Saturday, July 25, 2020

Still here, still annoyed with the internet

Looks like it's been several months since the last post, which has happened before but probably not for quite this long.  I've been meaning to put something up, first about working from home (or WFH as we like to call it), then more about machine learning (or ML as we like to call it), which seems to be going interesting places but probably not as far and fast as some might say.  I probably will get back to at least one of those topics, but so far, having settled into a new routine, I just haven't worked in much time for the blogs.

I have been reading quite a bit, on various topics, a lot of it on my phone.  I've managed to train my news feed to deliver a reasonable mix of nerdy stuff, light entertainment and what's-going-on-in-the-world.  I'm often happy to read the light entertainment in particular, since I get to use my analytical brain plenty between work and writing the occasional analytical blog post.  The only problem with the light reading is the actual reading.

I've always said that writers, and "content creators" in general, need to get paid, and I don't mind having to look at the occasional ad or buy the occasional subscription to support that.  It's just that the actual mechanics of this are getting a bit out of hand.

Generally one of three things happens.  For major outlets, or most of the nerdy stuff, or publications for which I do have a subscription, I click through and read.  Great.

If there's a paywall, I usually see the first paragraph or so, enough to confirm what the article is about, and then a button asking me to join in order to see more.  I pretty much never do, even though I'm fine with the concept and subscriptions are generally pretty cheap, because
  • Dude, I just wanted to read the article and it sure would have been nice to have seen a paywall notice before I clicked through (sometimes they're there, but usually not).
  • I'm leery of introductory rates that quietly start charging you more because you forgot to go back and cancel.
  • And combining the previous two items, I don't really want to dig through the subscription terms and find out how much I'm really paying and what I'm actually paying for.
I'm a bit more amenable to the "You have N free articles left this month" approach, because I get to read the particular article I was interested in and figure out the subscription stuff at my leisure.  I seldom get around to that last part, but nonetheless I think all the subscriptions I've actually bought have been on that basis.  I'm sure there have been theses written about the psychology behind that.

Having re-read the whole blog a while ago, I recall that Xanadu advocated for a similar pay-as-you-go approach.  As far as I could tell from the demo I saw, it would have led to a sort of taxicab-like "meter is running" experience.  This seems even slightly less pleasant than paywalls and subscriptions, but Xanadu could probably have supported either model, in theory.

The more common experience, of course, is ads, particularly in the light entertainment department.  What happens is interesting: You see the ads so much you don't see them, and depending on your level of patience, you might not bother to see the light entertainment either.

Suppose you run across a suitably light-looking title.  Some popular ones are "Learn something new about <your favorite movie, album, artist etc.>" and "N best/worst/most surprising/... Xs".  In either case, there are always two or three paragraphs of things you already know.  "My Cousin the Vampire Chauffeur [not a real movie that I know of] was one of the great hits of the 1980s, starring Moviestar McMoviestarface as the vampire and That One Actor as their best friend.  At first, the friend only thinks it's a little odd that the Chauffeur only drives at night and has removed the rearview mirror from the car, but events take an unexpected turn when ..."  Yep, knew that.  I clicked through on this because I liked that movie so yes, I've seen it.

About that time the whole screen starts to rearrange itself as various ad-things jostle for position.  Often, it all settles back down with the text you were reading still in roughly the same place, but sometimes you have to scroll.  About the same time, a video starts playing across the bottom of the screen.  There's generally a tiny "x" box at the corner to make it go away, but that's a fool's errand.  Another hydra head will regrow to take its place, and there's always the chance you'll accidentally click through instead of dismissing.  Instead, stare steadfastly at the text on the screen and nothing else, secure in the knowledge that the whole "subliminal advertising" thing was most likely overblown.

Finish the paragraph you're on and scroll past the display ad between it and the next paragraph.  With a fair wind and a favorable moon phase, you'll get to the next paragraph.  If not, the game of musical chairs will resume until the new batch of ads have all found places, at which point I generally head for the exit.  But you persevere.  You quickly realize that this paragraph as well is more filler, so you try to scroll to the bottom for the nugget of information you were really after.  You scroll too far, too fast, and land in a column of photos and links for similar articles, some of which you've already read because, well, we're all human, right?

Scroll back up and you find the object of your quest, that last paragraph, derive whatever edification you can from it and hit the back button.  Rather than going back to the news feed, you quite likely go back to a previous version of the page you were reading, and maybe another after that, before ending up back in civilization.  I could write a whole other rant about "Why doesn't the back button just take me back?" but I'm not sure that would improve either my life or yours.

I mean, in the grand scheme of things this is all pretty trivial, but then, in the grand scheme of things so is this blog, so I guess we're even.

Except for ads in the middle of lists-of-N-things that disguise their click-through buttons as "next item" buttons.  Those are pure evil.

So, still here, still annoyed with the internet.

1 comment:

Bob Gebhardt said...

Been there. Hate that too.