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Against an Increasingly User-Hostile Web (2017) (neustadt.fr)
353 points by stargrave 7 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 163 comments



See previous discussion from 2017: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15611122


The contrast in comments between the 2017 version vs. this 2020 post is fascinating so my thanks :) For what it's worth I strongly agreed with the author at the time and feel doubly-so in 2020.


See also discussion about a complementary article by the same author: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23326329


> But most of the time we spend on the web today is no longer on the open Internet - it's on private services like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Ultimately there are three good reasons for this, which the author doesn't address at all.

The first is spam and abuse. The problem with a purely "open web" is that there's no solution to those, because of bad actors. The only solution we've found so far are centralized organizations which can run sophisticated machine learning and hire thousands of moderators.

The second is aggregation and discoverability. What good is it to publish if nobody finds you? Matching what people want to read, with the content they'll like (and not turning it into a firehose) is a really hard problem which, again, open standards basically do nothing for.

And then of course the third is monetization. There's a lot of amazing content on, e.g. YouTube, that wouldn't have been created if it weren't for monetization, because it takes content creators time that they'd otherwise have to spend at a job.

Now if we can create open standards that work as well as centralized solutions for all three of these... then we're talking.


The pre-giant-conglomerate solution to those things was the (lack of) scale.

Aggregation and discovery was low-volume stuff like web rings and humble links.

Abuse had a much lower payoff due to the lower scale. Communities were mostly small, and abusers were small. Bigger communities were bigger targets, but could afford to pay people.

If ten thousand people wanted to attack one of them, they could, for sure - but people having public discussions on FB or Twitter aren't immune to a group that size either. Scale and centralization hasn't had much benefit there.

Monetization is certainly the difference. But is it worth it in its current form? If you want to reach a huge audience, these mega-platforms make it much easier to do so. You don't even have to persuade that many people, if the algorithm picks you up and starts dropping you in people's feed!

I'd argue that the blind algorithm-driven promotion is the single biggest problem in the big social media and search platforms (Google, FB, Twitter, even Amazon 3rd party sellers).

--

But I think the interesting thing people usually miss is that the old smaller internet is still there, for people looking for niche discussions and communities outside of the huge platforms.


> The first is spam and abuse. The problem with a purely "open web" is that there's no solution to those, because of bad actors. The only solution we've found so far are centralized organizations which can run sophisticated machine learning and hire thousands of moderators.

Not true. It's the only solution when your focus is growth, and so you permit open signups from anywhere needing only something like an email address. This enables brigading, bots and abuse with fake and anonymous accounts.

If a web of trust were involved, you have an introduction chain for every user, and a bad actor revealing themselves casts suspicion on the whole chain. You can revoke the whole chain in one go which is far more effective than picking bad actors and bots off one by one. The investment needed to sneak in is also considerably higher.

So the status quo is not the only solution, it's the lazy solution focused on growing as fast as possible with no regard for the challenges that raises.


> The second is aggregation and discoverability. What good is it to publish if nobody finds you? Matching what people want to read, with the content they'll like (and not turning it into a firehose) is a really hard problem which, again, open standards basically do nothing for.

Relying on a web of trust for signups makes the second problem far worse. If you're only creating a service for your friends and family it works great, if you want to expand it to the general public it is impossible. The encrypted email folks have been trying to get the web of trust to work for almost 30 years without success.


> If you're only creating a service for your friends and family it works great, if you want to expand it to the general public it is impossible.

Not impossible at all. Send out invitations and let them pull in their groups, as but one option. GMail was initially invitation only if you recall, and it was crazy popular even then.

> The encrypted email folks have been trying to get the web of trust to work for almost 30 years without success.

Web of trust has been working fine for all of those 30 years, so I really don't know what you're talking about.

What hasn't "worked" is commercial buy-in by email clients and, more importantly, email providers who want to mine your data. People choose the free, easy email options (gmail, yahoo, etc.) without realizing how much personal information they're disclosing.

So to claim that the commercial interests who are interested in violating your privacy and mining your information haven't bought into the web of trust is a pretty solid endorsement, not a downside.


GMail was offering email, a service people already wanted and could access. Email is the first social media platform, Google was just offering a fancy new client to an existing platform. A better example would be Google Wave, or Google Hangouts, or Google+, or Google Talk.

The fact you think the Web of Trust is working fine when it is still basically impossible to send an encrypted email to anybody even when you have your client set up properly is somewhat mind boggling to me. A solution is not working if it is impossible to use.


> Google was just offering a fancy new client to an existing platform

The point is that invitation-only works just fine if the incentives align.

> The fact you think the Web of Trust is working fine when it is still basically impossible to send an encrypted email to anybody even when you have your client set up properly is somewhat mind boggling to me.

I used encrypted PGP email from within gmail using a browser addon for years. It was easy, so "impossible to use" is simply false. The incentives to make it easier simply don't exist because commericial interests don't value your privacy or systems that are robust against abuse, so it gets no investment and whatever makes growth easier and faster gets all the investment.

The fact remains that the original claim that "the only solution we have" are centralized organizations with moderation and machine learning is simply false. Web of trust is a solution to the broad violation of privacy and the abuse allowed by open, anonymous systems.

If people truly valued those things, then they would clamour for software that would make the web of trust easier to use.


How many encrypted emails do you receive annually?

There have been many post-mortems on the Web of Trust. Few mention "corps can't steal my data" as a failure, the failure is entirely in the impossibility of building the web of trust with enough people to gain critical mass. In fact one danger of the web of trust sometimes mentioned is the way it leaks your social graph just like a social network, only without the privacy protections provided by services like Facebook.

https://inversegravity.net/2019/web-of-trust-dead/

https://medium.com/@bblfish/what-are-the-failings-of-pgp-web...

https://security.stackexchange.com/questions/68583/is-the-pg...

https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:aHYu1j...

https://cryptography.fandom.com/wiki/Web_of_trust#Web_of_tru...

I've had my keys published and PGP set up on all my email accounts for years and literally the only encrypted emails I've ever gotten are from Facebook, and only because I went through a fairly arcane process to set that up. I even crypto-sign all of my email as a hint that I can do PGP. I doubt anybody has ever verified my signature on even one piece of email.


Not just a fancy new client - it was still the days when cloud storage wasn't ubiquitous and you saved stuff by sending yourself email, and Gmail had a completely monstrous storage offering compared to other free email providers. It was as much proto-Dropbox as it was email.


> The first is spam and abuse. The problem with a purely "open web" is that there's no solution to those, because of bad actors. The only solution we've found so far are centralized organizations which can run sophisticated machine learning and hire thousands of moderators.

False: there are plenty of old-school forums that still work just fine, with a handful of very hands-off moderators.

There's a trend toward censorship in the big players, because it's more profitable to get thin-skinned users on their platform, but this is not at all the only way to create a healthy community.

> The second is aggregation and discoverability. What good is it to publish if nobody finds you? Matching what people want to read, with the content they'll like (and not turning it into a firehose) is a really hard problem which, again, open standards basically do nothing for.

I generally find things through a few bloggers who have a high signal-noise ratio in what they post.

The idea that Facebook/Twitter/etc. do a better job than my bloggers is laughable. I left these platforms for a reason.

> And then of course the third is monetization. There's a lot of amazing content on, e.g. YouTube, that wouldn't have been created if it weren't for monetization, because it takes content creators time that they'd otherwise have to spend at a job.

On the contrary, I think the best content is almost always made because the person making it cares about what they are saying. "Hey guys make sure you like and subscribe! And by the way I've been playing Clash Of The Clans!" That's not content, that's advertising, and it's the poisonous result of monetization. Paul Harrell makes little-to-no money on his channel, Erowid survives on donations, Wikipedia authors are unpaid, Mother Jones and ProPublica are purely donation-based... and these are far better sources in most cases than any other sources of information on the subject. There is no case where ad-supported content does better than non-ad-supported content that I know of.


I want to suggest that all of this has more to do with you and your individual preferences than the way things work for everyone else.

* what's the scale of the forums that work fine?

* what if other people want to consume more content than "a few bloggers" produce and recommend?

* when you say "does better", what do you mean?

* is the best medicine made by pro bono pharmacists? are the best buildings made by off-duty carpenters? are the best movies made for free? with the best special effects? are the best novels free? the best graphic designs? would everyone agree with your assessment of what is 'best'?

"I left these platforms for a reason." Yes, and other people stayed for reasons too.


> * what's the scale of the forums that work fine?

Why, as a user, do you care? As a user, this question is irrelevant to my interests.

> * what if other people want to consume more content than "a few bloggers" produce and recommend?

They physically can't. There's simply more content in existence than a human being has the physical ability to consume. And you'll run into problems with depression, medical issues caused by sitting, and internet addiction long before you run into your physical limits to consuming content.

Quantity isn't the problem, quality is.

> * when you say "does better", what do you mean?

Finds higher-quality content that is more entertaining and/or informative tailored to my needs.

Yes, my needs are different from other users, but the whole value added that ad-based sites claim is that they spy on users to tailor content to their needs. My claim isn't that the content I find is better than anyone else's, it's that my way of finding content does a better job of finding content that fits the users' needs than ad-based sites do.

The problem is, at a fundamental level, ad-motivated spying doesn't even have the goal of meeting users needs--the goal is to meet advertisers' needs, and that only incidentally meets the needs of users sometimes.

> * is the best medicine made by pro bono pharmacists? are the best buildings made by off-duty carpenters? are the best movies made for free? with the best special effects? are the best novels free? the best graphic designs?

Are the best of any of these things supported by ads inside a walled garden platform? You do make a good point: none of these things are typically supported by the business model you're defending.

> would everyone agree with your assessment of what is 'best'?

If you don't agree that "like and subscribe and by the way I've been playing Clash of the Clans lately" is such garbage that it's questionable to call it "content", then we disagree at a fundamental level so there's not much of a discussion to be had. Suffice it to say, I think most people agree with me.


If most people agreed with you, who would be using all these platforms you've said are inferior and bad? If people didn't find the platforms met their needs better than the alternatives, why would they create and consume within them?

I'm not even defending ad-supported anything--I'm defending creators getting paid, and I find it hard to believe you think that's unnecessary. I like the Patreon model wherever possible. But I also think it's ludicrous to pretend that most people would prefer manual curation of limited content, but they just end up using the platforms they do based on... coincidence? conspiracy? they're not as well-informed as you?

Something about this reminds me of how television was seen before "prestige TV" became a thing.


> If most people agreed with you, who would be using all these platforms you've said are inferior and bad? If people didn't find the platforms met their needs better than the alternatives, why would they create and consume within them?

Because first to market advantage is huge in social platforms.


> The only solution we've found so far are centralized organizations which can run sophisticated machine learning and hire thousands of moderators.

I’m pretty sure HN, the site were literally posting on, does not have either of these, or at least not at that scale and yet it’s miles better than anything on fb or twitter so I’m not sure I buy this argument.


> I’m pretty sure HN, the site were literally posting on, does not have either of these,

As far as I know, HN does have two full-time employees whose sole job is moderation. I believe they also have some automated spam detection involved too.

> yet it’s miles better than anything on fb or twitter so I’m not sure I buy this argument.

This can be explained almost entirely by the fact that bad actors go where the greatest concentration of good actors is. Small communities are relatively safe with little effort required on their part, because they simply aren't a big enough target to be worth a bad actor's time.

For a long time, it was taken for granted that "Mac didn't have viruses". It wasn't because Mac OS was somehow more virus-proof than Windows. It was simply that Mac was like 2% of the marketshare and thus just not a worthwhile platform for hackers to target.


> HN does have two full-time employees whose sole job is moderation.

I believe that number is currently one.


"two full-time employees" is a significantly lower number than "thousands of moderators" like the initial post claimed.

Thousands of moderators is not achievable by small, hobbyist sites. But one or two moderators is doable.


> I’m pretty sure HN, the site were literally posting on, does not have either of these, or at least not at that scale and yet it’s miles better than anything on fb or twitter so I’m not sure I buy this argument.

True. I like HN. By the look of it you like it too. When you say HN is miles better than fb or twitter I'd say that is a subjective judgement. I suspect that only a fraction of the people currently spending their time on fb or twitter would spend any time on HN. They're looking for something else. Something they don't get here.

On another note I get the sense that the vast majority of users of those walled gardens couldn't give a hoot about the concerns raised in the essay. Those platforms currently deliver something of value to their target audiences (however that may be defined). So as long as they do that and no alternatives arise to disrupt their stranglehold things will remain as they are.


The moderation problem scales in relation to the size of the userbase. For small communities like Hacker News a single moderator is no problem, but larger communities end up needing more and more moderators until you have so many that you need meta-moderators moderating your moderators. Once you've grown beyond a small community bad actors will constantly attack your system, often with complaints that they are being unfairly repressed and bad faith reports on good users.

Pretty soon there are news reports about how badly you discriminate against certain groups and world governments start poking their nose in your business. Plus you hit that endless stream of edge cases where no matter what solution you choose someone is going to compare it to the holocaust. Even clear simple policies get bogged down in edge cases extremely quickly. For example, you might have a "no nudity" rule on your site. Very easy, but now you're getting lawsuits from the breastfeeding mother's association on one end for taking down their content and the anti-pornography league on the other end because you allowed a picture of a bare ankle to remain up.


I believe this is addressed by the complaint about "growth at all costs". If your objective is to scale massively, then bad actors and trolls are indeed a problem. Facebook et al indeed favor growth at all costs, and therefore must deal with complex and large scale moderation schemes.

If you keep it relatively small it may be manageable, because "scale" cuts both ways ;)


The problem is reaching that critical mass where the social media service becomes useful before hitting the point where trolls make your life a living hell. A social media service isn't useful if none of your friends or family are on it, and it's extremely dubious if only one friend is on it.

I remember back to the days of umpteen different mutually incompatible Instant Message apps each with a different subset of your friends. They all ultimately failed as social media platforms and the only ones left are either integrated with larger services (SMS, FB Messenger, etc...) or are domain specific microservices (Slack).


Oh by far back you must mean like 2015..

Because for a long time things were interoperable. Many chat services ran off jabber/XMPP. You could easily use adium, pigeon, psi, gajim, and even the AOL IM and iirc yahoo messenger would all communicate interoperably.

In fact, you could even jabber chat with those using Google talk/hangouts until Google decided not to play. Before that iteration was usenet, IRC and ICQ.

Now you have WhatsApp, google chat or whatever it's called now, Snapchat, Facebook messenger, tik tok, zoom, kakao talk etc. But nobody wants you to leave their garden. And Because somebody popular makes a post using some platform, the masses rush there and doesn't leagu leave until they're told to by the new YouTube personality du jour.

So no, i tend to think in the process of millenialing chat services, they made them simple for them to understand, and kept them in the garden so they wouldn't get lost..


> The first is spam and abuse

Opt in systems solve these in open social media platforms, but introduce their own vulnerabilities such as information/reality bubbles and difficulty in growing networks.

> The second is aggregation and discoverability Advertising takes many forms, including word of mouth.

> monetization This is true enough, but most content on the internet isn't monetized by the creator via the platform, and there are many examples of creators who monetize independent of the platform. It also depends on how low you want to go w/ what you call the platform. Some pay for a platform in order to monetize. I don't have stats on this, so maybe it's experiential bias.


The only correct solution to spam and abuse is to empower governments to charge people with offences when they commit them. This means national isolation, since the US can't extradite a fraudster in Russia and vice versa.

Aggregation and discoverability is easy. Talk to people. Don't think about publishing, think about being part of a community.

Monetisation can be solved by doing it the old-fashioned way. Standards aren't necessary; just make it possible to do small anonymous transactions. Don't ask them to log in and sign up before you'll take their money. Just take their money. Internet busking.


Not all spam is illegal, neither do I think it should be. National isolation would therefore not solve the problem entirely (if even for the most part) nor is it usually a desireable solution.

How do you find that community? Discoverability is a huge problem and word of mouth is by far not enought to replace search engines.

Your proposal to monetization seems to be an approach that hasn't succeeded in any way on the internet, despite people trying various ways.

My personal feeling on the tasks is that your solutions are not very helpful to tackle any of those problems.


>>The first is spam and abuse. The problem with a purely "open web" is that there's no solution to those, because of bad actors. The only solution we've found so far are centralized organizations which can run sophisticated machine learning and hire thousands of moderators.

This is completely false on 2 fronts. The idea that these major services have solved spam and abuse is simply provably wrong.

Further there are a number of ways stop spam and abuse on decentralized systems, in some ways these are better than on the centralized platforms.

>The second is aggregation and discoverability. What good is it to publish if nobody finds you? Matching what people want to read, with the content they'll like, is a really hard problem which, again, open standards basically do nothing for.

Here is a valid point, but there are some cool tech coming out that solves this, things like Lbry for example

>And then of course the third is monetization. There's a lot of amazing content on, e.g. YouTube, that wouldn't have been created if it weren't for monetization, because it takes content creators time that they'd otherwise have to spend at a job.

This is amusing, given the massive levels of demonetization on YouTube i think you are overstating the value of YT ad revenue in the modern area. Most YouTubers today seem to make the bulk of their money from outside sources like Sponsored Videos', Merch Sales, Direct Donations, etc.


The author talks about the web as "one of humanity's greatest inventions." which is now in crisis:

> And now, we the architects of the modern web — web designers, UX designers, developers, creative directors, social media managers, data scientists, product managers, start-up people, strategists — are destroying it.

The interests of tech companies, investors and web professionals have not always aligned with the best interests of end-users and so there has been a gradual erosion of the freedoms embedded in the foundations of the web itself.

My favourite StarTrek moment is Captain Pike's statement "We are always in a fight for the future". Given the current state of the web, this feels truer than ever. Unlike the author, however, I don't think the answer is better web pages. Any chance of us winning the fight for user freedoms must be bigger and bolder than that.

There has been an entire generation of entrepreneurs and investors who have thought and planned strategically how to shape the web to work in their best interests. A meaningful counter has to be equally intentional and coordinated to stand a chance at shaping the course technology takes. We are in a fight for the future and we need to think bigger to stand a chance of winning that fight.


In my opinion, this erosion of freedoms is closely related to marketing departments that are now established practice in every IT company. Technological interest becomes an interest in profit, or at least these two become entwined, and in an environment driven by competition, the marketing strategies become very aggressive.

For example, review sites are frequently manipulated by fake posts, and new products that are introduced into the market find it inevitable to do the same because otherwise, they won't get the required visibility to back-up the investment.

And there's an elaborate online tracking mechanism established to follow the user online to obtain his/her purchase history, interests and desires, to push ads to the face, and this is done (although not always) without users consent, limiting online freedom.

I think there are lots of lessons to learn from Cambridge Analytica scandal, or from the practices of ClearView AI that are cooperating with law enforcement providing them facial recognition technologies.


There's a line from The Simpsons Movie that has stuck with me for a long time. Springfield has become critically polluted, and the US government is going to erase it from the map. To sell this idea to the masses, they enlist Tom Hanks to produce an advertisement. The line goes, "Hello, I'm Tom Hanks. The US Government has lost its credibility, so it's borrowing some of mine."

I see this as the fundamental problem. Advertising is, at its core, a transaction in which people with people with credibility and influence are paid to lie. It is a pollution of public discourse and intellect, and what we're seeing right now is the analog of runaway global warming.


People blame ads all the time, but the blame is surface level: they dislike ads because they are unpleasant. But this is blaming a symptom of the real problem.

The real problem is tough to solve.

Ads themselves, intrinsically, are not bad. Ever tried to launch a better product? It turns out people rarely flock to it. Information about products seeps slowly through a population who would benefit from it. So, at its core, marketing helps increase the rate of information propagation.

But that's not all that marketing does, of course. Marketing has value as a signal, also: if a company is spending a lot of money on marketing, economists say it is 'posting a bond', meaning they put a lot of money into some asset (the brand) that will lose value if their product fails to deliver on its promises. That's not always true, of course, but brands with big budgets more often than not tend to more consistently deliver than those with no budget, so there's some signal there.

But still, humans are imperfect, so a portion of marketing is spent convincing people of things that aren't true, and it works some portion of the time, so it continues. And that's where marketing walks across the line separating its value as economic utility to its recipients into psychological manipulation.

Why do people put up with manipulation? Some say it's forced on them, that they have no choice.

But they do, broadly, have a choice. And their choice is, in aggregate, to be cheap. People are not willing to pay enough for content to allow that content to be delivered without the sort of marketing that goes beyond informational and bond-making and into intrusive and obtrusive.

So then content makers have a choice: do we not make content (or social platforms, or search engines, etc) at all, or do we make content and post ads?

That's not really a choice. The only option is to sell ads. And it is because consumers consistently choose to spend less money, and pay for their consumption not in immediate dollars but by offering up their attention to those who wish to change consumers' spending allocations. We can blame advertisers for this, but until consumers become willing to pony up - and they almost certainly will not - we will continue getting ads all the time, and continue blaming ads for a crappy web experience.


None of these points seem correct to me. For instance, the "launch a better product" argument. Most of the time, the thing preventing a better product from entering is that they have to overcome their competition's advertising budget. If no one was allowed to advertise, evaluations of products would necessarily be more honest, and I expect that products would be better, not worse, for it.

As a value signal to investors, I don't know how you could possibly disentangle the benefits from the economies of scale from either of the effects that you're talking about, both the attraction of investors in the first place, or the relative bloat of their advertising budgets. Seems like a non-argument to me, but maybe "some economists" are right.

If you are convincing people of things that are true, it's done through a combination of science and democracy. If you perform a (preregistered) study and then accept the results, that's not lying, and if people review your products autonously, you haven't paid them at all.

And as far as internet content creators are concerned, Building up a following expressly so that you can cash out on your credibility with them is a huge manifestation of the problem. If anything, the ability to do this has almost completely depleted the internet of new good content. Basically what you've described is a pay to play model, where the only way that people can make content is if they can get paid to make it. Which means that the only content that exists is content that an advertiser wants to see. These are just independent contractor advertisers. Content is completely incidental to the model.

You've clearly put a lot of thought into why you should not have to admit that advertising is bad, but you haven't gone so far as to actually deny the statement that advertising is lying for money, or that a society built on lying for money is bad.


I agree, I think ads are a scourge on society and the source of a great number of problems we have today. The problem is that the incentives are very strong for selling ads, but I think it can be corrected through regulation or taxation. If you decrease the profit margins, the amount of effort being expelled to manipulating people's attention will decrease drastically and big tech might go back to creating new technology instead of manipulating people.


Not going to happen unless we get property rights to software. As long as software is "licensed", we no longer own our machines.

Battle.net DRM, Steam, EPIC, uplay, origin, are all bids to lock down software.

Without property rights to own software you can't prevent mass privacy invasion that's going on in windows 10. You need to beat back DRM completely and that mean's we need ownership rights and DRM systems need to be destroyed, they only came about because big media companies lobbied away the basic rights and freedoms to own our PC's and the software on it.

Without software property rights for the public, the madness will continue.

I watched for the last 23 years as the game industry client-servered every PC game and got away with it because "software is licensed", not owned, so they can technically sell you incomplete software where pieces of your game live on a remote server and die if it ever shuts off.

Shit is fraud plain and simple, that's why dedicated servers and level editors went away in the AAA space and how we got "software as a service (scam)".

I don't see anything good given the vast majority of people are too stupid politically to even approach the problem of property rights to software for end users.


The freedom to use software in any way a user wants is fundamental to a future that respects users. A future that respects creators is one where they have the right to do what they like with their creation too.

Creators should be able to rent out access to their software if they choose (SaaS) or distribute it with non-free licences. My hope is that more creators will choose a different path.

A better future doesn't have to depend on a dogmatic vision of what software is. A better future is one where there's freedom on both sides of the equation.


You seem to be ignoring the other, more legitimate motivation for DRM schemes: rampant piracy meant that as many as 90% of copies of some games were illegal. With production costs today so much higher, a lot of modern games probably couldn't have been made in that environment.

Walled gardens and proprietary lock-in schemes are still undesirable from the user's perspective, and I suspect many of us might support stronger consumer rights in this area, but just switching off all protections without a change in culture so people do respect the rights of creators as well is unrealistic.


The real value of game stores isn't the DRM, it's things like simplified installation and automatic updates. They're essentially package managers. Before this, games came in several CDs which were fragile and players had to download and apply many incremental patches just to play online. Stores like Steam changed everything. Few people remember how it used to be before them.

Copyright infringement is inconsequential when faced with these benefits and simplicity. Infringement takes effort. In order to infringe, people have to fiddle with torrents and trackers, search for the data they want, evaluate the quality of each torrent and trust that the executables they download are not malicious. This isn't something your average person is going to do even if it costs $0. Lots of people do it because the creators themselves leave them no choice: refusing to do business in the consumer's country, including invasive malware in the form of DRM and anti-cheating software that renders games unplayable for reasons such as lack of internet connection or use of a virtual machine. People go out of their way to make the "pirate" version the superior version.


Just to be sure I've understood your argument, you're claiming that providing easy access to copyright-protected works is sufficient to prevent piracy, as no-one will attempt to pirate things that are readily available on a legal basis so DRM is pointless?

I agree that not providing a good, legal means to get something is an incentive for pirates, but the idea that all piracy just goes away if you do is absurd. Some people tried experiments with this a few years ago, and found that even for something that you could literally get legally for free just by downloading it from the original website, a high proportion of the copies being played actually came from other sources and were not legally obtained.

I've run a business that creates original content and makes it available through an online portal. My team and I have on occasion watched, in real time, over periods of hours or even days, as some people have gone to lengths that were hard to believe just to scrape our content in a way that would let them set up a copycat. Obviously we shut them down before they could pose a serious risk to the business, but it was a great demonstration of the weakness of arguments that people are basically decent and will buy stuff legally if you make it easy. Some people are like that, many people even. And more people will buy stuff legally if you don't make it unreasonably difficult. But many people will still try to rip you off, no matter what you product costs or how easy it is to get.


We've been at the DRM game a long time, through games, music, videos, etc. They all work about as well as they've worked before.

If you want to control your hardware, do what you will. But I'm not happy if you need controls in all my hardware.

There's an argument to be made that the encumbrances you hope for are largely controlled by global corporations who yield to governments, and aren't aligned with the rights of individuals and culture at large (extended copyright, CPU backdoors, carrier backdoors, etc).

Loss is built into every business model. Loss prevention is a reasonable response. But this cycle of "more controls, more DRM, more backdoors" returns again and again, and is worth resisting.


Loss is built into every business model. Loss prevention is a reasonable response. But this cycle of "more controls, more DRM, more backdoors" returns again and again, and is worth resisting.

I think you have to look at the issue from both sides. When I was younger, I was the same idealistic anti-DRM person as others commenting here. I took the same black and white views about how it's unjustified and since it will inevitably be broken it's pointless.

Then I learned something about the real economics of content creation at different scales, and some of my own business interests have intersected with this area from the other side. That tends to give you a more nuanced view of the situation.

FWIW, I'm a strongly liberal, pro-rights kind of person. I don't imagine I like hostile DRM measures or systems I can't fully control any more than anyone else here. But not liking them is different to not understanding the motivations for them or accepting that in some circumstances they may be a justified and proportionate response to a demonstrable threat. People did rip software and music and movies and so on, on a massive scale, before we evolved the modern culture. Different media have tried to solve that problem in different ways.

With music, where it's viable to have a very low cost product, we have solved it to some extent by making legitimate channels easier to access at a price where buying legally isn't a big deal. In other news, most music files you download aren't DRM'd at all these days. The flip side of this one is that a lot of the artists themselves are now basically getting scammed by the big music distribution services paying them a tiny fraction of the revenues they're bringing in and some pretty shady rights transfer agreements. But in terms of legal copyright for the final listener, it's essentially a solved problem.

With software or movies, you often can't afford to distribute everything easily at throwaway prices, because the costs involved in production are much higher and you need the people who benefit from the product to contribute a fair part of that cost or the whole production becomes unviable. Part of the reaction here has been the unfortunate trend towards only investing the big money in smash hit franchises that are sure to make a huge profit even if they suffer significant infringement as well. Plenty of people will go to the theatre to watch the next MCU movie or will buy the next installment of Assassin's Creed or next year's version of their favourite sports game where the only thing that changed significantly was the players and teams in the database. But for anything that isn't a sure-fire hit, you can probably drop a couple of zeroes off the budget anyone will give you now.

Even with the sure-fire hits, you can expect that Assassin's Creed title to have some sort of phone-home lock when it launches, which will probably protect a large amount of revenue in the opening weeks until someone cracks it.

And of course for software that is more expensive still -- like business applications that used to cost hundreds per seat before -- the move to SaaS and online hosting has a very convenient side effect for the developers that it becomes essentially impervious to piracy if they do it right. Not that everyone does, as Adobe has demonstrated yet again just this week.

I think the fundamental problem is that copyright has evolved to a strange and not entirely logical position in law today. It intends to prevent actions that could cause severe damage to a legitimate creator who made and released work in return for the rights the law claimed to offer. And yet it remains primarily a civil matter, and infringements tend to be of such low value individually that they aren't worth pursuing through normal legal actions and as such render the associated rights largely unenforceable in practice, even though the collective damage from infringement may still be severe. So big rightsholders resort to things like DRM and lobbying for otherwise nonsensical laws that try to criminalise circumvention of DRM schemes even if the original act of copying would itself have been legal.

If there were meaningful criminal penalties for knowingly redistributing works in violation of copyright, which were enforced by public authorities like any other crime, but if there were also much tighter restrictions on what DRM was allowed to do and obligations on those releasing works using it to ensure the legitimate rights of people who paid for access were respected, we might be better off. But in reality, criminal copyright laws for commercial infringement are still rarely enforced and the vast majority of infringement goes unchallenged, so rightsholders continue to resort to the IP version of street justice and throwing their considerable legal and lobbying weight around to get their way, often to the detriment of legitimate customers who are happy to pay a fair price for works they enjoy but then suffer the consequences of broken DRM or bad legal actions or whatever.


I didn't say it was going to prevent copyright infringement. I said the infringement was going to be inconsequential. Does it really matter if some minority chooses to download data via unofficial channels? I doubt that. I also doubt the idea that "as many as 90% of copies" will be illegal.

The more you try to prevent copyright infringement, the more it is justified. Prevention requires the destruction of free computing and networking as we know it. Today we enjoy near total freedom as computer users: we can run whatever software we want. The computer doesn't ask whether copyright holders like the software before running it. In order for copyright to be enforceable, that freedom must be sacrificed: only "approved" software must run. I'd rather see the abolition of copyright than live in such a future.

These DRM technologies are becoming extremely invasive. It's gotten to the point they've become malware rather than merely annoyances. So an illegal copy is better even for paying consumers just because it lacks the DRM.

> I've run a business that creates original content and makes it available through an online portal. My team and I have on occasion watched, in real time, over periods of hours or even days, as some people have gone to lengths that were hard to believe just to scrape our content in a way that would let them set up a copycat.

What kind of content?


I said the infringement was going to be inconsequential.

Yes, but you've given no evidence to support your position. It just seems to be your personal view/assumption.

The more you try to prevent copyright infringement, the more it is justified.

Someone is doing you harm in an illegal way, and you take steps to protect yourself from the damage, and that makes it more justified for them to do you harm in an illegal way? That's not exactly a strong moral or legal argument.

What kind of content?

Educational and uncontroversial. But in a niche market, where creating good original content requires real work by dedicated people because most people aren't going to do it, and where someone setting up some copycat site in China or India really does pose an existential threat to the viability of the business.


It's hard to respect the rights of someone who is willing to sacrifice yours to ensure theirs.

That isn't even just a software thing. It's a fundamental problem of civil life; backed by willingness/asymmetry in means to practically apply force.

I'd gladly pay for a good game. I am very much less likely to pay for a game I cannot try. I will not do SaaS games anymore on principle. The business model may be the most advantageous in terms of operating game studios, but I'm done handing over information to third parties, and being left high and dry when they decide they want to fundamentally change things/not host infrastructure anymore. In that sense, I treat it like any other piece of software I rely on. If I can't mirror/host/modify/distribute/fork source; I'm not terribly interested.

For me a game is a tool. It is a tool through which wonder and joy can be experienced at the myriad of things we can coerce a computer into doing. Tell me I can't do anything with it except pay for it and let it take up space on my drive, and you've lost a sale.

Then again, as an astute architect once pointed out to me; clearly I'm not the intended audience; and the number of people committed to servicing the audience I'm a part of is few and far between. This will likely remain the status quo until the end of my days; and it isn't even like I've made a contribution to the space as of yet; so I tend to suffer in silence as the sinner with a rock should.

When the day comes that I do, (especially in the unlikely event the game is actually good) I may come down off the fence and make the debate space intolerable for game-industry status quo people.


It's hard to respect the rights of someone who is willing to sacrifice yours to ensure theirs.

Indeed. So how do you think game developers felt watching their hard work get ripped by pirates who would offer absurd rationalisations to justify breaking the law and taking something that other people spent a lot of time and money to make without paying for it?

I'd gladly pay for a good game. I am very much less likely to pay for a game I cannot try.

That is your prerogative. In days gone by, before online distribution was the norm and other strategies became viable, game developers used to release demos that featured, say, the first couple of levels of a game so you could try it out. This is hardly a new thing, and it's never something that many game developers were against.

If I can't mirror/host/modify/distribute/fork source; I'm not terribly interested.

Again, that's your prerogative. I actually have a lot of sympathy for this view; at my businesses, we adopt a very similar strategy in avoiding SaaS for anything critical to our business operations.

But we have to realise that we are in a relatively small minority here. As long as the online systems or DRM or whatever are reasonably transparent, most people simply don't care. As you say, the likes of us are not the intended audience of these products.


American IP law was alway writtein in a one sided way to deny ownership rights to the general public, what about big media and game companies lobbying away the public domain?

So I won't feel anything for people like you and your pro drm arguments, none of this would be talked about pre-internet because the only way to give us software was to give us all the files.

The modern game industry is committing fraud and stealing software on a mass scale because of the criminally underhanded IP laws.

Steam/uplay/origin were forced into existence, no one wanted them and were imposed on the population because game consumers were 100's of miles away.

The internet is just one sized world computer and programmers and ceo's know they can now issue commands down the wire to impose their will on the computer illiterate.


your pro drm arguments

I don't know what a pro-DRM argument looks like here. Do you think an argument that solving a problem where two huge groups have each been abused by a significant fraction of the other group over a multi-decade period in a way that affects everyone's lives and billions in economic activity might need more nuance than giving one side everything it wants and putting the other side in front of a firing squad is pro-DRM?

none of this would be talked about pre-internet

Most of this wasn't very relevant pre-Internet. You couldn't see a new work you'd spent the equivalent of $100,000,000 developing with a team of hundreds over a period of years being cracked and then copied to millions of people within a matter of hours pre-Internet.

In those days, sure, you got all the files, but you also probably got asked to read a word from a certain page in the manual or something when you loaded the game as a crude but surprisingly effective form of copy protection. You couldn't just look anything you needed to know up online because that sort of "online" didn't exist back then. Sometimes people did distribute cracked versions of games, but again they didn't circulate rapidly among the community because they had to be individually copied and shared around on physical media.

Using the capabilities of the Internet to counter widespread abuse facilitated by those same capabilities is hardly a radical strategy. Absent a radical global overhaul of IP law (which I'd fully support, but I don't see happening any time soon) relying on technological solutions to protect itself is all the creative industry has.

Clearly you have strong views on this, so how would you resolve the impasse in a way that better respects the rights of consumers without obliterating all viable business models for creators?


>Clearly you have strong views on this, so how would you resolve the impasse in a way that better respects the rights of consumers without obliterating all viable business models for creators?

The creators need to get fucked because piracy was never an issue, EA, Microsoft and activison became huge companies before they started coding their software in criminal underhanded ways enabled by the internet. The internet has merely enabled creators to steal from the public because the public can't reach them, that's how we ended up with steam/drm.

Your pro creator stance, is a non argument. When steam was released I didn't know the FTC existed or I would have called the FTC and blew the whistle on the fact that Valve, EA, activison, and sony were lying to the public selling them stolen games, and RPG's (aka mmo's).

Any client-server piece of software, mean's your being robbed, there's no rational reason not to get complete set of files that runs locally on your machine. The end game for microsoft and other companies was to kill the idea of local applications users own and control (aka get rid of everyones basic human rights to own their shit).

You don't seem to get the entire tech industry is run by criminals, you're trying to apply capitalistic idea of property rights to ELECTRONS, it's impossible to make files uncopyable, as it is impossible to make water unwet unless you physically put defects into the hardware and software or hack it (aka encrypt files and basically hack your own software).

Big media companies have gained huge profits by fraud (aka stealing software by taking advantage of a compute illiterate public).

Valve, and the entire industry is criminal and corrupt as fuck... it's literally selling you incomplete programs.

Why the hell should anyone need permission from your a rack of servers colocated somewhere to use their videogames? That's feudalism right there.

Your whole worldview is based on laws written in country who's citizenry are idiots and who've been living in a lawless oligarchy for 2 centuries.

Every time IP law came up for extension big business always extended it and the public domain lost, you don't live in a democracy.

So trying to argue with you, would be trying to argue with an illiterate peasant who has no idea that he has been giving a free pass to a corrupt lawless oligarchy to steal all human culture and lock it down behind bullshit one sided intellectual property laws that were specifically written to deny basic human rights to the citizens..

AKA the right to OWN what you buy, software licensing should have never gotten the ground, and both businesses and consumers should have gotten full property rights transfer to anything they buy.

You don't get software licensing was a one sided con because our christian grandmothers and grandpa's had no idea how technology worked, it was magic for 99% of the public which is why silicon valley got to write laws in such a criminally human rights denying way to begin with.

If anything the creators have been stealing from the public domain for two centuries, it's on people like you why we should believe someone who is defending the rich, their big media companies and their lobbyists from removing basic rights everyone should have - the right to own what they buy outright, the right to repair it, the right to modify it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_Term_Extension_Act#/...


And the solution to piracy turned out to be "make legitimate stores more convenient than pirated ones". It's not that DRM got so good that I can't find a game on the Pirate Bay, it's that Steam is so convenient that I don't bother to.

Given that, DRM is entirely useless, and I prefer to buy things from GOG.com whenever I can.


Given that, DRM is entirely useless

This is a common claim, but it's not realistic.

The commercial success of modern AAA titles with budgets comparable to Hollywood blockbusters is often extremely front-loaded. That is, like new movies, these games typically make a disproportionate part of their lifetime revenue during the first few weeks after release. No-one in the gaming industry expects a DRM scheme to protect a AAA title indefinitely, but if some online-linked scheme can take even a few weeks to crack after launch, that can make a huge difference to the total revenues brought in by a game.

At the other end of the spectrum, the commercial success of a small indie game might be determined by selling a few hundred extra copies. If some simple copy protection efforts can significantly reduce casual copying, that could be the difference between making money and losing money.

People sometimes look at DRM as if it's some black-and-white issue for the creators, something that has no benefit if it's not 100% effective. That's not how the real world works.


The counter argument is every netflix show and movie, every hbo show, every amazon show, is available via torrent moments after it comes out. And yet Netflix and Amazon are an N and A in FAANG. They're hugely profitable, even though it can all be pirated trivially.

Similarly there are things like humblebundle which releases all software DRM free (or did) yet devs are making money.

This isn't about zero piracy. It's about whether or not DRM is effective. I think sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. I'm not sure I can put my finger on where it is and where it isn't.

As one example, my impression is it's important for software like Maya, 3DSMax, Autodesk. I'm confident most companies i've worked for would not bother purchasing the appropriate number of licenses if they didn't have to. It might not even be deliberate. It's just if the software wasn't DRMed they'd just install on each new employee's machine and put it on a forgotten TODO list to buy a new license. The software is large enough and the market small enough that DRM matters.

On the other hand, examples of Netflix above, it not clear it matters for movies. Nor is it clear it matters for AAA games or even many popular Indie games.


Even in the case of services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, the DRM measures are a significant impediment to casual infringement, and in particular to "ignorant" casual infringement by the kind of person who would quite happily put a whole show on their YouTube channel and then write something like "No copyright intended" in the description as if that meant they hadn't just flagrantly broken the law. For any big name, mass market title, there will probably be a way to acquire it illegally relatively quickly after release for those who know where to look, but there is a very long tail of infringement beyond that point and that's what they're trying to control with these kinds of measures.

As a pertinent illustration, a while back Google started adding a download icon to the default toolbar for HTML5 videos in Chrome. It didn't do anything you couldn't do before just by using the context menu and saving. And yet Internet forums were swamped by complaints from people who made DRM-free videos available on their sites in the immediate aftermath, because viewers assumed the presence of the icon meant it was now OK to download the videos to keep or share arbitrarily. My businesses typically don't employ any fancy DRM schemes for content we provide to customers once they've paid and logged in to whatever system they're using. But that week, after spending an insane amount of time chasing down copies of multimedia content that was for paying customers only yet suddenly started popping up on every hosting/sharing system you can think of, we did implement a really dumb "breaking change" in how we served videos, just to get rid of that icon, and it solved our problem overnight.


If Pike and his crew represent users, then the tech industry are the Talosians?

Absolute favourite episode hands down, The Cage. According to Shatner's autobiography, NBC called the pilot "too cerebral" and "too intellectual".


Agreed, but what are you personally going to do, very specifically, to fight back?


Things I want to do this year to help reclaim the web:

1. Run my own personal web server. Starting on a cloud provider, but eventually from my flat.

2. Write my own blog on my own web server. Not using a platform. Not tracking users.

3. Push my side-project code to an open Gitlab repo

Way down on this list is "stop commenting on HN", so if you never hear from me again, be glad ;)


You might be interested in the IndieWeb folks' thoughts: https://indieweb.org/POSSE

> Way down on this list is "stop commenting on HN",

I don't see how HN is what's wrong with the web. It's a very well managed online community.


> I don't see how HN is what's wrong with the web. It's a very well managed online community.

I would say that, while what you're saying is true, it's also a very intense echo chamber. VCs, startup-culture and lots of the work generated by YCombinator has contributed to the hostility of the web in the first place.


But doesn't this also mean that if enough people start echoing the right sound, like here in this thread and many others, it will start to reverberate in these VC's and startups' ears who then hopefully take these considerations to heart?


Sure, but it's a huge stretch to think that a VC-oriented echo chamber would start thinking the right things. The motives of the people that own and operate this forum are not necessarily aligned with the goals we're describing here, by definition.


Remember when everyone used to praise Google (deservedly) about its "do no evil" motto? The problem w/ sites like HN is not inherently about the quality of community or the content, but that aggregation is philosophically antithetical to the openness of the web.

The charm of the web of old is that you could own your space and if you wanted your pages to have animated gifs of rainbows and unicorns, you could. Likewise if people wanted to customize their view of the web, they could via things like RSS.

Contrast to nowadays, where we collectively consider experiments about omitting noise from HN API via AI something that is "cool". The very aggregating nature of HN that brought people together in the first place can also be a limitation against branching out onto your own directions/subcultures (e.g. the comments about echo chambers).


> I don't see how HN is what's wrong with the web

I think he's saying it's a distraction. I agree.


this. Also I invest way too much emotional involvement in HN commenting. I find it difficult to maintain emotional detachment and not get angry/happy/annoyed/worried/whatever about how many upvotes my comments get.

On my list of "important things I need to have on my mind" whether my latest HN comment got upvoted is waaaaaaaay down there (possibly not enough emphasis there on how little this truly matters to my life). And yet it takes up a lot more mental space than that (evidence: this comment).

I don't seem to be able to not give a shit about it, so I'm probably better off not doing it at all.


... well, upvoted ;)

But consider this a big fat upvote for your life in general, and not related to HN


I disagree with your HN comment. HN is pretty well known to be astroturf forum in fact that's the reason lobster.rs and other alternatives have been founded.


From all publicly available evidence, Lobste.rs founding had absolutely nothing to do with HN being an “astroturf forum” in 2012, rather the opposite. Strong moderation lacking in communication seems to have been the primary driver, with the creator being shadow banned and ghosted by the HN mods which basically meant Paul Graham at the time.

https://jcs.org/notaweblog/2012/06/13/hellbanned_from_hacker...

https://lobste.rs/about


> Lobste.rs founding had absolutely nothing to do with HN being an “astroturf forum”

It absolutely had everything to do with it. That's the reason lobste.rs is invite only forum. They had a rather big drama there recently as astroturfer still snuck in even through invite only system resulting in increasing of account restrictions on posting etc.

Personally I think their limits are a bit too strict though when you browse hacker news almost every day you can see how that's necessary.


Is that also the reason they launched with a public mod log, tags, and downvote explanations?

The presence of a trivially bypassed invite tree completely invalidates the public, historical reasoning behind the founding from the founder themself in 2012?

Feel free to open those links I posted before replying.


That's the first I've heard of this. I'd be interested to read more. Do you have any sources to back up the claim that HN is a well known astroturth forum.


I can confirm I've personally been asked to post things on HN because I have an old account and so it would look more organic (I did not, not saying who asked because I'm not interested in starting a brouhaha).


my account is a year older than yours and I've never been asked by shadowy interest groups to astroturf, do you have any tips to improve my account's brand appeal?


Probably a combination of chance, ease of contact, and working for a large tech company thus signaling general obedience. It's not like it happens all the time, only happened once.


I presume you notified DanG. What did he say/do?


I wouldn't say well known, but it is reasonable to assume that some entities would have interest in swaying the HN community enough to put some effort into it. Yesterday for example the thread "Show HN: Twingate – A modern solution for remote access"[1] showed some signs of astroturfing as pointed out in the comment by crmrc114. Possibly as a form of advertising.

Response was very quick as I have usually seen though.

[1]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23326755


I think you're looking for https://lobste.rs/


thanks for the indieweb link, that's useful :)


I'm currently working on a project which I hope to launch later this year that gives users the ability to run, view and modify software using visual tools.

There are too many meaningful problems technology could be solving and too few programmers interested in solving those problems. Giving more people the tools to build their own solutions or adapt others is something that could really change the game. There are a few companies exploring this space but we're looking to create open tools that don't enforce a vendor lock-in and tools that defend user freedoms. Viva la revolución!


- Support small/local/regional cyber organizations that respect users online and motivate them build dynamic online communities instead of mass aggregates of UIDs. - Use open source softwares that respect my rights and privacy. - Decentralize my financial and technological options. - Randomly support a small but empowering online project that someone started. - Wear an N95 mask when browsing online. - Reconsider gopher as a healthy and viable way to access data :-)


Understand the user needs that are being fulfilled by the walled gardens,

Build and sell simple, useful and if not open then transparent services or products in order to foster variety in the face of anticompetitive or monopolistic entities,

Help resellers/repackagers/... to configure, integrate or adapt such services even if not my own.

Y'know, "do one thing and do it well"-style.


Replying to @all

What I was getting at was dead simpl,e: turn off JS and install a hostfile-based blocklist, or other. It really was that simple. I also enable cookies just for HN posting. Else no cookies of any kind ever accepted.

So are people doing that, because if you don't co-operate with their code, tracking you gets vastly harder. You can take back control of you machine - if you choose.

It's simple and you can do it now - if you choose.

@benjaminjosephw: can you give more detail? (glad you're not just all talk!)

@marcus_holmes, @zdkl, @saagarjha: you may need to get together with others to unify the idea of doing your own web servers. A collective not a commercial entity which you are trying to avoid being involved in. That gives you together much more power.

I think that's what @MaxBarraclough is suggesting looking at . I will to.

@saagarjha: writing your own browser engine seems totally pointless - it's the web at fault, not the browser that renders it. If you don't like bits of the browser, remove the code. Don't understand what you're trying to do.


JavaScript by itself isn't evil. A static web site that uses JavaScript to let the user do everything on the client provides more privacy than an old-school web site with CGI scripts and forms.

I've been playing with this idea recently. If you want to provide access to a database which is infrequently updated and no bigger than a few megabytes (like the catalogue of a library with 30 000 books), then provide the database with the web page and implement the search function in JavaScript. If you avoid using a JavaScript "framework" then you may find that the web page responds to your typing so instantaneously that you feel like you're back in the 1980s using a Z80-based machine. (You remember those Z80-based word processors that could keep up with a competent typist?)


> A static web site that uses JavaScript to let the user do everything on the client provides more privacy than an old-school web site with CGI scripts and forms.

Of course, on the majority of websites I am not doing any interactions where that would be necessary to me in the first place, and on the majority of websites where JavaScript is used, it's used with little mind towards privacy.

That it isn't inherently evil is a pretty toothless argument that fundamentally doesn't address the proposed solution you're responding to. The fact that the web is a cesspool of scripts ranging from completely useless to directly user-hostile isn't nullified by use cases that are so rare that you from the top of your head can apparently only hypothesize about them.


Perhaps you're right. Perhaps we need to replace JavaScript with something that can be more easily constrained.

There seems to be something wrong with a world in which it is in some ways easier/safer to run an untrusted binary, by putting it in a container, than an untrusted web page. You can of course put the browser in a container, but it's crazy that we have to resort to that.

Thanks to Spectre and Meltdown, if you want to be really safe when running untrusted code, you need separate hardware.


Here's one live example: https://www.tujavortaro.net/


Point is, it uses JS and how do I know I can trust it? Not this site but in general. As I say elsewhere, JS is not bad, it's an issue of trust that the JS delivered will not abuse your permission to run on your machine.


That particular site: the code is properly formatted with comments, there's a link to a GitLab repo with the source, you could check your network traffic while using it, ...

But in general: I suppose what we need is a flexibly configurable JavaScript engine that stops and asks permission before any suspicious operation is performed. I don't know enough about JavaScript to know whether or how that might work. I note that the way tujavortaro.net downloads a dictionary is by adding a <script> element to the head of the document (https://gitlab.com/sstangl/tuja-vortaro/-/blob/master/app.js...). HTML+JS is naturally self-modifying, so it's hard to do a static analysis.


That's a great example. Instantaneous response to queries even on an ancient Chromebook.


JS is a tool. It's not intrinsically evil, but it cannot easily be constrained to be good. I'll come back to that.

Your book-search idea is interesting. Another way is simply to display the list on the web page, minimally marked up, and let the user search using the text search in all browsers - no JS needed. Might be a sizeable page though.

There may be better ways that don't involve sucking bandwidth to deliver a huge list. Bloom filters? I dunno, needs thought and I'm busy - what do you reckon?

But your idea still needs JS. I'm fine with JS if I knew it was doing something minimal and it was highly constrained. That's the problem, not so much running JS as trusting it when it comes from somewhere unknown.

Keep up the good thinking though!


There are possible alternative futures for technology beyond the web. We've charted a particular course throughout history to get here but there are other fruitful avenues to explore that are still open to technical pioneers like many people here on HN. Brett Victor gives a great talk with a similar premise[0].

The Web started life as a means of publicly sharing documents and has turned into a network of walled gardens. Rather than trying to fix the web itself, I think the solution is to try to recreate something true to the original spirit where users are publishers and where openness is the default.

What I'm working on specifically is best described as another take on Mozilla's Open Web App project[1] where applications are actually distributed to users for them to run themselves. The difference is that by adding visual programming into the mix, programs are realistically user editable and software freedoms start to take on a real significance to a whole new audience of empowered end-users. If you're interested in finding out more, I'm planning on publishing a blog post outlining the details in a couple of weeks time - watch this space.

[0] - https://vimeo.com/71278954

[1] - https://blog.mozilla.org/blog/2010/10/19/prototype-of-an-ope...


> you may need to get together with others to unify the idea of doing your own web servers

I don't actually use my own server to serve my website, currently, but I have the infrastructure set up to do so if need be.

> writing your own browser engine seems totally pointless - it's the web at fault, not the browser that renders it. If you don't like bits of the browser, remove the code. Don't understand what you're trying to do.

I'm suggesting contributing to an existing web engines, not writing one from scratch (which at this point is fairly difficult to do).


What do you do when you need a website but it doesn't work without Js?

It's a huge pain to make phone calls, or go to the store


I use a VM for the few cases I really need to interact with a JS-ridden site, which reverts to a clean state when closed. This should be doable by most HN'ers, we're supposed to be technically savvy.

But another way when you need not have to use the site to put pressure on the site by not bothering with it if it breaks without JS. Enough people do it and they will get the hint.

Or actually talk to the site owners and ask them - I have done this with a small publisher.

Or if someone post a link to their JS-requiring blog/site on HN, ask them politely to make it usable without (I do occasionally).

If you want to fight back, you have to pay the price. It's a pretty small one for me.


Personally, I run a website which I use to push my ideals of what the web should look like. I try to educate people on why I think that way and what I think is wrong what they might be doing. If you’re really devoted, you could try contributing to a browser engine to help reign (typo: rein) in the web.


There's already a browser engine that reigns in the web. What we need is a browser engine to help rein in the web.


Oops, thanks for catching that! Let me fix it.


took me reading that twice to get what you did there hehe


I've been trying to build a Mastadon container for docker so that I can convince friends and family to try a smaller social network. First for pictures, then maybe later for more.

If, say 1 in every 1000 people knew how to maintain their own small Mastadon server, we could build a decentralized social network with federated identity.

I think that would be a noble first step and would not require too much moderation work for the admin: how hard would it be to moderate 200 of your friends and family? not very.


Some friends and I are trying to built a new private web where tracking is impossible without user permission and users own their data:

https://book.peergos.org


> A meaningful counter has to be equally intentional and coordinated to stand a chance at shaping the course technology takes.

A new TCP protocol which provides value (really great value) and discourages the kinds of futures you want to avoid could go a long way.


brave browser seems like an idea worth supporting, imo


No, this is not a problem that will be solved by "Entrepreneurs and investors" as they're precisely the people who caused this problem in the first place and to suggest more capitalism will solve problems inherently caused by capitalism is the definition of the old adage "insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results." This problem will only be solved by regulation.


Any chance of us winning the fight for user freedoms must be bigger and bolder than that.

Can you please take a look at the following URLs (so I don’t have to repeat it here) and let me know if this is along the lines of what you are thinking about:

https://qbix.com/business.pdf

https://qbix.com/token

Can it work to retake control of the Web for users?


If crypto turns out to be the solution to user hostile web design practices, I will eat several hats.


Where did you get that it’s only crypto by itself?


Did the web sort of start out a super walled garden for millions of people?

My embarrassing story was starting out with an AOL disk in the mail. I thought the "web" was great fun and apparently I wasn't alone. Often I couldn't even log in because the web was all busy signals. It was the AOL fail wail.

In those early explorations, I found a button with the label "www." I didn't know what it was, but I did know that it sucked! I don't think I bothered with the www again until after I moved away from AOL.

All the things we complain about on the web today should have its place. We just don't need to go there. It's not actually that hard to avoid tracking, etc. The majority of HN could probably work out some sort of Stallman type of setup over a weekend or two.

If we can't avoid, then maybe we could create "personas" instead. Like in an MMORPG, create an avatar. Maybe we can create noise machines to throw people off. Do the opposite of the Brave browser. Run bots and clicking operations in the background (IMO clicking ads served to me with no intent to buy is only bad when I intend to profit or help someone I know to profit from it. If I have a process to do things randomly to obscure my tracks, then I'm fine?)

I think if we're really going to make a dent, we need to work to create an ecosystem elsewhere. Look at the dark web for example. It's crap, but you can buy drugs there! Open source developers maybe need to jump on the tooling. Writers need to add the content. Then of course we'll just start the cycle over again. But maybe distributed next time.


Did the web sort of start out a super walled garden for millions of people?

If you define "web" as web sites on the internet, then no. But if you define "web" as people communicating en masse via computer, then yes.

I remember when even something as basic as e-mail would only work within a single e-mail service. Eventually gateways were built between networks, but not every network connected to every other network, so in order to send an e-mail message from User A to User B, you'd have to send it through Gateway X, Gateway Y, and Gateway Z.

For content, we were all in the walled gardens of CompuServe, The Source, The WELL, HAL-PC, and dozens other commercial services, plus tens of thousands of private mini-gardens in the form of BBSes.


> Did the web sort of start out a super walled garden for millions of people?

> I think if we're really going to make a dent, we need to work to create an ecosystem elsewhere.

There is an attempt being made to build what you're describing - and it's called Ceptr (http://ceptr.org) by it's creators. The underlying pattern that has emerged in their work is a 'holograhic' chain (Holochain) that allows users to create small modular distributed apps that come together in a coherent way to form apps and online meeting places that aren't mediated by the corporate structure. In some places it is called Protocol Cooperavitism. The idea is that Protocol Cooperavitism will slowly start replacing/evolve into Platform Capitalism.

So yeah, Holochian is a protocol development framework, like Ruby on Rails but for serverless protocols instead of centralized servers.

Holochain is a framework for writing fully distributed peer-to-peer applications. It is not based on blockchain technology. Nor is Holochain a single platform like Ethereum. It is rather like a decentralized Ruby on Rails, a toolkit that produces stand-alone programs but for serverless high-profile applications.

Source: https://medium.com/holochain/holochain-reinventing-applicati...


If you want a better web, we need to figure out two things, none of which appear in the author's article:

1. How to pay for stuff in the web in the same way you can pay with cash in the real world.

2. How to regulate the new-age, digital-good, information-aggregation monopolies. I suspect this will have to be done by either a state-forced, or a highly-useful interoperability protocol for building new tech.


> 1. How to pay for stuff in the web in the same way you can pay with cash in the real world.

This is precisely the problem that Bitcoin was created to solve. You can argue that Bitcoin specifically has failed to fill that role; but, I still earnestly believe that a cryptocurrency system will be a key aspect of the "better web", that the crypto infrastructure is in its infancy now and will bloom as development continues.


1 is pretty easy. Just do it. You go to a store, pay, and leave. You go to a website, pay, and leave. No signup or anything necessary. Most countries support real-time payments, and there's credit/debit cards for those who don't.

2 certainly requires state involvement. it is impossible to use technical means to solve a social problem, since bad actors will just find the loopholes which can only be closed after the fact. In a criminal court, there aren't so many loopholes and they can be challenged in real time.


I would rephrase #1 as, "a way for content creators to monetize what they make, other than running ads." Certainly credit cards exist, but (for several reasons) people won't whip out their CC to buy a funny cat video on someone's website. Patreon is one solution, but signing up to support a new creator is kind of a heavyweight operation.

I think a platform like Flattr makes sense: you pay a flat $X/month to Flattr, and they handle the logging of what you watched/read, and splitting up your $X among those creators.


> I would rephrase #1 as, "a way for content creators to monetize what they make, other than running ads." Certainly credit cards exist, but (for several reasons) people won't whip out their CC to buy a funny cat video on someone's website. Patreon is one solution, but signing up to support a new creator is kind of a heavyweight operation.

The solutions you mention all work just fine--lots of artists are making money on Bandcamp and Patreon. The only reason you think they don't work fine is that they haven't scaled well for gigantic centralized entities. But I have to ask, why, as a user, would we want gigantic centralized entities? That's the absolute antithesis of what I want.


> How to pay for stuff in the web

What is valuable on the web?

Thinking more about this, one of the only tangible currencies on the real web is hosting/processing capabilities: you can measure it from the web itself.

I think that's what Bitcoin tried to achieve, although it does so without providing real value to anyone. Instead, imagine the following: you provide a slice of your computer time to Google, some local storage to blackblaze, some bandwidth to Netflix.

All of these are commodities you pay for in the real world. They are valuable on the Internet. Lend some storage and bandwidth to youtube, they could credit your account, and you could use that virtual currency to spend on youtube creators. Youtube would directly pay them with $$$ instead of paying you.

However, my answer only mentioned huge-scale companies, I am not sure it would make a lot of sense at a smaller scale, unfortunately. However, that basic idea of service exchange is something I've been thinking for a while as a path forward to a new kind of currency, which I should put into a prototype as soon as I have the time to do so :)


>1. How to pay for stuff in the web in the same way you can pay with cash in the real world.

This one is a bit easier. Prepaid credit cards are frequently accepted online and can be purchased with cash. The fees are a bit high as is but there's no reason merchants can't create more of these and likely even lower the prices.

Alternatively your CC provider could potentially act as a privacy guard by providing randomized rotating onetime transaction numbers as well, I know some pay services like Samsung pay do this to some degree already by creating virtual cards that require a third party to authenticate without giving your actual account, though I believe those virtual cards remain fairly static. With more potential entropy (large GUID), it seems reasonable you could rotate those on the fly.


My wife's (Indonesian) bank only allows online payments using a randomly generated CC number. It seems pretty obvious, and I'm a little surprised it's not supported by my western country banks. (It's true, I don't know how many of these virtual card numbers exist. It may be that there aren't enough.)


Unfortunately PrePaid Credit cards are not widely accepted for many things, For example you can not use a Prepaid Credit Card to fund a PayPal account or a Patreaon Account.

This is largely down to "Know your Customer" laws and the concern they will be used for Money Laundering


> in the same way you can pay with cash in the real world.

but stuff on the web is not at all like stuff in the real world!

this is a hugely understanted problem. digital artifacts have zero reproduction cost (beyond a few volts and a couple of amperes, which are provided by whomever copies)

therefore, IMO, the market mechanism we have in place, which evolved to optimize material goods, is woefully inadequate to deal with digital "goods"

finally, this is not a technological problem, but a sociopolitical problem.


> but stuff on the web is not at all like stuff in the real world! ... digital artifacts have zero reproduction cost

I am with you on this. With the cash equivalent for the web I meant more the following: frictionless, commission, private transactions that are native to the web in the way cash is native to the real world. The economics of it dictates a cash-replica won't do.


The author highlights tracking, profiling & targeting. Just yesterday, I Asked HN but none responded: can't we just flood the trackers with random data instead of fight so hard to block them? https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23324946


1. It would be hard to build a system that couldn’t be filtered out. Something is liked and unliked? Just don’t include it. Mouse isn’t moving randomly on the page? captcha time. Not to mention that they could randomize the element class names and ids or at least change them regularly so it would be a constant arms race to keep up.

2. You don’t want to be randomly liking crazy stuff on Facebook or randomly retweeting. There are real world consequences for doing the wrong thing there.


I agree that these are technical challenges, but they're not insurmountable. Any extension could itself track normal user behavior (e.g. mouse movement speed, scrolling), and "learn" to mimic that. And as long as the "likes" are themselves quite randomized per extension, it's unlikely that the random likes will have much of an impact. It also seems not hard to filter out porn, politics and religion from the subjects being liked.

I think the bigger risk is one or credibility - once the ad-revenue disruptor thing is in place, the creators might be tempted to sell their user data for a profit.


Like a chrome extension that sends trackers lots of randomized user actions and garbled data instead of just blocking them? We'd make the data unreliable and render it useless! What an incredibly sly counter-attack.

I think it could take a fair amount of work to be effective (i.e. reverse engineering APIs, formatting payloads, etc) but I'm sure a community of engineers would support those efforts if it were in wide enough use. The problem here is that those engineers may be deterred by the possibility of getting sucked into legal battles. Maybe if it were backed by an organization that could allay that fear like the EFF, Mozilla or the FSF then I could see this actually having a shot of being genuinely effective.


Are you aware of https://adnauseam.io/ ?


Ah thank you! I knew I remembered there was something along these lines already but couldn’t find it.


It's an interesting approach, but I'd assume only a small group of tech savvy users would do it. It's also a dystopian future that feels worse than the adblock arms race.

I'm still hopeful that we'll figure out micropayments in a way that let's web content survive without needing the ad tech garbage.

Until then I block and navigate away from sites that do ad-block-blocking.


This really hits home for me. Somehow the centralized web became better, maybe its a user experience thing. One can't help but wonder if these are solvable in a decentralized or even federated approach?


> Somehow the centralized web became better...

That "somehow" was billions of dollars for development, acquisitions, and marketing. Sites loved to market themselves as ad-free havens that are making the world a better place. Everyone bought it. Once they achieve platform dominance, the ads come in, slowly at first, and then ratcheted up over the next decade until we have what we have now.

The federated approach is great in my opinion. It's where I hang my hat. Not everyone finds a home on a federated site but there are vibrant communities.

The problem I have is when governments and community organizations start to use walled gardens exclusively. Having to submit to a site's ToS just to get official government communications, releases, streamed video, and take part in discussions around it, is a threat to democracy.


I've been thinking about writing a new webbrowser with very limited functionality which could be used on secure networks, such as Tor. It would only support a limited subset of HTTP and HTML / CSS and HTML Video. No Javascript / frames or anything else that could impart the safety.

I've been meaning to pitch it to the Tor Project, but haven't gotten around to it yet.


I think browser vendors need to provide more advanced controls for people who want it. Give us a whitelist mode where every feature besides base HTML is turned off, unless we explicitly add the site to our whitelist. I want checkboxes that say only these websites allow: cookies, javascript, images, css, etc.

No need to reinvent the wheel, the browsers are fine, but they open the floodgates by default. I think content providers have abused this to the point of breaking the web. Similar to the ad networks... abused it the point of absurdity, so now you are all permanently blocked, because you couldn't have any common decency. Block it all by default, whitelist what you want.


That sounds like Dillo using a TOR proxy. It's quite usable, but it's limited CSS-capabilities break more sites than the missing JS support does.


I love Dillo and its philosophy. It's snappy like few other (currently maintained) GUI applications. I wish there was an e-mail client with the same goals.


> I wish there was an e-mail client with the same goals.

I recommend giving Sylpheed a try.


Thanks for the tip. It seems to have improved since I last tried it.


It's definitely an alternative to text-based browsers if you need something dead simple. And it's fast enough to run on an old 486 if needed.


I was thinking of using this as a starting point:

https://archive.codeplex.com/?p=htmlrenderer


If you haven't yet, maybe take a look at NetSurf:

- HTML 4.01 and CSS 2.1

- PNG, GIF, JPEG, SVG, and BMP

- HTTPS

Latest release earlier this week

http://www.netsurf-browser.org/


Nice. The only drawback I see is that it's written in C.


I think it's a great idea. Fresh start, clean and simple, just displaying HTML content.


I really liked this article (I found it after reading his newer one that was posted earlier today).

It’s also interesting that he links to a Cambridge Analytica talk to make his point in 2017 (before the scandal broke).

It’s even more accurate three years later.


"Consider minimalist browsers like Min ..."

Oh! Exciting!

I dutifully went to check out the Min browser web page. "Oh shit, it's another Electron app". Noped it out of there.


Moving to Min from Chrome is certainly moving in the right direction, though. After all, Electron is just a stripped-down version of Chromium, and thus quite a bit more minimal by default.


Electron contains the Chromium browser code, yes. But you still have to render to that browser.

Electron also contains a back-end Node.js process and a bunch of related JS APIs for building and hosting these apps.

Anyway, I accept your point that I'd be replacing a browser with... well a browser and some other stuff.

The problem though is the proliferation of Electron apps everywhere... suddenly your OS is full of these things and you don't get the memory management benefits of running just one Chrome or Chromium. Each app having its own copy of Chromium and Node.js merrily consuming CPU and RAM like they're the only ones doing it.

Signal, GitHub, Slack, VS Code, Skype, Notion, Tusk, WhatsApp etc. It's a cancer, I tell ya!

Ughh. And We're not even talking about the security issues here.

Sigh. I'm going out now, to buy more RAM.


It's just consequence of some niche thing becoming popular.

There is no way to fix it other than inventing a new niche thing.


Anything sufficiently successful will always be consumed by the powerful and will ultimately become their tool


The yin and yang of human society is:

1. Those with power will use their power to gain more, causing power to concentrate into fewer and fewer people over time.

2. The more concentrated the power is, the more greatly the powerful are outnumbered and the more people there are with aligned interests who want to take away or limit their power.

The Industrial Revolution created a ton of power and led to massive power imbalances due to #1. At his peak John D. Rockefeller was worth almost 2% of the entire US economy.

Eventually that led to anti-trust cases driven by a democratic government, the labor movement, and other causes. World War II, especially in the US, was a big shake-up that reset many power dynamics. But, since then, #1 has been doing the incremental growth it always done.

My hunch is that we're starting to approach an "organized information" movement like we had an "organized labor" movement after the Industrial Revolution. The elites in power will fight it tooth and nail. But they will lose, because they are outnumbered.


People generally revolt when they're hungry, not depressed.


We haven't had the latter without the former very often in world history. I'd say this is still pretty novel ground.


Which is why a robust and intentional defense against this behaviour is needed. We can't simply roll over and accept a dystopian fate. History tells us that even the most entrenched powers can be displaced.


I really like it when people try to give practical advice after describing problems. Agree with most of what's written in the post. But I'd like to discuss one part of it:

> [...] the major websites of today's web are not built for the visitor, but as means of using her.

To me, here lies a key point that both the writer and many commenters here in HN seemed to miss in 2017. What's written here is just a consequence, and the post goes on to develop it through all its length... but why did the dynamics change in that way? What's the underlying reason for the shift?

Some comments here in HN mentioned it: internet becoming a marketplace. With both its good and bad side-effects. It's an extremely complex issue, but money does completely shape dynamics of current society, and therefore internet too, and it leaves us without spaces that aren't conditioned by it. At small scale it doesn't seem a big problem, or we rationalize it because everyone needs money to survive... But it really shapes the world, and we can't simply ignore the ugly sides of it and pretend we can solve it without ever involving the discussion about money and the dynamics it generates.

The "magic" the post talks about only needs three ingredients: human curiosity, time (to develop that curiosity), and spaces (to host those humans and their time). Human curiosity and creativity will always exist as long as we don't go extinct. About time... well, we can satisfy our basic needs more efficiently than ever... and yet, ironically, we are using the newly freed time to create "more competitive" products that focus on enslaving the potential of our fellow human beings through infinite-scroll addiction, fear of missing out, instant gratification, attention grabbing and other kinds of biases and "bugs" in the human system. And finally spaces. Well, nothing left. If the only accessible spaces require money or work-to-generate-money, you close the circle and can't scape the landscape and conditioning I was describing. Even if there are some spaces left, they tend to fell into oblivion against the competition. Too hard to escape, too easy to rationalize.

And honestly, I don't think there's any game-changer discussion about morality standards here. Morals must play a very important part in getting us to start a change (and by us I mean the kind of people that's most directly involved in tech, like this HN crowd), but as long as we don't try to really disrupt at least some of the dynamics generated by money-profit-survival-motivations, I'm somewhat skeptical we will be able to move the needle, because efforts will be eaten by the competition even if we never wanted to play under those rules. Let's hope I'm mistaken and it's easier to solve.


That's well put. I'd challenge the assumption that money completely shapes the internet. After all, Wikipedia did happen relatively recently, and I presume it's what you mean by "necessary space". Having that example in mind, what do you feel is the next step (in ethical norms?...) that would lead to something even more gratuitous?

I'm non-native and I searched for a while for a better word than "gratuitous" here. The vocabulary looks a bit narrow. I mean for example "non-profit", firstly, contains a negation and, secondly, implies that profit can only be measured financially. "Free" on the other hand is too broad, too imprecise.


Yes, "completely" was not the appropriate word. I meant it as "it has an enormous weight", rather than "it completely defines (as the one and only factor)". I don't really speak english either.

About more gratuitous, it's tricky, and the problem is not that Wikipedia isn't free enough, but that it's kind of an exception. There are quite a few ways in which "free spaces" can compete/coexist with "commercial spaces". The first group of options involves the commercial spaces not eating the whole landscape and getting all the attention (drowning out the rest). In theory this can happen when: there's no viable lucrative strategy for the space (not the case here), the commercial explotation of the space incurs in obvious ethical concerns which can't be covered up (some might think this is the case right now, but for the general public it is not, or companies can keep the perception muddy enough, or the trade-offs are considered acceptable in practice even if the issue is acknowledged [this could be discussed much more in depth]), the commercial spaces degrade enough for free spaces to catch up and get enough attention (but this is likely to be only temporary), the kind of value that commercial spaces can provide is different from the value that free spaces can provide (I'm tempted to believe that this can only happen when the commercial space is not profitable [so, back to the first case], but maybe there are some forms of social organization / solidarity that can only happen in free spaces?), there's regulation specifically protecting free spaces (not sure how this would go or if they wouldn't become counter-productive artificial walls), or they provide the same~ value but the free version has less ethical concerns (some open software can go here, but in most cases where open source succeeds, it's because it's good enough... but free, in which case it simply becomes more accessible [in a capitalist world, this is subsidization. we are actually doing good on the software side, but then there's also hardware and maintenance, and... well, that's for the next point]).

Most of these are already happening. Right now it's not enough, but hey, maybe the current recipe is good and we just need to keep cooking... I'm not completely skeptical, but I'm also interested on others options, like reducing our dependence / weakening commercial spaces, talking about that publicly. There's a balance. The more critical money is to our survival, the less we care about the ethics of what we do. And in general too: everyone yells when they get stomped, but when it comes to our own jobs we are much more willing to rationalize stomping on others. And maybe society has a very perverse idea of what "value" and "job" mean and we need to get more to the root of the issue.

Let's get people to have a clearer idea of what contributing positively to the world means, and have them focus first on what they are creating or offering to others. Most of us already agree~ with that, but there seems to be too much noise and too many options, and we can't organize effectively. Maybe trying to find "the" organization or "the" consensus is impractical. Maybe we have to find more "exceptions" like Wikipedia. I'm personally favoring projects that I can start with little money, trying to free as much time as possible to be able to work on them, and try to make things that can work starting from my town, that can get people involved beyond the online world, and that can expand with clearly different premises from commercial projects. And keep scaling. If we can create enough exceptions like Wikipedia on different fronts, taking advantage of the inertia of good ideas, and getting people involved in new free spaces instead of discussing "how could they ever come to life", that might be a good way to start moving in a different direction.


Some days, I miss telnet-ing into BBSes.


I (as an armchair philosopher, and not a very good one at that), argue that the problem is not the web, nor technology, but Complexity Vs. Convenience.

In order to create the modern world, in order to create its conveniences, systems, sometimes very complex systems, must be implemented underneath, as infrastructure, to support all of that convenience.

Sometimes they are "systems of systems", that is, infrastructures heaped on top of other infrastructures, etc.

They provide conveniences; that's true, but they conversely create a series of corner-cases, a series of circumstances where the complexity creates additional problems, where the complexity serves to be the problem.

Consider a future sci-fi scenario of robot war...

What happened? What went wrong? Here's what went wrong:

Robots were created to serve humanity, but over many centuries, many generations, the knowledge of how they were created (and what it took to control them) was lost, as mankind became lazier and lazier, and deferred all work to the robots.

The complexity of the robots (and their AI) increased, whereas the knowledge humanity possessed about them decreased.

At a certain time, at a certain critical juncture, because of the increasing knowledge asymmetry, creator (humanity) and creation switched roles, and now the creation caused great problems for the creator, who had basically lost the knowledge, ("lost the manual for" <g>), how to control the creation.

We see this pattern repeat in a variety of formats, in a variety of historic and present-day contexts; it includes (but is not limited to!): Technology, Religion, Law, Governments, Social Systems, etc.

Basically, all of those things were created to serve man, to serve mankind...

And (depending upon where you are in history, or what your knowledge (or lack of knowledge) of them is, in the present day), some of them either will, or at least have the apparency of, the loss of control by their creator -- mankind.

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelly, is an allegory of this theme, that is, of a creator that creates something for beneficial purposes, only that with enough time (and/or loss of knowledge), the creation turns on the creator...

Understood properly, here's the reason why all societies eventually fail, and why far in mankind's past, there may have been a high-tecnology society (Atlantis?) which was destroyed, because with all of the solutions it brought, it also brought additional problems, such that those could not be controlled, and eventually it was destroyed, or was the cause of its own destruction...

The Greek myth of Sisyphus -- is also an allegory for this phenomena... If the stone which he has to roll up a hill (only to watch it roll back down again! "There goes the neighborhood!" <g>) represents society, then he is fated to roll it up the hill to its pinacle -- only to watch it roll back down again... over and over and over, for eternity...

So, Complexity Vs. Convenience. With every new convenience, you require more complexity, and you generate a new set of problems...


Brilliant. Love it. Of course we see this everything, in automation in aviation for example, or in cars, or even reliance on urban solutions like food delivery and such.

In each of these cases, things become more convenient/less complex, but a new set of problems crop up.

Thank you for your armchain philosophising.


Thank you for your kind comments! <g>


Seems interesting how he predicted how social media would turn users into commodities.


i think that happened way before when this article was published in 2017.


That's a very fall of man rhetoric.

All electronic networks, from the original arpanet to tor, have suffered from the same problem: someone needs to pay for them yet each individual transaction is too small to matter.

Surveillance capitalism is the one model that scaled better than 'let the army and universities pay for it' and it's the one we're stuck with until Xanadu becomes something more than vaporware.


Uh... How you figure? Only the infrastructure needs to be paid for. The "switching fabric" if you will. And of course the power you use to run the computer.

It costs nothing else to put a packet out there on the Net sans doing so through a draconian metered connection, and surveillance capitalism had nothing to do with that. In fact, if anything, the fact the Net was free did more to boost surveillance capitalism than anything else.

If companies actually had to pay to collect, hold, operate on, and be privy to information about people; In Short, if there were acknowledged data privacy rights in play with regard to people's meta-information, and it was not just handed to corporations as a blank check money making asset, surveillance capitalism couldn't have gotten off the ground.


In case people are interested: I created a list of alternatives to Google and Facebook services.

https://jefreybulla.github.io/beprivate/


In the time since the article was published (2017), the GDPR has come into effect. I wonder how it affected third-party traffic, if at all. Especially for European websites such as lemonde.fr (used as an example by the author).


In my experience, not at all. They replaced silent tracking with obnoxiously loud tracking. Extracting consent became a new art form.




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