The Hobbesian Net

I clicked on a link from Drudge and I was taken to a website called CBS Money Watch, which is obviously a CBS property. The first thing I see is a video trying to load. I see the pause button and stop it before it starts. It then starts itself in a few seconds and I stop it again. I hate baked-in video. If I want to watch videos, I’ll go to a video site or turn on the television. The trend of jamming video into sites borders on the sadistic. No one likes this. No one can possible think it is a good idea. Yet, they keep doing it.

Like everyone, I use a combination of blockers and filters on my browser. It’s not that I begrudge the content makers their money. I get that they need to sell ads. I’m OK with it and prefer it over the paywall model. Having 85 pop-ups and hidden audio play automatically, on the other hand, is a dick move that should carry the death penalty. This does nothing but piss people off, which is why ad-blocking software proliferates, along with tools to block plugins. How did this happen? Why would anyone do this?

The standard answer to these questions is that there is a war between web content makers and the anti-capitalist developers behind the ad blockers. It’s the sort of thing that’s believable if you are new to the internet. The truth is the proliferation of pop-ups got so bad in the 90’s, the web was becoming unusable. I recall some sites having as many as a dozen pop-ups. You would close one and two more would open. Then there was the malware problem. Legitimate web sites would load malicious code onto your PC.

It’s another example of people applying the front lash and then complaining about the backlash. Ad-blockers, flash-block, script blockers, etc., would not exist if the web sites had been slightly responsible for their content. Instead, they got caught up in the hype of the “new economy” and tried to turn their customers into content. Even that could have been done with some care, but they carried on like they were doing you a favor and thereby created a market for these defensive browser add-ons.

This is a curious thing. We’re told that the normal relationship in business is for the seller to curry favor with the buyer. “The customer is always right” is something everyone learns at a young age. TV and radio companies put a lot of effort into making their product attractive by using pleasant personalities and inviting topics. Radio, which lives off ad dollars, is especially ruthless with their talent. Low ratings means you get fired, no matter how much the management likes and supports you. It’s all about the customers.

Even television, which is mostly a cable fee racket now, keeps up appearances by paying some attention to ratings. Even Cult outposts like ESPN pull back a little from their daily proselytizing in order to maintain the facade of respecting their customers. They may still be in the business of chanting the gospel, but they are not quite ready to have their on-air talent giving the viewers the middle finger. It’s still important to be well regarded by the audience, even when you’re a tax farmer.

Internet business, particularly the content side, is the exact opposite. The business model seems to be based on assaulting the customers in ever more creative ways. Twitter, which should be like radio in terms of a business model, is at war with its customers. The web designers appear to be sitting around, wondering how they can make the experience less pleasant for the user. In order to use your mobile devise to consume web content, you need a script blocker. Otherwise, your browser will lock up and force a restart.

It’s tempting to think that it is just incompetence and that may be a big part of it. For some reason, web development attracts a lot of hack coders. It also appears that web development relies on foreign labor. I regularly get solicitations from Indian coding shops and their specialty is almost always web development. There’s also the loosey-goosey standards on the web, which means everyone can be Steve Jobs, reinventing old ideas and calling them new. Much of what ails the web is simply not sticking with what works.

Even if that is all true, why would the business people sign off on the slow-loading crap that passes for web content? Why would the business side say, “Yes, let’s have our hidden and very loud audio ads re-spawn three times after the user figured out how to turn them off. Great idea team!” It strongly suggests the people making these decisions don’t actually spend a lot of time consuming their company content. At the Washington Times, I know this is true as their pages simply will not load on a mobile devise.

As is often the case, there may be things at work about which I’m unaware. The economics of most websites remain a mystery to me. Running ads strikes me as a compete waste of money, especially in the current environment where ad-blocking is the norm. I also suspect most people are trained to just filter out ads as they scan their gab feed or favorite web sites. I don’t recall the last time an ad caught my attention and I stopped to notice it. But, billions are spent on ads so maybe I’m an outlier.

Even so, the web content business model says something about modern society. The hostile relationship between the customer and seller is weird, but maybe it reflects the sterile transactionalism that is modern life. Not only are we strangers to one another, we feel free to treat one another like highwaymen. The sites try to jam us with ads and spyware and we try to break their business model by stealing their content. The internet economy is the war of all against all that Thomas Hobbes described as the state of nature.

This post has already been linked to 2562 times!

Leave a Reply

68 Comments on "The Hobbesian Net"

Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Member

I try not to buy anything I see advertised anywhere. I know this is an impossible goal but it is satisfying to at least try to thwart the idiots who push dumb shit on me everywhere I go. The online model is stuck on push and track, track and push, a boring and completely unimaginative strategy that no doubt reflects the empty minds of the people responsible for employing it.

Severian
Guest
I think they follow a debased version of Say’s Law: Supply creates its own demand. My guess – and I am NOT a tech guy – is that they’re juking the stats, such that each popup that gets past your blocker counts as a “pageview” or something, and is sold to the advertisers as such (I seem to recall Zuckerborg getting busted for something like this not too long ago). Meanwhile, ad buyers go along with it because it still costs way less than a traditional campaign. The ombudsman (or whatever) doesn’t care, as most media operations are just loss-leaders… Read more »
Gerard Van der Leun
Member

“people are trained to just filter out ads as they scan their gab feed”

There are ads in a gab feed? I’ve never seen them.

Wilbur Hassenfus
Guest

On the web, you’re not the customer. You’re the product they’re selling to advertisers.

It makes more sense when you remember that most Americans are coprophilic submissives who seek out that kind of abuse.

brian
Guest

This.

The way I’ve heard it said is “When you aren’t paying for a product, YOU are the product.”

Member

Everything must be full screen pictures and film. The fools think we are longing for our TV. So we get several competing video boxes because they can.And maybe because they think all their viewer are functional illiterates who cannot absorb a sentence of type.

Member

In truth, it’s probably not higher than 95% functional illiterates, if you include those with poor reading comprehension and short attention spans.

Member
In the olden days of the web (not for you, Z, for me) there were a lot of articles about how marketeers and ad men were shocked to find that now that they could measure the customers’ interest somewhat, they were finding that customers weren’t all that much interested in their ads. I don’t have the time to hunt the articles down tonight (assuming that they are still out there), but I remember they caused quite a crisis in the marketing and sales world. This article has a summary of click through rates by product category. You need to attract… Read more »
karl hungus
Guest

here’s what those ad buyers are getting for their money: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/bizarre-click-farm-10000-phones-10419403

Member

It’s no diferrent than saying prices are antagonistic to consumers who aren’t willing to pay. The level of antagonizing in ads or prices is set between the unprofitable maximum and minimums. It may be they have no idea how to do that calculation.

Of course newspapers and ESPN are apparently willing to throw out profitability for tickets to the cloud ball. For some reason I find the harassment by advertisers for profit less annoying than the harrassment that moon bats are volunteering at a loss.

Horrors Greeley
Guest

It seems that making the consumer despise the seller is not a great long term plan, but that’s probably just me.

Anonymous Lurker
Guest
I think that web developers are also blind to the fact that not everyone surfing the web is using the latest high-end machine with a high-end graphics card. But they build their websites using such, and things look OK when they review them. But to those with lesser machines, things don’t work so well. I’ve noticed that most websites open OK on my desktop, but some will grind to a halt — even freeze up completely — on my Kindle Fire. Other websites that open OK on my desktop, will load s-l-o-w-l-y on my Kindle as each picture or video… Read more »
notsothoreau
Guest

And they don’t seem to understand how limited space is on tablets and phones. I get those ads/videos/popups on my phone and it’s nearly impossible to close them down. I leave the site. Whatever caught my interest is not worth the effort to try and read it under those conditions.

Whiskey
Guest
I have a Kindle Fire and love it. Its great for what it does. I am an eCommerce Web developer, about 85% of our customers are on mobile, most on Iphones, I finally had to buy one just to test out what the sites look like under IOS. Before I would cadge one. There are also lots of speed testers and emulators which I and other eCommerce developers use, to optimize. Customers on Iphones don’t buy if you make it hard, and yes we have mobile friendly versions using Bootstrap. Goals are consistent page loads on most modern phones in… Read more »
Guest
Guest

I have been using the Brave browser a bit recently. It has pretty good blocking features built into the code.

Also still using Firefox with Adblockerplus and Ghostery to block unwanted content and AdNauseum just to f*ck with them.

Have one Chromebook. Excellent device for limited purposes, but 99% of the web is simply unreadable with Chrome due to ads and unwanted content. Truly a horrible experience.

Cloudswrest
Guest

Have you tried the Brave browser? It blocks ads as a matter of course.

“The truth is the proliferation of pop-ups got so bad in the 90’s, the web was becoming unusable.”

I remember this quite well. The porn sites were particularly offensive, and not just sexually.

It was particularly unfortunate at the time as we were trying to get my computer illiterate 70’ish father in-law online and the popup ads, banners, self loading toolbars, etc. completely overwhelmed him.

Guest

You know it really urinates me off when I click on something and it takes me to porn pictures. The other day I clicked on a Google search result for a news item and I got a picture of a black man with a real long schlong, schlonging a white woman. I don’t want to see that garbage. Why do they assume that so many people are into pornography?

karl hungus
Guest

serves you right for googling “gop cuck” with safety mode off

Guest

I don’t think that was my search.

Sam J.
Guest
I found using no-script add-on with Firefox works for me. Often on a big media site I have to allow scripts to see the page. It’s amazing just how many different scripts run from different addresses to see a page. There’s a button that says allow all scripts on the page temporarily. Sometimes you have to hit it three times to watch a video, or more. So you have scripts loading scripts three levels deep all from different addresses. No wonder the web doesn’t work. Most of the time if I can’t get the data to load in two hits… Read more »
gustavo
Guest
There really is something strange going on here, possibly explained in large part by advertising stupidity — because I simply stop visiting sites that blast me with an obnoxious barrage of ads (which, as Anonymous Lurker explained, cause older computers to grind to a halt). Which means these sites lose regular visitors who therefore will NEVER buy anything advertised at that site. Thus, I find it hard to believe the obnoxious ad-blizzard is a winning strategy. IMHO, one reason for Google’s early success was that they avoided this strategy (unlike competitors like AltaVista) and presented the user with a simple,… Read more »
Member
“I don’t recall the last time an ad caught my attention and I stopped to notice it. But, billions are spent on ads so maybe I’m an outlier.” You’re not. The average clickthrough rate is well below 1% for most campaigns, with only the most well-targeted campaigns seeing anywhere near 5%. So you’re talking about an incredibly small number of people clicking on ads, and its getting smaller every day. That number has gotten so small that networks are advising advertisers that clickthrough rates “don’t matter”. That should’ve been everyone’s first clue that customers were becoming offended by low-quality ads… Read more »
George Orwell
Guest

I’m involved in advertising and I can tell you large ad agencies have substantial portions of staff devoted to generating online content, compared to print or tv. Perhaps it’s just a money thing, since hiring a mess of twentysomethings to do web is cheaper than the expensive ad buys required by broadcast campaigns.

Still, one thing is true in advertising as a career. Everyone dreams of being the director, the guy who shoots the ad at the production company.

Guest

The Columbus Dispatch gives you the option of downloading the entire newspaper in PDF form if you are a subscriber. I think this is really the best option for them to maintain their revenue stream because the ads make more of an impression on the readers in that format than they do on the web. I do catch an ad or two in print form. I virtually ignore everything that comes across the web.

William Nohmor
Guest

It is a wierd dance. Someone from a large content provider sales department should chime in and explain it. If it’s either that or paywalls we are spiralling downward. I still hit paywalls occasionally and when I see it’s the Boston Globe my brain immediately fires off the famous two word invective and it’s generally the alarm signal for me to stop reading crap on the internet.

UKer
Guest

“It strongly suggests the people making these decisions don’t actually spend a lot of time consuming their company content.”

When I worked in newspapers, one editor got furious because his journalists never read the product they helped create. I knew someone who worked in TV and he admitted no-one in the business could be bothered to watch what they produced.

Nope, it’s just a way of being paid and who cares what the final product is?

ganderson
Guest

I feel this way about pro and college sports. The in venue environment has become almost unbearable- the incredibly loud music, the host (there was a host at the NCAA lax finals this past weekend- screaming at the fans to cheer, etc. really obnoxious) What I’d like to know is- who decided that this was what the customers wanted? I know I was not consulted

Scrivener
Guest
Why are airlines seemingly at war with their traveling customer? Narrow seats, no legroom, extra chargesf or luggage and carryons, charge for a snack and a soda. They are not at war with their customer. Lots of airlines gave the customer more luxury at a higher fare; and lost market share to no-frills carriers. The customer obviously prefers a lower cost with less space/amenities. Even United and Foreign national carriers are starting no-frills discount subsidiaries to survive. The customer is king. I would contend that the consumer of web content would rather pay in annoying ads, videos and popups than… Read more »
MSO
Guest
“I hate baked-in video. If I want to watch videos, I’ll go to a video site or turn on the television.“ Even worse is the latest trend of embedding large blocks of text within the video which effectively obscures both the video and the text. Adobe flash facilitates super-cookies so I have flash player blocked; other websites embed you tube videos with some scheme which prevents them from loading in my browser. Twitter is blocked in my HOSTS file, so I see many huge blank spaces on my screen, much like Kansas in the winter. Fewer and fewer web sites… Read more »
ronetc
Guest

Volunteer proofreader: “devise” is not the same thing as “device.”

Ryan
Guest

If you think about it TV channels are just totally non interactive streaming webpages. I think the video pop-outs are largely old dogs not being able to learn new tricks. The other half of it is that the cost of advertisements of the pop up and jam up the page variety is almost negligible. A TV commercial requires things like a set, video cameras, actors, etc. A thousand pop ups require one lowly paid code monkey.

TomA
Guest

One of the primary (and largely covert) aspects of the media blitz in current culture is memetic indoctrination of the masses, e.g. imprinting agenda-driven thoughts and behaviors. In the extremis, the goal is to create a civilization of lower caste automatons that will do as instructed without complaint or resistance. Compliant sheep is the autocrat’s ideal endgame.

But chaos has once again reared its head. The volume has become so loud and pervasive that the end result is noise and confusion more so than message reception. And that din is also spawning mental illness in an ever-growing segment of the population.

Herrman
Guest
“The internet economy is the war of all against all that Thomas Hobbes described as the state of nature.” As it ever was ZMan, as it ever was. Your observations with this piece dovetails nicely with your piece yesterday on “What’s the Point?”. I’ve been trying to figure out how to express this idea for a while now, and will admit it’s not fully formed, but here goes: Human affairs make no sense to us humans because the driving force behind them is not human. I’m not talking about lizard men hiding behind the moon of course, but something that… Read more »
Member

This a great comment. Much food for thought. Thank you.

George Orwell
Guest

“or Kathy Griffin.”
ROTFLMAO

Member

Hegel.

Karl Horst
Guest

If you think internet pop-ups are bad, you should try watching BBC in the evenings. You get 10-minutes of advertisements, occasionally interrupted by a movie. “Bloody annoying” – as the Brits say.

YIH
Guest

One thing that ticks me off are sites that put up a ”disable ad blocker to see this page” pages. To me that’s like a message ”disable your antivirus software to see this page”. Nope, because of https://infogalactic.com/info/Malvertising
All the ad networks, including Google have gotten hit with malvertising, at least in Google’s favor, as soon as they’re informed that the ad is dangerous they remove it, though it still leaves people vulnerable until the ad network discovers and yanks it.

nobody,nevermind
Guest

Whiskey and Zman!!! I’m in Heaven!!

YIH
Guest

I am NOT ”Whiskey”! He is off I-5, he is in Steve Sailer’s part of the world. I’m off I-95, 3000+ miles away.

Mark Lytle
Guest

“war of all against all”. Sounds like the greatest and the once most powerful, organized nation/culture ever is experiencing a slow death by entropy.

Member

All the active content on websites is what drove me out of single processor computers.

originalguest
Guest

I don’t want my MTV, i want my web 1.0 back, hypertext not javascript!

karl hungus
Guest

you can turn off whatever features you don’t want.

wpDiscuz