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Please let this not be the future of reading on the web (elezea.com)
274 points by pascal07 on Nov 23, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 119 comments

edw519's simple rules for reading on the internet:

That's a Back Button

(to the cadence of "That's a Paddlin'" from "The Simpsons")


  Login button below the fold? That's a back button.
  Animated ads? That's a back button.
  Shifting content? That's a back button.
  More than 2 pages? That's a back button.
  Need to be logged in to Facebook. That's a back button. 
  Unexpected video? That's a back button.
  Unexpected sound? That's a back button.
  Overlapping ads & text in my browser? That's a back button.
  Overlapping ads & text at 800 x 600? That's a back button.
  No horizontal scroll bar to get beyond right fold? That's a back button.
  Flash? That's a back button.
  pdf? That's a back button.
  Slideshow? Oooh, you better believe that's a back button.
  Freezes my computer? That's a battery removal.
It's a wonder I find anything readable any more.

Publishers' solution to your problem:

Disable the back button.

I tend to open things in new tabs. Closing the tab works. If things get annoying enough, other people can adopt my habits on this.

Or switch to a browser that doesnt allow a website to disable your back button.

Certainly by those standards, the Youtube link you supplied is a back button. I wonder if you do find anything readable outside of HN these days ;-)

I'm pretty certain that YouTube links are not "unexpected video." Perhaps it's flash, but I think the original means an entirely flash-navigated site.

But the new YouTube ads that play before video are unexpected. And, for me, quite often a back button. After 6 seconds of watching the ad I usually don't care about the video anymore :/ (call it short attention span).

I haven't seen them, but if I do that's going to be the last time I go to youtube for a very long time.

You can skip them after 5 seconds.

Some of them. Others you can't, and you have to wait full 30 seconds. Given that what I want to see is usually 3-5 minute long video, it's pretty significant (10-30%) time.

I don't read youtube videos.

> More than 2 pages? That's a back button.

Well, that should be a "Read Later" button (or, at the very least, looking for a "Print" button).

I think he referred to the forced pagination for increased ad prints, not the actual length of the article (although of course sometimes the "printer friendly" view solves this, in which case looking for the "Print" button can be helpful).

If I see an article split over multiple pages I hit the "Read Later" button which then punts it into ReadItLater, which concatenates them all into one page.

    No horizontal scroll bar at 800 x 600? That's a back button.
Did you mean "Horizontal scroll bar at 800 x 600? That's a back button?"

I'm not sure how content fitting nicely in 800px is a drawback.

Changed from

"No horizontal scroll bar at 800 x 600?"


"No horizontal scroll bar to get beyond right fold?"

Do people even realize that some of their content becomes unavailable on certain browsers and at certain resolutions.


My eyes are going a bit as I get older, so I have been enlarging print so I can read it more comfortably (with the amount I read, that is important). I am really tired of web designers that still can't automatically resize text areas. Some pages go off the right side of my 21 inch screen with only moderate enlargement (I only use 1.25 diopter reading glasses for textbooks, I feel sorry for people with serious eye problems trying to read most pages).

  Break my back button?  That's a, uh...

The future of reading on the web is easy to change, all we need to do is pay some money for each article we want to read without adverts...

Unfortunately, the primary impact of putting up a paywall for premium content seems to be to raise huge arguments about why "information wants to be free", not the reality of what happens without one.

The fallacy there is that there is nothing to prevent ads from creeping in even though you do pay. That's been the history of cinema, cable, and internet radio.

Absolutely right, but at the same time if you do pay, you have some (perhaps small) leverage over the content provider to try and ensure the advertising remains of a tolerable quality.

In practice, it seems that advertiser dollars always trump subscriber fees.

I am hopeful that as the providers become more directly connected to the consumers and it becomes increasingly feasible to deal with them directly, instead of at an arms length in aggregate as was the only option up until now, that we can cut out what is ultimately functioning as a middleman in the relationship, the advertiser. You know how the internet feels about middlemen than aren't adding much value.

Even if I just had the option of outbidding the advertiser I'd be happy.

This has been my dream for years. Netflix is satisfying part of my content needs with its streaming option. I can only hope that more company's will follow suite.

What I'd really like to see is a "real" news website that supplies non-biased news written by real investigative journalists with no advertisements. I'd pay handsomely for that.

> What I'd really like to see is a "real" news website that supplies non-biased news written by real investigative journalists with no advertisements. I'd pay handsomely for that.

+1, I'd definitely pay for that. Right now I don't trust news media by definition, and I believe only what I get from articles featured on HN - because I can be sure that when I click on "comments", I'll find it thoroughly analyzed and debunked by people who actually know and care about what they read. </rant>

Re: "real news" - http://www.propublica.org/ comes close...

I don't know about most people, but I don't read many articles from the same source: I read a few from some online newspaper, then some from another, then a blog post, etc. Now take NYT.com: the minimum subscription is $15/month - it's absurdly expensive for the three or four articles I might read there.

You need to solve micropayments to make paywalls work.

Only if that's your business model.

The New York Times paywall seems to be earning them a fair bit of revenue, and they're more than happy to give you the three or four articles a month you'd read there for free-- you're not their target market segment.

I think the view that NYT.com and www.thetimes.co.uk are taking is that if you pay the $15, you'll end up sourcing most of your news from that site, justifying the price.

I don't know how true that premise is, but it's definitely a simpler solution for them than coming up with a solution to micropayments (which you're absolutely right, does need to get solved).

Sourcing most of my news from the NYT would seriously impair my knowledge of the world. It would be like going back to the bad old days before access to the internet.

That's part of what we're trying to do with http://TipTheWeb.org/ , letting people support the content they like with voluntary micro-donations.

For instance, I've already tipped the original article 20¢ :-) (see my Tip stream at http://tiptheweb.org/tipstream/patg6vy3pyb62/ )

If publishers can get direct financial support from their audience, they wouldn't need to overdo things with ads, and they'd focus more on providing the best possible experience for that audience. Better for everyone.

It's a concept that has been around in various forms for some time but doesn't seem to have gained much traction anywhere. As well as a tip everywhere system I assume your letting publishers after they have claimed their site to push the tips with buttons on their site?

I don't think I would be inclined to ever tip unless I knew that the author has a presence on the tipping service so I knew they were actually going to claim the tips. Wonder to if a reverse model, similar to a kickstarter would work, as in an author proposes a piece of content they will put some time into a produce if they get some upfront commitment of tips.

I'm still hoping that something like Flattr can work. It should be possible to have a middle ground between "everything is ad supported" and "everything requires subscriptions or credit cards", especially for niche "small" content (that don't take months or years to produce) where the audience can appreciate the work done and its value.

I hope Flattr or one of the others like it can work, but I think the habits of people who are now used to things being free, and who aren't likely to en-mass start voluntarily "tipping" authors, will be hard to change.

I don't know if that's even the biggest hurdle. The intractable problem I see is, any author who's good enough to convince people to sign up for Flattr in order to tip them has much better monetization options than Flattr. Flattr is only compelling to writers who are not themselves all that compelling.

There are other services besides Flattr that have their own good parts. For instance, Tip The Web (http://tiptheweb.org/) is a non-profit that serves as a hub for micropayments and maintains itself from tips without taking a cut.

Why? Most popular consumer magazines don't even cover the cost of printing and postage with their subscription fee.

If Time magazine no longer needs to print and mail their product, should't they be making MORE money?

One of the fundamental problems that no one mentions is that advertisers have been grossly overpaying for print ads for decades. They had no measure of the effectiveness or reach of their ads except "X magazine has Y subscribers".

With digital targeted advertising, we know exactly how many views, clicks, length of view, not to mention tons of demographic data on the reader. That's worth something. It's worth a lot more than an untargeted ad on a page in a magazine that might go straight from the mailbox into the garbage.

I'm not claiming to know what will happen in digital advertising, but I really don't think paywalls or micropayments are the future. My guess is something like major media companies will get rid of their entire ad sales staff, outsource advertising to Facebook/Google, and deliver their content through multiple channels/feeds/API which can been interpreted by various apps or devices to be viewed in the way the consumer likes.

"...Ad networks like The Deck come to mind..." everytime someone says this I just switch off. The Deck and other hipster brand ad networks are not a workable solution for 99.99% of bloggers, please stop using them as an example of how advertising can be "good"; they're an example of why it can't.

Why? Is it because The Deck is selective? Because if that's the reason then there you have a problem to be fixed by another startup. Bloggers of the world, unite?

(I know there are already a couple of offerings and people working on new ad networks.)

That is exactly why it can't be considered a good option and why it is "bad" for the wider internet. The Deck being selective is saying "we know adverts suck, so if you're actually good you can be in our super neat actually good system!" so instead of solving the problem of bad adverts, they're just ignoring it and saying that the sites they like can be in their small network that doesn't have the problem.

Their entire network does ~100m monthly impressions, that's nothing.

I still don't see the problem here. They're a small, selective network, with relevant ads that don't need to be intrustive to add value. I think the author is saying that more of these are part of the solution, as they can tune ads to the members of the network, based on actual feedback rather than engaging in a shouting match decided by 10-figure analytics.

Is your concern that the millions of sites with bad content will not have many options?

No, it's that thousands of sites with good content will only have crappy options.

Ads are a race to the bottom though. The Deck recognized that exclusivity is the only way to create an oasis, and I'd rather have that oasis than have nothing at all.

To effect wider change what's necessary is for users to start to value content and be willing to pay for it. If the major pubs could make money from the readers than they would be inclined to improve their experience. However, mass-market readers have never really been willing to pay the full cost of quality content, so don't hold your breath.

And there's not much stopping others creating their own versions of The Deck, especially around niche areas. I'm surprised more people haven't done this, or even created some sort of simple and reliable engine that allowed people to do it easily.

Yeah I don't see The Deck as being particularly innovative at all. Not to mention it can't scale very well.

This has been the future of reading on the web for about the last 10 years. It's now so bad that my default browser setup (the one I use for sites I've never visited before / known offenders, as opposed to my online bank) is Firefox + AdBlock + RequestPolicy + NoScript + FlashBlock. Yes, I know some of these overlap. Yes, I probably want to look at Ghostery too. I also run a fairly aggressive filtering proxy on another server on the LAN and all LAN HTTP/HTTPS traffic goes through that by default (with exemptions for some sites that fail to cope). I don't care about your ad dollars. The chances are I don't actually care about your content either, but it's something to do to pass the time. If you want to throw up a paywall, knock yourself out - if the content is good enough, I will pay.

Around this time of year, every dickhead with a WordPress install seems to discover the same crappy JavaScript snow plugin, so that gets a special regexp all to itself in my filtering proxy. I didn't pay for a fast quad core CPU so you can animate snowflakes / leaves / puppies in the most inefficient way possible.

Amusingly the mobile experience is actually better in some ways - a double tap to zoom often fits the actual content postage-stamp-sized region to the screen, and I don't see the rest of the page...

I dislike the trend towards light grey text on a white background. Unfortunately, the article itself is guilty of this. It's fine for timestamps and other page noise, but why dim a blockquote?

My "favorite" "feature" is when you arrive on the web page for the first time in your life and you are being prompted with a popup to take a survey on the web site you never seen before...

Well, which would we prefer? Seeing the ads, or having to pay for access to each site?

Personally, as annoying as ads are, I still prefer them being there to the content not being available at all.

The issue is not the existence of advertising.

The issue is (primarily for me) the new wave of popup ads that don't let you view the content until you find the 30x30 pixel close area. And secondly the sites where ads have become more important than content (reflected in the design.) And thirdly the dozen social media buttons on every single page.

Non-horrid advertising should be possible for any respectable website. Advertising that abuses your users is only going to be tolerated for so long, and pushes more people to use adblock.

I agree that the social media buttons are a pain, and I certainly advocate against adding them when designing a site, as well as refusing to use them when you're a consumer of the site.

But unfortunately, while I agree that some of the advertising is annoying, I don't necessarily agree with the premise that there's a better option for these sites right now, or that I see examples of better options under development.

Look at the two basic types of adds that you're upset with:

First is the interstitial ad - something you have to view (or at least start to view until you cancel it) - before you can read what you want to read. I generally see these ads on newspaper or magazine sites - or at least a business that used to rely on dead trees to get their content out to people. These ads are more or less equivalent to the full page ads you used to see. Often they aren't really relevant to the content because they don't want to suggest that the contents of the article have been influenced by advertisers.

The second form, where there are more advertisements than content on a page, is quite horrible, and let's be honest, part of the goal of this is to just get some sort of advertisement out there that users will click on. Those ads will possibly me more relevant to you (or at least be somewhat based on the content of the page). But unless you're seeing ads based on the most expensive keywords, the site isn't earning much money. There was a decent article published a while back about what keywords were worth the most money: http://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2011/07/18/most-expensive-...

So in the end, I understand your annoyance, but it's also sort of hard for me to dislike companies for trying to make sure they can pay the authors of the site's content.

> And thirdly the dozen social media buttons on every single page.

You mean the "Like" / "+1" / "Tweet" buttons under articles? What's wrong with these?

I personally want them to be on websites and I actively seek them after reading an article, because clicking on two or three buttons is so much easier and less distracting than having to copy the URL and paste it into every social website I use.

I personally consider Facebook, etc. to be lame wastes of time and consider those buttons tacky and unneeded.

It seems a simple browser plugin could still allow Facebookers and Diggers and whomever else the ability to poop back and forth as much as they like while not polluting the web for the rest of us.

As it is now we have to pray that some of these sites don't make it...imagine how many buttons there will be in 50 years!

EDIT: Just wanted to point out this was not a personal attack. I was just trying to raise awareness that not everyone has the same interests.

> Just wanted to point out this was not a personal attack. I was just trying to raise awareness that not everyone has the same interests.

Don't worry, it didn't sound like one :).

Thanks for explaining your point of view. I just realized I didn't really stop and think about people who, like you, don't like Facebook et al. Personally, I think I'd be happy to use a browser plugin or whatever, just like I use e.g. Instapaper. Hell, in browser like Conkeror it would be even more convenient (for Instapaper I now just press "C-x i", it's even easier than pressing a button on the address bar).

I think this method is inevitable. Either that or a protocol/standard to handle them all.

As it is now we'll eventually run out of real estate on the screen for 'like' buttons.

I think your underestimating the effectiveness of evasive advertising.

Probably. At the very least, I think that if you have user-hostile advertising you instantly lose any right you had to complain about adblock.

I'm happy to pay for great content - avoid link-bait titles, avoid stupid tiresome "fanboy" flames, use long form content.

I leave ads turned on. There are some ads that just make me close the tab even if I haven't got the content - almost anything with sound will cause an instant tab close.

Flashblock is a must for me. An unexpected sound from an ad is the equivalent of a coworker running up behind me and slapping the back of my head.

Isn't that a false dichotomy? You left out completely free content, which is still abundant and could hold your attention each and every day. It seems most ad-driven sites are fueled by screen scraping or opining on external content without adding much value.

Not really. Decent writers cost money. Editors cost money. Fact checkers cost money. Are there people who will write about their hobby for free, and produce good quality content? Sure.

At the same time, many things require feet (and equipment) on the ground, on location, and that, again, costs money.

Poisoned candy, though still candid:

Yours is an interesting quality comment that I can read for free in a site without advertisement. The same goes for the rest of my news readings online. The links lead me to other pages that Privoxy makes bearable.

I read (paid) books, soon eBooks, for anything but news. I guess the question is what kind of content people consume.

Ask a subscriber to Vogue magazine if they'd prefer a copy with or without ads, both the same price.

9 out of 10 will take the ads, because the ads are beautiful and part of the content, but they are still ads.

That aspect of print advertising has not yet made the transition to digital. People love ads for stuff they like, are interesting, or/and funny.

The solution will not be to remove ads, it will be to improve ads.

You are so right it hurts.

The problem is measuring response. The tools for measuring response to printed ads lead to better printed ads. The tools for measuring response to online ads lead to intrusive and misleading ads.

We should try to find better tools for measuring responses to online ads.

I find it ironic that I had to disable AdBlock Plus to see the images in the post.

That's a technique I have considered in the past, i.e. making my images look like ads, so that those users either disable the blocker or move on.

If ad blocker users were more than a minority, then I would have to shut my websites down, but thankfully most people allow the ads.

The recent (and potentially upcoming recession) means ad revenue is very weak, so that's why we are seeing/using more aggressive advertising.

I didn't even realise there were images until you said. I guess he shouldn't have used 'ads' in his image names.

This is why I use Adblock on my desktop, and ReadItLater to extract the text on mobile. Without these the web would be pretty unusable.

Why don't we start by trying to raise the quality and therefore effectiveness of ads on the Internet? A fundamental shift in how ads work and what they're trying to do needs to be done.

The ads you see on websites right now are remnants from the newspaper, nearly identical to their print counterparts.

Creating a "prettier ad network" or "other way to be profitable" is only patchwork. We need to completely rework the execution of "I have something to sell and I'd like to tell your readers / customers about it".

Solving this requires something larger.

"Solving this" implies that there are users who like, value, and want advertising. I don't feel that there are that many people who do.

The better thing to solve is "how can websites make money without ads"? How did TV networks stay on the air before commercial breaks? Maybe a similar model can be applied.

Yes, exactly. I didn't intend to infer that we need to make users want advertising, we just need to find a way to fund things online and do it in a way that doesn't piss off users.

Big government, taxes, licenses required to own televisions. As unpopular as advertising is, that's even less likely to fly.

Well, we still have 2/3 of those things in the US and 3/3 in many European countries.

I was more alluding to the idea of "this website sponsored by ___" being inserted into the content in a tasteful, subdued way - kind of like how "Beat the Clock" was actually "Calgon's Beat the Clock".

This is driving me crazy. I feel the author's pain.

It's gotten so bad I've created a web site that gives me plain headlines of all the tech, science, world, sports, and political stories I might want to read. Phase 2 is walking the links and using something like Readability to make those readable as well. http://newspaper23.com

I didn't do this as a for-profit startup kind of thing -- it's for my own sanity. Everywhere you go folks are screwing with you instead of just giving you content. I wanted a place I could go to just catch up quickly on the opinion of the day. No bullshit.

I also feel like it is a mistake to blame this on SEO. SEO has nothing to do with it. I have a few sites optimized for SEO myself, and the only thing I want to do is present plain, simple, easy-to-understand text. How else would people easily consume it and recommend it to others?

Nope, the problem is stickiness. Everybody wants their site to be sticky and entertaining -- to the point of popping up email sign-ups, ads, social crap, you name it. SEO just means getting people to visit. Believe me, the last thing you want to do is annoy them. It's the folks who already have large audiences that are crapping all over the net. And they're not doing that for new eyeballs, they're doing that to keep the eyeballs they already have -- it's called engagement. Content providers make a clear and decisive design statement when they decide to screw over readability for stickiness. (Yes, some small-traffic sites do this, but only because they could care less about the audience in the first place. Any visitor for them is a mark. These are the guys who are never going to grow and stay big and simply don't care.)

I don't think the issue is just stickiness, I think it's more about publishers trying to squeeze out the next dollar, and the one after that. They're all gradual steps down into reading hell that is horrible when looked at from afar, but easier to understand when you consider them on their own.

  Add one more promo spot for a few extra bucks. I guess. OK.
  Make the header banner larger. OK.
  Boss wants a Send To Friend feature because they heard about someone using one, once.
  Maybe trial an interstitial because it will cover the costs of the new SEO guy.

This is just the beginning guys! Big web properties are becoming more like a TV Network. They interrupt you with an ad because they think that if their name is not some power of 10 then they have to use this TV-like experience. Maybe they're right but if this "platformization" thing catches on then you will _not_ have option to block them out!

I don't know the solution but I'm (we're) trying with our startup.

There was a statement of Matt Cutts at PubCon saying Google will penalyze pages with too much ads above the fold. Expect to see that.

I'm an AdSense publisher and I get emails from Google suggesting that I add more ad blocks to my site, and also tips on where to place them to get noticed most - above the fold, primarily. They also coach on making the ads stand out by using bold/bright colours. I suspect you'd have to go above and beyond with your ad placements to frustrate Google...

Also wanted to mention that they also routinely email me suggesting I swap out my text-only ads for image-based ads (which in my testing don't perform as well).

I can see this becoming the subject of antitrust action.

Penalizing other people for advertising rather than relevance when they themselves make their money through advertising is going to be a problem.

It would be nice to hear why people disagree with this enough to vote it down. I'm no fan of advertising and would like to see cleaner sites more often, but that doesn't mean there isn't a conflict.

I think I have mentioned this in the past on other articles about advertising. The overall game of creating aggressive advertising has not changed, they just now have more tools to do it.

If your going to force me to have a fullscreen ad before reading your content then at least allow me to dismiss it easily with a single click on the ad and not having to hunt for a close button (if there even is one). The amount of times I've had a fullscreen ad completely block a page with no way to remove it..

Regards content, I think this is partly just a function of so many people now reading stuff online. With more people reading things on smartphones/tablets on their way to work on the bus etc there is a market for more "tabloid" style writing that can be consumed quickly.

There are still plenty of people writing high quality content and lots of it gets linked to here on HN.

People will just be more discerning about the content portals they use.

I don't think that Daring Fireball is a good example for a membership based blog. Gruber made all feeds freely available in August 2007. The membership button is still there, but besides a T-shirt, it doesn't provide you with anything new.

AFAIK he gets a lot more from the weekly feed-sponsorships, The Deck ads, and Amazon referrals.

the biggest thread for reading on the web is - in my humble opinion - the swipeware deployed on multiple small and big sites (i.e.: all *.wordpress.com blogs) for mobile devices like the iPad. swipeware has a horrific user experience, adds nothing of value to the page or the article and makes it impossible to read an article from start to finish.

out of curiosity: is there anybody out-there who thinks swipeware on blogs is a great idea/experience?

Yeah, that's awful. A tip: install iCab (I'm sure there are other browsers that do the same, but I have experience with this one). You can then set your browser-id per site. So, I set in my settings that wordpress.com sends the "Safari 5/Mac" browser header, and all is fine.

What's swipeware?

application controlled by swipes. you know ones you do on a touch device.


"The question for reddit isn't whether or not people enjoy it and want to spend time on it, but whether or not the owners can make money selling those people's attention. The traffic to reddit - while admirably large - is relatively unattractive to most advertisers.

"Reach" (impressions/eyeballs) are only important insofar as you're talking to someone who might buy what you're selling (see "relevancy"). The sub-reddit system could theoretically segment the audience in interesting ways, but other than r/gaming, there aren't many natural industry fits amongst popular sub-reddits.

Anecdotally, the audience would also seem to be advertisement-averse. An advertiser should be willing to pay network prices for the audience (i.e. pennies CPM), which makes it a nice living for a small group of folks living off their passion, but pretty useless to a Condé Nast trying to run a media empire.

I think the business model in a reddit-like site could be selling curated content in other media, e.g. a meme-series of coffee table books. Think Harry Potter, not Oprah. If you're in the content game, your business's value is in having the attention of a group of people. Your first attempt to monetize that asset needn't be to sell your audience's attention to someone else, in this case undermining your ability to keep their attention. Instead, you should focus on bringing things your audience wants - and would pay for - to them. Sometimes that means you need to make the things they want to buy instead of shilling them for someone else, because no one sells what your people want.

Condé Nast isn't built to do this."

Via - http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2966628

I use, (and pay for), Readability, and I don't really see this as a extra work or a hack or a a necessary evil on my part.

Even if these interstitials weren't there, I'd much rather hit tilde without even thinking, than have to read a page that's even 90% as nice as Readability is with my consistent settings. I do it all the time on blogs without ads or pages that are already very readable like bostonglobe.com.

It's like an office coffee pot, nobody complains that the coffee isn't already sweetened or creamed, they're fine doing the little extra step so that everyone has it the way they want it.

(The one-click send-to-kindle is a time/productivity saver that offsets the cost of that extra click, as it isn't even an option on most sites, and certainly not without hoops to jump through.)

The problem is not the poor state of the reading experience -- that's the symptom -- the problem is the per-page-view model of the online advertising, which breaks an article into pages, sharing buttons in your face... etc.

A better paradigm has to come.

Publishers are clearly struggling to make money from their sites and decline in the quality and increase in annoyance of the adverts is the result. I wrote this a while ago (though not much has changed):


This is exactly the problem we're trying to solve at Skim.Me (http://skim.me), except we're not focused solely on article text reading. Even reading my bank account info on the web is terrible.

AutoPager is a great browser add-on that preloads the next page of nytimes, reddit, tumblr etc. It takes care of a lot of the annoying pagination.

It took a long time before I was convinced to try it - but it's sweet.

"... as well as the growing number of sites that offer memberships (like The Loop and Daring Fireball)."

So there is a concept, that you can't tell people about, they have to experience it, then they "get it."

Small anecdote, when I left Sun in 1995 I went to a startup called "GolfWeb" which was publishing an online magazine about Golf. I saw the web as the new world of publishing (I was waaaaaaaaay early :-)) and had plans for a micropayments type Java wallet applet that would allow you read articles and consume content like you did with a regular magazine only better since you only paid for the articles you read, and you didn't have to store back issues they were always online. There were three problems with this vision:

1) Technical users of the time were chanting "information wants to be free" and were rabidly opposed to paying for content.

2) Nearly nobody had Java in their browser yet, so supporting this meant a very small market to work from.

3) DigiCash and David Chaum had a bunch of patents on electronic versions of cash transactions and they didn't have a clue about 'reasonable' licensing.

[Trust me, in 2015 after all that crap expires, we're going to have some really useful tools available.]

So Golfweb, like others, turned to putting banner ads on the pages and using that to pay the bills.

Information has value. This may seem obvious but for a number of people it is not. The question is how do you convert 'demand' type value into something fungible like cash.

The easiest way has been selling people who want to contact people who would want to consume this particular information, an opportunity to make their case. Sort of like giving lions a seat at the watering hole where gazelles come to drink. The lions pay more for seats near a good quality watering hole. But the nature of watering holes is that the gazelles, despite their thirst, will not frequent watering holes that are saturated with lions. No gazelles, and the lions lose interest. That is the value transaction of most web sites, selling your 'demographic' to advertisers for a spot on the page. And like our eponymous watering hole, you can screw it up by over doing it. So at the tipping point, the value of the information is higher to the reader, than having access to the reader is to the advertiser. So you switch from selling access to lions to selling gazelles access to a fenced watering hole where there are no lions.

To date however that switch has been limited by our gazelles ability to express a preference. Some sites are experimenting with memberships, others like Kachingle are providing a way to pay authors of good sites (less reliable income that advertising). What is needed will be something which is part payment system, part rights clearinghouse, and part web framework.

I of course bowed out of this particular game until 2015 :-) but its going to come to pass. I pay $12/yr to get a magazine, why not $1/month to a web site to access the new content there? Especially if it means the ad farms are tapered down to something less egregious than the examples given in OP's article. Because it isn't that advertisements are bad 'per se' (I used to get BYTE magazine in part for the advertisements), it is the egregious nature in which publishers try to force them into your face which changes the value proposition negative for the reader. So some content publisher growth, some additional understanding in the advertising world what to expect, and voila we'll have moved off paper for this kind of stuff.

The problem with paid content is that you only know whether it's worthy for you in hindsight. On top of that you have to compete with gratis (and often surprisingly good quality).

You have all the problems of an asymmetrical information market and you also have to break a cultural gap.

Honestly, I don't subscribe to magazines anymore. I just can't get consistently satisfied with any single source. The only subscription I pay is the broadband contract itself. I don't consistently watch TV or follow any sports for me to consider paying. I know there is a market for that, but it's a really difficult one.

In my opinion the quality problem (knowing apriori) is endemic to any market. Unknown entities will be hard pressed to convince but that is true of most things. What will be interesting though (and this is starting) the good 'free' quality stuff starts becoming harder to find for free as those folks develop appreciative audiences.

I still subscribe to several magazines, but by far my favorite in terms of understanding this new reality is The Economist. If you subscribe you get your content digitally for no additional cost. Presentation is good and not overwhelming with ads (of course the magazine isn't either so perhaps its more cultural to the publisher as well). One magazine I subscribe to but don't pay for as an 'app' is Popular Mechanics. Their presentation is less useful in digital form than their printed form sadly.

Great comment, some forward thinking publications are already doing this on their own sites like the Boston Globe, which has a new $0.99/mo plan to read their content. Sounds reasonable to me, and having a platform for multiple mags and other content providers to all do this sounds like a good plan. Incidentally Boston Globe also has a great new redesign that is responsive and provides a great experience for the user, check it out.

I would argue that once you dismiss ads and scroll down the page that content is entirely readable. The internet has given us an expectation that everything should be free and immediate, and we can't tolerate anything less.

In the old days you paid for a newspaper or magazine with money, now you pay for it with advertising (or you pay money to remove the advertising) - nothing new there, nothing surprising, good content is still good content, and the shit is still there in abundance also ...

You pay for a newspaper and it still has advertising...

...but my newspaper ads are a wad of color-printed coupon sheets etc. I extract the ad-wad and drop it in the bin on the way out of the market.

Leaving me with 3 or 4 thin sheets of local news.

Newspapers here in Australia will have those catalogue inserts (we don't really have coupons) PLUS ads on almost every page. In fact, the amount of pages in the daily newspapers is directly decided by the ad inventory they have - fewer ads and they'll leave out content, more ads and they'll find more stories or lower the bar a bit.

... and they don't reduce our multi-core cpus to a crawl.

One example for this is the The New Yorker iPad app. Great content, built-in subscription, but even with those they have full-page ads. Marco also mentioned about this: http://www.marco.org/2011/10/27/double-dipping-ads-in-ipad-m...

Yes, but the advertisements don't get in the way of the content - editors wouldn't allow that. Also, the only way the ads can harm you is if they're coated with cocaine or some other drug :)

I suggest you pick up a copy of the New York Post and other NYC 'tabloid' style papers before making a blanket statement like "editors wouldn't allow that."

Fair point; I wasn't thinking of those kind of publications.

Can you really think of no other ways in which ads might harm someone?

I could, yes - but I was lightly referencing the fact that opening up a newspaper and seeing an ad that I don't care for means I can move past it or ignore it, whereas with a computer it could mean having to spend time running a malware scan because the ad was hosted by a malicious provider.

Use ghostery. :-)

Evernote Clearly, anyone?

Definitely. Actually read this article with it. http://blog.evernote.com/2011/11/16/introducing-evernote-cle...

Q: Do you want to pay for reading content on the web?

A: No.

Q: Do you want to see ads while reading content on the web?

A: No.

Q: Do you want everything to be free all the time but maintain a capitalistic society?

A: Yes.

Readable sweeps all that shit away and puts the plain text on a plain background. Use it and you'll stop caring what lightboxes and other crap web sites festoon their pages with. Safari's reader is nice as well, it even auto fetches all the pages in a multi page article.

Article: It sucks that we need to use things like Readability just to read things on the internet.

Parent: Just use Readability.

In short, not very helpful as comments go.

I suppose you've got me there. If the argument is "but it's an extra click", I can't say I feel much sympathy.

It's still an extra click.

Most of the time I just close the window - the web is big enough that if you're desperate enough to use such scummy ads (or beg for survey results?!?) then your content likely isn't worth reading.

It's a click that I would have made anyway, because the type in a normal web page is not good for log form reading, where long form is more than a few paragraphs or so. ie, even if there were zero ads I would use Readability (or Instapaper, or whatever).

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