The Unreadable Web

The other day, I was reading something on-line and followed a link to one of the business sites. The first thing to happen was a useless popup. I have a pop-up blocker, but many of them still slip past for some reason. After years of dealing with pop-ups, my mouse hand is trained to close the window on instinct. It is a reflex now. I closed it only to have another open and I closed it. A minute reading the site, the screen goes dim and I get a message telling me that I am running an ad-blocker, along with a lecture about how that is mean.

I just closed the site and moved on. In fact, this has become my habit. If the site has any of this junk, I just close the site and move onto other things. I respect the fact that sites need to make money so they post ads, but having to navigate through a sea of clutter just to read 500 words or look at a picture is not a good use of my time. I’ve observed others do the same thing I do when it comes to pop up windows. Before they load, people close them so they do nothing more than annoy the reader. They are otherwise useless.

The main reason I run the ad-block stuff is that many of these embedded ads have malware. If a website wants to monetize my viewership by infesting my computer with malignant software, I have no qualms about blocking their attempts to monetize my viewership. Therefore, the lectures that are becoming common on websites about the immorality of running ad-block strike most people as ludicrous. It’s why the Brave browser is gaining a market. It blocks the ads and it blocks the nag screens about ad-block.

Of course, it is not just ads or pop-ups. The proliferation of scripting has made many sites unreadable on a phone or tablet, unless you use something like ghostery. The Washington Times is a perfect example. It is more ad than content and the scripts never seem to load properly, so the site looks like a Picasso painting most of the time. I stopped going to the site entirely as it took too much effort to make it work. If I have to redesign my web browser to look at your site, I’m probably not going to bother visiting your site.

The truly monstrous thing done by web designers is embedded audio and video. By default, I now turn off my sound so I don’t have to hunt around looking for where the noise is coming from on the web page. I use a flash blocker to get rid of most of it, but some of it still slips past. That means YouTube does not work, so I have two browsers. One is for video and the other for daily browsing. When I’m ruler of these lands, the people responsible for embedded, autoplay video will be torn to pieces and fed to the dogs.

Those who have read Jospeh Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies will probably recognize a familiar pattern. The first ads on websites were a big hit, relative to their cost. That banner at the top for Joe’s Diner cost nothing, but made something. That’s an infinite return on investment. The next wave of ads came with a cost, both direct and indirect. The former was the cost of weaving them into the sites. The latter was the cost of people using ad-blocker and other tools to limit the number of ads in the way of the content.

As we have move from the physical world of content to the virtual world, the demand for more revenue, drives the ever more complex methods to monetize the website. The costs ratchet up, but the barriers also get higher as users find more and better tools to defeat the ads and scripts. The Brave browser costs me nothing and does a great job filtering almost all of this stuff from my view. We’re not far from the time when you pay a monthly fee for a browser that filters all ads from all sites. That’s the model Brave is pursuing..

Web sites are probably near the point of negative returns, with regards to monetizing their content. That’s why so many are going back to the old subscription model. It may not fix their revenue problems, but they have no other option. The ad model is simply not working. That, of course, means the ad model is probably nearing collapse. Once big sites begin to rethink how they monetize their content, everyone else follows. A web of paywalls and subscriber-only content is probably the future for the large scale content makers.

Whether or not that is sustainable is a topic for another day.


61 thoughts on “The Unreadable Web

  1. I read all the comments and didn’t see No-Script used by anyone. It’s a Firefox plug-in. I love it. It blocks all scripts. Not just java script. All scripts.You have a tool at the bottom of your page that will show you what scripts are available by site. So I can individually turn them on or off by site. Permanently or temporarily. It does become a pain if you want to read a normal media site as they have so many scripts. Usually if I do wish to read such sites I use a menu they have to temporarily allow all scripts on the present page. You’d be surprised how many sites have scripts that connect to sites, with more scripts that connect to sites, with more scripts. Layers and layers of them. No wonder the web is useless a lot of times. Mostly I just shut those off and close the page.

  2. I do the same, Zman- give it one chance, if I am interested in the content, and if it wont work, move on.
    I am using Brave almost exclusively as the chore tuning add-ons on PaleMoon is too time consuming.

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    • Join the discussionI’ll have to put “try the different combinations of adblock and privacy extensions” on my list of goals for 2017. Somehow, I knew I wasn’t quite finished making the list yet.

  4. I’ve seen exactly one website really crack the nut of relevant web advertising: It’s a knitting specific social network with a huge pattern and yarn database. Sounds nuts, but it’s got millions of users and the income supports a couple families. Each page in the forums has a small display ad at the very bottom of the page and they only accept needlework related ads, so they’re actually pretty relevant to the people seeing them. This model provides a decent share of the site’s income and I don’t mind that my ad blocker lets them through. It surprises me that more sites don’t seek out advertisers who are relevant to their user base’s interests.

  5. Funny post given this very web page has 76 requests for internet files from multiple sources. Press f12, reload, click on the network tab and count them.

    But 76 is good. Some have hundreds.

    Even worse, some constantly auto-update with a series of timed requests to refresh and update the page with any new posts. Instapundit does it a bit, too much if you ask me, starting at 201 requests and then adding 10 or so every minute. but the lefties at the Guardian are hilarious in their incompetency. Their pages constantly roil around doing God knows what file requests, but never finishing and slowing down my machines badly. Even so, the Guardian is the funniest, zaniest, psych ward around, well worth the wait, especially George Monbiot days.

    Could you please add auto-updaters to the dog-food list?

  6. I’m totally blind and use a screen reader, so I definitely know what you’re talking about when it comes to the web being unreadable! Some of the things that give me an fairly major annoyances, (but aren’t completely impassable,) are:
    Slideshows and pagination, I can click next if I’m blue in the face if I really want to. Pop-ups and pop-unders, because I don’t know the difference, and Zman and commenters are right about the pop-up blockers not being very good these days. Anti-adblock blockers and/or lectures, because I don’t particularly want big frames slowing down my load-time or my navigation, (I really should install Ghostery or trackmenot, which is a new one on me!) Social media sharing buttons, for pretty much the same reason. Oh yeah and of course the last, and most obvious one, autoplaying video and sound. If I’m going to YouTube/Vimeo/Dailymotion, I want this to happen. Also if I’m streaming, but if I’m reading your blog or shopping on your site, I really, really don’t!
    Lol I’m new here so sorry for the long comment! Also I found your post on

  7. At least with my $9 Netflix I get a huge variety of drivel to choose from. The problem with most of these random content generators is that the web drivel is easily replicated, and, getting back to your Solstice post the other day, there is little that I need. While there are people who are like drug addicts in the VR world, most people are not.

    A paywall won’t fix either their revenue or their content problems. People will just switch it off, and wait until they can get it free later on. There are few things I need “right now”. ABC blocks the current “Agents of SHIELD” for 7 days. I couldn’t give a crap that I had to wait 7 days simply because I refuse to pay $300/mo to Comcast/Satan. It’s new to me. I just outlast them.

    Telemarketers have grown increasingly bold in recent months as well. Huge increase in cell call volume, even though I block numbers and have my number on those no-call lists. I’ve found a satisfying strategy is screaming into the phone. Loud, maniacal screaming. Sam Kinnison levels of screaming.

    It’s a great stress relief.

    • What I like to do — for telemarketers — is pretend to be an old geezer with dementia. After a few minutes of idle chatter I scream into the phone “NURSE!! POOP!!” then hang up.

  8. You left out the spam sites that split an article or photo essay among 30 page clicks; I put those in the same blacklist categories as the one’s with automatically background playing audio/video. Also there’s still RSS; if I like the site, I’ll add it in and follow it that way. Most of the sites that I still click through to tend to be news sites and even there I’ll tend to lean more towards link sites like Drudge unless its local news and weather.

    The subscription model could work depending on the material or the writer or if its something that people need (ex: The Financial Times could make buying a subscription work for its audience in a way that the New York Times can’t) but I don’t see how it can work for every major site in an age when its not too difficult to ignore or pirate it. Is anyone who wants to see Game of Thrones missing it because you have to subscribe to the HBO app?

  9. It’s three levels beyond my expertise so I’ll pose the question to readers with some tech savvy. Most of our browsing and reading habits are likely similar. What system of remuneration could be provided so that I pay, say, 33 cents or maybe one dollar a day (without advertising) for those things I read? This assumes I click on, say, 200 things a day and actually spend time on a few dozen. Apportioning clicks equally or proportionally may be a side issue but I’m not looking for perfection. I would like to see Z and a few dozen writers of my choice paid my two cents. If Z has, for purposes of 6th grade math, 100,000 daily readers he rakes 2k per day. Ok, make that one cent, more left over for porn.

    I believe writers on the Right would, for the first time, gain advantage over the Narrative because this is market driven. It always turns out that when the left has to pay for it’s own opinions their enthusiasm measures differently.

    • well, by visiting the sites you want to support they get page views. click on a few ads once in awhile, that will help too:) Or just send me $10 a month and I will see it gets distributed 😛

  10. Gratuitous technology. It crops up everywhere. New cars now often have something called a body control module, which is a little computer that controls things that heretofore simply used a switch and a relay. In the virtual world, the webmaster gets a call from the boss complaining about not getting enough conversions from the company website. Before you know it, you’ve got ads jumping, scrolling, and flying all over the screen. Neat, huh? The concept of diminishing marginal returns probably doesn’t show up much in today’s curricula.

  11. I started using an ad blocker after I got tired of looking at the disgusting pictures served up by the Revcontent ads on Gateway Pundit. Revcontent shows gnarly feet and other disfigurations, not to mention all the erectile dysfunction products that they are always peddling. At one point, they were showing a silhouette of a pe-nis with emphasis of all the veins that run through it . Disgusting. I don’t want to look at that crap.

    In general, I do not believe in denying websites revenue from advertising. They deserve to make money from their efforts and I have no problem with that. However the Revcontent ads are so disgusting and low class that I just got tired of looking at them.

    (I also agree about the sound, the malware and the processing power it takes to paint a page.)

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  13. I use Brave, and like it very much. Like you, I also have a backup browser (Firefox) for things that Brave doesn’t do as well. I play a few simple games on Facebook, and couldn’t be bothered figuring out the Adobe Flash Player workaround Brave uses, so when I want to play a game, I click on Firefox and do it. I expect that eventually Brave will have all those things worked out and I won’t have to use anything else. 95% of my time online is reading text, though, so Brave is ideal for that: it’s fast and I’m nearly ad-free now. I can turn off the adblock for the very few sites I care about that need the advertising traffic, but they don’t abuse me with it.

  14. Ah, I’m still in the habit of using Chrome and haven’t switched to Brave yet. But Brave does let me read the occasional Forbes article, bypassing their dumb ad-block blocker.

  15. I used to read Forbes occasionally, especially for their various lists on the business of sports and team valuations. But stopped once they started enforcing their no-ad blocker rule. Ah well.

      • You know what’s funny about this “no ad blocker” thing? Until I read your column, I didn’t realize or even notice that these sites had the no ad blocker rules. (Forbes included) I see a window pop up, I don’t even bother to read it. It close the window (or shut down my browser), and I move on. Or, with Forbes occasionally, I just ignore it and click the “continue to site” link without ever pausing to read whatever it is they want me to read. It’s like a car horn beeping in the distance; I’m barely aware of it, and I quickly gets shot down the memory hole never surpassing that 7-second short term memory limit.

        I suspect they realize this, and that much of their actual CONTENT similarly goes down the memory hole within seconds. That’s why you see such a huge emphasis on delivering “new” and “updated” content every few seconds…doesn’t matter what it is, what it says, or if it’s even right…as long as it’s right-now.

    • I still check Forbes every couple of years to see if Scrooge McDuck is still considered the world’s richest cartoon character.

  16. They aren’t going to be able to charge for their content because it is shit. They have nothing worth paying for. My kids watch far more user created content on YouTube, than they watch Tv shows or movies. Really, just who is going to pay money for the “thoughts” of people like Matty Yglessias? I know he has managed to hook himself up to the big Left teat, but that is a different matter…

  17. I see little of this adware on my Apple tablet, and I have yet to visit sites that won’t run in the default browser. Some things don’t work well, but it’s never completely failed. There are some ads I do get on the tablet, but nothing like on the computer. It’s made me hate computers, I have a top of the line iPad Pro as my sole computer these days.

  18. And then there is the complete control that ESPN exercises over all games. The continuity of basket ball for example ie Free timeouts makes most high energy tactics worthless.

    And of course the adds suck.

  19. My take on societal build up and collapse is a combination of Carroll Quigley and Tainter.

    Here’s Tocqueville’s notes on his uncompleted second volume of the Old regime and the Revolution: Never had the newspapers’ language been more inflamed, never was their clamor more lively than at the moment they were about to be silenced for fifteen years. If you want to know about the real power of the press, never pay attention to what it says, but rather to the way people listen to it. Sometimes its passion evinces its weaknesses and foretells its end…It shouts so loudly because its audience has become deaf, and it is this deafness which allows it to be silenced with impunity.

  20. Funny you should mention subscription model. One of my local news rags went subscription for 99% of their content, so I did a trial offer, and found even more pop over, pop up and scripted ads even with a subscription. Cancelled that pretty quickly. Yeesh.

  21. I have precisely the same surfing habits. I currently use Firefox and have it locked down with Ghostery and AdblockPlus. I also use Trackmenot to block tracking and to generate fake queries to pollute the data collected by trackers. I am always blown away by the amount of garbage when I surf the internet on someone else’s computer.

    I have been experimenting with Brave, which purportedly blocks ads and trackers. I will probably make the transition to Brave in 2017.

    Finally, you may want to look into a VPN service for internet access. Many of them have ad-blocking features incorporated into the service and they anonymize your surfing, which I suspect would be good for anyone reading this blog. I plan to sign up for one in 2017.,2817,2403388,00.asp

    I also have a chromebook and like it, but I’m acutely aware that Google is monitoring everything I do on the internet. Have long wondered if there’s a market for a chromebook-style device that uses a browser like Brave.

  22. Newspapers are dying off. I assume their websites certainly will, because of the fake news and the ads. Internet magazines? Not sure. I quit subscribing to magazines years ago.

    • I’ll get into this in another post, but we’re about to see a great weeding out of dead wood in the content world. Think of National Review. There was a time when they had a stable of writers you would pay to read. They also had a stable of writers you would read if it was free. Now, the guys who could charge for their work are on their own and what’s left is the cruft. Mark Steyn can make a nice living as a free lancer. Steve Sailer can have a middle-class life as a free lancer. Jonah Goldberg will starve to death in the new model.

      • All industries go through it. Think of all the automobile, motorcycle and aircraft companies that all but vanished by the 1950’s. Internet providers did the same thing in the 1980’s-90’s. Content providers and smartphone apps will all dwindle down to the dozen or so you actually use on a regular basis. Just like all those gadgets you mentioned the other day.

      • NR is almost as bad as the Washington Times when it comes to being a functional website. My iPad really jumps around there, reloading etc.

  23. another big problem for us oldsters is the widespread use of medium grey text on light gray backgrounds. There isn’t enough contrast to easily read it.
    Zman– could you change your default text colour?
    I remember when it was much darker text.

    • Agree 100% with Nunnya – More contrast please. Black text on a white background (or light grey to reduce eye strain from the glare) would be greatly appreciated.

      • I like the non-glare look. But was able to take the ZMan page from gray on gray to black on white by increasing the brightness of my browser screen, which increases the contrast. (Now I’m taking it back to gray on gray!)

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