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.