make than text articles.

If you make a video, just include the transcript.

There are certainly times when video is appropriate, but I feel like we can all relate to the times that it's not; when someone has a list of 6 things, and instead of just listing them, they make a snazzy video. The video is still text-based; maybe there's an image slideshow as well, but it's effectively the same information in the same format, just spread out over a 2 minute video.

But that's precisely the point. Just like HTML should be written with accessibility in mind, content ought to be provided with accessibility in mind. Obviously if you are going to a video-focussed site a la youtube you expect to watch videos. But what if I want to skim the news and happen to trust a particular organization? It would be ideal to have this information in a number of formate so I can consume their information in a manner best-suited for me. No one is saying "banish all video!", they are simply saying certain areas of information are better presented in text form for many people and it would be nice to easily consume info in that way.

You can always use a screen reader to automatically have it read the text to you, and it works well enough.

I can’t have an OCR system automatically translate a video into text.

Even if you can have it transcribed (which is possible today), videos contain far more information than what is spoken: gestures, emphasis / how words are spoken, body language, objects, diagrams, etc. While skilled speakers may try to mitigate that so that the presentation degrades somewhat gracefully to a transcription, it's by no means a one-to-one translation, and it doesn't always make sense.

While you make a good point about screen readers, there actually are tools that automatically translate a video into text. In fact, doesn't YouTube's "CC" button do that? The translation isn't great, but it's usually good enough and will probably get better over time.

For comparison, this is the output of YouTube’s CC button applied to a video, and the text extracted. Not exactly a readable article.

> extremely pleased to have our first and indeed only genuine superhero you you may have come across know and across the internet as Captain disillusion you've already seen some their fantastic work there you to tell is amazing if you haven't seen it I I personally do subscribe to it they're given there are over quarter of a million other subscribers I am statistically insignificant and you should update I think the number of views on the channel has now passed 15 million so if you could all adjust your booklet accordingly that would be appreciated captain disillusion will be talking to us about heroic feats of YouTube D bunker II so can you please I think we're set put your hands together welcome to stage Captain disillusion hello hi quick clarification I'm not Compton disillusion obviously my name is Alan and I'm an intern at disillusion industries the captain's…

Now here’s the output of a written article automatically turned into speech:


Now tell me, which of them is more usable?

YouTube’s CC button is bad. Seriously, Google Translate is far better, and even that is impossible to understand. Especially when the discussion includes technical terms.

The only time YouTube’s CC button works even slightly okay is if the uploader manually transscribed everything.

"For many of us in the early 2000s, the web was magical. You connected a phone line to your computer, let it make a funny noise and suddenly you had access to a seemingly-unending repository of thoughts and ideas from people around the world.

"It might not seem like much now, but what that noise represented was the stuff of science fiction at the time: near-instantaneous communication at a planetary scale. It was a big deal."

I kind of yearn for the pre-web days... when the primary means of communication was mailing lists and newsgroups, without any commercial interest.

The creation of the web was when it all started to go wrong. Corporations started to flock to it like flies and tried their best to turn it in to an ad-laden, spyware-laden, dumbed-down, one-way broadcasting medium not too far from television.

Indeed, the Web became a juggernaut bandwagon, and got all the attention. Not for nothing. But I always felt the potential of the Internet was neglected as a result. There are other apps, notably MMOs, BitTorrent, blockchain and other P2P things.

I sincerely hope that the “re-decentralization” movement is able to attract hackers and gain steam.

That requires net neutrality. In general I think there's a danger that ISPs become "Web service providers" and refuse anything which isn't HTTP from rDNS-able addresses.

Of course people will just end up recreating TCP over HTTPS to get around these sorts of things, but I don't think we're headed toward a decentralised and opinionated (i.e. not heavily filtered based on traffic analysis) network.

I gave a talk about a P2P Web at PDX node just a bit ago


I disagree slightly: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurence_Canter_and_Martha_Sie...

I still remember the day that these assholes showed up and ruined a wonderful thing, and as you can see I'm not really over it.

Where things went wrong on the web, imho, was when business started leaning on people to put graphic corporate branding front and center, encouraging the abuse of things like tables and so on to create something that looked more like a magazine advert. Now, you could argue that such commercial pressures were got people to throw money at the WWW int he first place and rove technological development, and you'd have a point - the early web was pretty dull to look at. I wrote a book on how to use it for consumers around 1994 and every so often I take it off the shelf for a giggle at how primitive it looks in the screenshots. But at that time it was much better curated and the browsing experience was much more rewarding in many respects, although I'm obviously influenced by some nostalgia for a simpler era.

I really hoped to see the semantic web recapture some of the user-centric benefits of the early web, but development on that front seems slooooooow, and my ideas about a graph centric virtual space seem too sci-fi for me to even get meaningful answers from people I've asked.

Ironically the closest thing I've found to the hey-day of the internet(~'99) for me is Ham Radio.

It's hard to explain but it's got the same feel of people who tinker and enjoy technology for the hell of it. With HF you get communication all over the globe.

It's also explicitly non-commercial so it's stayed relatively undeveloped. Granted you'll never see the exponential of communication that the internet unleashed due to limited spectrum but that might be in some ways a blessing.

I generally agree, but while there's still a strong DIY spirit in the ham radio world, especially in the hardware field, I often find myself disappointed by many hams' willingness to surrender control and freedom to proprietary protocols and software (PACTOR, D-STAR, Winlink, Ham Radio Delux, to name a few) in exchange for convenience.

Oh yes, I hate the implementation(love the tech) behind PACTOR. Of course there's also the really annoying symbol rate limit regulations as well.

Thankfully K1JT via WSJT has been doing some awesome open source weak signal work. FT8 is pretty sweet and really exploded recently.

FT8 is remarkable tech, but it’s essentially computers talking to each other. Not the same as person to person through the static noises, which is the old ham way. Refer to the recent discussion/dismay on the Topband (i.e. 160 meters) mail list.

I think FT8 is just one aspect, I don't think you're going to see CW/SSB die off because of it. FT8 has some pretty strict timing requirements for instance that make it hard to use as a portable station.

I think ham radio is split between the people who like the social/contest aspect of it and those of us who like to tinker(and a subset that covers people who like both). 97.1b pretty clearly lays out a mandate to advance the state of the art and I think it's pretty incredible to pick out a message -20db below the noise floor.

Agreed. I have a foot in both camps myself.

But there are two issues: FT8 is just a contact, with maybe a 73, so it’s even more impersonal than contesting (which is extremely popular, of course). Breaking a pileup is pretty much left to the computer, rather than due to operator skill.

And the old timers on 160 who earned their DXCC (100 countries - very difficult on 160) certificates the hard way using CW / SSB aren’t happy with the relative ease of getting an FT8 DXCC award. The ARRL can fix that, however.

Yeah, I think there's a ton of room for FT8 if it can break out of the auto-programmed sequence, I hate that part too. I really wish it would do progressive decoding, it's possible in theory.

Over in the SOTA community we're looking at a few potential solutions. There's nothing in the core FT8 spec that mandates the standard QSO exchange and there's support for free messages(at a max of 13 chars).

As someone with a KX3 I think anyone running more than 10W is at a huge advantage ;). You're right though, the right way is to split the awards by mode/type. That said I find the content stuff just as impersonal and find the relaxed atmosphere of SOTA much more appealing.

That's what makes ham radio so awesome though, it's all fair game. I just hate to see people try to squash things just because it's not the "old way". That part seems really counter to the experimental nature of the hobby.

I think FT8 is a necessary evil at this point. It's good to see problems with a mode basically getting too popular rather than the bands being dead. Some of those users will move to explore new digital modes as they evolve. The future is bright for ham radio.

I think this is to do with the barrier to entry. You have to have a certain level of sophistication to get into Ham, just like you did with Internet in the early days. Then came the long September ...

Facebook, twitter had the same feeling of "exclusivity" for a while. Twitter lasted a bit longer because the capability to compose your thoughts in < 140 chars demanded a certain level of sophistication but then came #winning and shit-posting.

These days I find as a developer even, as that segment expands there's an increasing amount of noise but I've gotten into emacs recently and can appreciate the marked increase in tranquility there. Nobody's trying to make a buck off my questions and answers. Nobody has a commercial (or other) interest in keeping me clueless.

I love the fact that IRC is still alive and kicking. The #django channel on freenode is still pretty active as opposed other communities that flock to slack or gitter.

Technical chat on IRC is still alive and well on Freenode, but non-technical chat has mostly moved on from IRC to other media.


I still recall watching this change firsthand.

When i got my first modem, i was informed of a regional IRC channel on one of the big networks. And from that day onwards i would have my client set to connect to that channel, and fire it up alongside the email client right after the handshake completed.

But at one point the channel died, and the cause of death was twofold.

one part was the creation first generation social media services, and their web based chat rooms.

Another part, and perhaps a bigger part, was that Microsoft made a strong push of MSN Messenger with Windows XP.

This resulted in a more clique style communications form online, as you had to know people and get their account info before being able to contact them. With IRC you joined the channel and that was it.

Subreddits resemble IRC from that point of view - you just need to join the right one.

Kinda, but not as real time.

I recall having on the fly conversations about TV programs on IRC.

Twitter! When it comes to the real time aspect I know nothing better than Twitter.

What makes it so good?

Whatever event happens right now (WhatsApp down? Elections in a country? A TV show running on TV [1]?) go to Twitter and search for it with relevant keywords and you'll find people writing about it.

[1] at least in Germany

In my experience that's a firehose with no meaningful real-time quality metric available. Perhaps there's something I'm missing.

I wholeheartedly agree. It's great as long as the keyword you're searching for is easily distinguishable. Whenever something happens and I want to find out ahead of the news-cycle it's my go to ...

I find it overwhelming. I don't know how to get over that.

I have an IRC channel that myself and a few friends use every day. It’s probably 30% technical and 70% chat. I do wish more people still used it, but I guess most people like chat platforms with fancy features now.

I never got into the pre-web stuff, so I don't know exactly what the differences are. Don't those things still exist? Isn't the comment section of this HN post a form of async, text-only communication?

It's still centralized, and owned and run by a commercial entity that uses it to further their own interests, with a record of its users' interests and opinions.

The capabilities and features of web forums are also really dumbed-down and limited compared to what you could get with the mail clients and news clients of even 20 or 30 years ago.

Yeah, I'm really surprised that most web forum software doesn't even let you sort comments by author, date, subject (which most comments don't have), etc. There were all sorts of useful things that usenet provided. (Not the least of which is kill files for ignoring trolls.)

I think this is deliberate. Have you noticed how google makes it...very very difficult to get results of things in date order? When I've asked people who work there why (often in relation to things where the date information is well-structured, like legal opinions or scientific papers) they always respond with some vague and very obvious bullshit.

Long story short, a lot of the large internet companies withhold or obscure functionality that users really want in order to keep them engaged and sell more ads. We have the technology to do a lot better than we are doing, but capital prefers to manufacture scarcity in the guise of abundance.

> We have the technology to do a lot better than we are doing, but capital prefers to manufacture scarcity in the guise of abundance.

Yes, the tight coupling of progress to profits is becoming very counter-productive. Too many good ideas and products that get killed because they can’t make enough money (and the criteria for “enough” keeps rising unnecessarily and exponentially, i.e. something has to sell in tens of millions to be considered a “success” even if half a million would be profitable.)

We will need to rethink the role of money in human civilization if we don’t want it to become a corporate hell where every action is dictated by how much money it makes.

> a lot of the large internet companies withhold or obscure functionality that users really want

For example, Google only lets you get a few results at the top of their search. What if you want to get the whole 100,000 of them? Sometimes it's important, for science.

I'm surprised there's no way to pay for that access.

Could you expand on that second line a bit? I'm curious what features we're currently missing out on compared to decades past.

From a recent thread on "Why kernel development still uses email": [1]

"This is one of the things that web-based forums have yet to get right. Email (and NNTP news) clients from 20 or 30 years ago are far superior in this respect, because they can intelligently deal with threading and folding. These features alone makes large conversations much easier to deal with than on web-forums.

To add to that, email (and NNTP news) clients even from 20 or 30 years ago have other powerful features that web forums have yet to catch up on:

- kill files[2] (which you can use to filter out unwanted articles/mails based on content or metadata such as subject, user, etc)

- scoring

- user-configurable anti-spam filtering or other "intelligent" filtering (such as bayesian filtering not just for spam/ham, but for interesting/unintersting content)

- tagging not just on a site-wide level but at the client level so each user can tag messages/articles the way they make sense to them

- other advanced filtering and scripting based on any of the above

Web-based forums are just incredibly primitive compared to this many-decade-old technology."

[1] - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15373179

[2] - https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Kill_file

I cannot agree more. When one is used to thread and folding for email or usenet, the user experience of web mail/forum seems woefully inadequate.

When I first saw that gmail starts a new thread when you change a subject I did not believe it at first; I thought I have made a mistake in replying. Text-based clients of old (tin, pine, etc.) still outperform current monstrosities by a wide margin.

That's not an inherent limitation of the web or web forums, though - I've seen those features implemented in a lot of them.

And of course, there's nothing stopping anyone from building a web forum and offering an endpoint for third party clients, they just don't, mostly because web forums themselves have more or less been superseded by Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, and no one seems to care about them anymore.

The only pre-web feature that web forums can't really implement is decentralization.

the tl;dr is: The user controls the content, not the site.

One of the things we keep forgetting as we move forward is that client-control > server-control.

> One of the things we keep forgetting as we move forward is that client-control > server-control.

I'm not sure if we're forgetting it, as an industry we seem hell bent on removing user control. SaaS, cloud hosting, software walled gardens, invasive automatic updates, hidden software in hardware, etc. We're losing more and more control all the time. Around here it's nearly heresy to suggest the companies run their own servers.

It's increasingly frustrating too as we've shown over and over and over again at how bad the security, user-interaction, pricing and support is for all of those systems. Yet we don't care, because "it's easier".

There's a clear agenda to take back the power and voice that the computers are giving to the common man: http://opentranscripts.org/transcript/coming-war-general-com...

gnus FTW!!

NNTP was often hosted locally to the machine that you were reading on, so browsing it is incredibly fast, so much faster than using a website that it's not funny.

Plus, the clients had things like killfiles, so that one could ignore a troll or a subject (or even fancier stuff, like scoring: maybe a user tends to have worthless comments, but what he says about one subject is really worthwhile).

Usenet and mailing lists are distributed. Web forums (like HN) are not. You can setup your own NNTP or mail server if you wanted, but there's only one place to post HN comments & that's right here, subject to all the pros & cons that entails.

One difference is that HN is hosted on a server under the control of YC.

If YC ever decide to destroy HN they can.

With an HN Usenet newsgroup it'd be distributed across all the servers that carry that group. You could download software and host it yourself.

The sweetspot was mid 90s to mid 00s. We had the benefit of the web without the all-encompassing corporate control. It was a more open and freer place back then. But as the internet got more popular and with more corporate/government involvement, the standards were lowered to accommodate the lowest common denominator.

Less free speech, more control, less privacy and more ads.

I loved the nested discussion of mailgroups. Compared to message boards and forums of today (yesterday? I think they may be passe?) they enabled interesting, meandering discussions. It's the way discussion flows between two intelligent people. Forcing discussion into an arbitrary topic has 2 problems:

* some people are unhappy because they feel constrained * topics are an illusion anyway, people do post off-topic messages anyway, depending on strictness of moderation. People interested by the original topic are annoyed by the inevitable off-topic talk.

Luckily mailing lists and newsgroups still exist, some newsgroups are even still active. (Mailings lists too of course, but they are generally created for a specific purpose)

They exist, as do mechanical typewriters and bulletin board systems, but most people don't use them. The web "won" long ago, and newsgroups and mailing lists are now mostly a historical curiosity.

Also forums for special interests. (Outgrowth of a bulletin board.) Some do not even abuse their data and users.

That web still exists more or less.

If you want to use the web in that way, just remove YouTube, Facebook, etc. from your DNS.

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