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.

68 thoughts on “The Hobbesian Net

  1. “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.

    • 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.

  2. 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
    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.

  3. 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.

    • I get the Beeb on the Kodi. It really is weird. They go away for a break and never come back. I thought it was the stream, but apparently not.

      • One of my biggest annoyances with the “newer” BBC is the people they have doing documentaries these days. What a bunch of narcissists! Half the show is of themselves doing something or nothing, while they go on and on about whatever it is they’re talking about. They’re always posing, usually in front of, what they’re supposed to be talking about. And half the time I could have Wikipedia’d the topic and gotten a lot more information by just reading it myself, rather than watching these idiots.

        • This trend appears in academic papers. The research is about how the researchers feels about a topic. It’s bizarre.

  4. “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 is fundamental to all life, which is genetic expression. A species will expand to fill all available and possible niches until constrained by outside forces. In an environment without constraints that expansion will produce ever more unstable and exotic results. Think giant flying dinosaurs or Kathy Griffin.

    The genetic process which does this isn’t operating on a logical basis or by applying the scientific method to the selection of possible future evolutionary paths. On no no, mon ami…it’s a free-for-all with genetic expression bursting out whenever and however it can. In an environment with harsh constraints (like most of human history) the wackier variations are quickly weeded out. Transform the environment into the equivalent of a comfy couch, and watch out.

    No idea where this all might be going. I like the idea of cosmic evolution, which postulates that intelligence is a physical force of the universe just like gravity and radiation, and will eventually remake the actual physical structure of the universe in its image. Topic for another day 😊.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. “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 are worth visiting due to lack of content combined with obnoxiousness. Even talk radio is becoming unbearable with its too frequent and too idiotic ads for vitamins, gold, real estate and investing strategies.

    I’m back to reading books and watching Gunsmoke on TV.

  8. 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 in $$$. I enjoy the content and I put up with a lot before I abandon reading a site I like, but I understand content must be paid for. TV and Radio, having times exclusively devoted to ads have an advantage over the web where you can continue reading and ignore the banner ad. Maybe the web is more like a magazine where the ads need to be good to get any attention. Maybe the web is still too new for advertisers to have figured out how to benefit from the millions of eyes.

    • Airlines are an interesting sub-species of business that you cannot compare to other industries. I know a lot about the economics of air travel. In the US, it is better to think of it in the same way the Soviets thought about concrete production or the Chinese think of steel production.

      • …or New Yorkers think of the subway (so I hear, never been on it, or in NY for that matter.)

      • That’s an interesting point (thanks for replying). If I want to travel a long distance in America I can: buy a private airplane, buy a share in a time share aircraft, charter a private aircraft, get an uber like ride on a private aircraft, fly first class on United or American and experience a quite luxurious ride and free food-drinks-bags, fly business class on a major carrier and get good seat and leg room, select a premium seat on a major airline and get more legroom, fly coach, fly a discount carrier, fly standby at agencies, drive, take public transportation.

        How is that like Chinese steel production?

  9. 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

    • The last time I was at an NBA game, my thought was, “This is what hell will be like.” This was in Boston, which is known for being somewhat subdued about this crap. It was a barrage of sound from the PA and constant demands that I look at the video boards during breaks in the game, which were frequent. At every timeout, some girls ran onto the floor to dance to jungle music and some males did back flips. The only thing missing was a witch doctor.

      • Its symptomatic of so much that is sour about our culture.

        Who wants to be bombarded with 10 and 15 second snippets of baby-boomer, pop-rock, hip-hop gibberish while attending a ball game?

        I am decidedly old school regarding the intersection of pageantry and sports: less is more.

        Thus, at baseball games, limit the extra-curriculars to Take Me Out to the Ballgame and the old charge.

        For college football, the big bands playing the fight song before the game, at halftime, and after field goals and touchdowns is plenty.

        My best friend’s dad growing up was an English teacher who eventually became a high school principal. During the summer of 1976, he chided me for wanting more of what the Baltimore Orioles had begun to do: play pop songs between innings.

        IIRC, the Orioles started with playing John Denver’s “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” between either the 5th or 6th innings and graduated to playing pop songs between all of the innings except for the seventh inning stretch.

        My friend’s father presciently told me that some day that the teams would go too far and that I would grow to loathe it.

      • Except for the video boards, that sounds like the mandatory high school pep rallies I always tried to avoid…

        • I’ve gotten to a point where I hate going into stores like Lowes or Home Depot because of the music that is always blaring out of their PA system. I just want to buy my 2X4’s and get out without being subjected to music that I may or may not like. The same applies to restaurants, I just want to eat without the noise.

          • That so many businesses around here blast commercial FM radio when there are other options is puzzling and most unpleasant. The music generally sucks but the commercials, hammering you with hyperspace talk, are unbearable.

            Somehow related to the discussion are the endless fundraisers on public radio, and TV too.

      • I hope they didn’t put you on the KissCam. I can’t enjoy going to sporting events anymore.

        Maybe it’s the low rent places I sometimes eat at but the diner ones go full on with televisions. four to six of them so I don’t miss a thing, even if I can’t hear, captions are on for my benefit. All the more reason to never have cable.

      • Some of it might be the relatively new major or Sport Management. If there are events, by golly we are going to manage them.

  10. “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?

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. “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 and/or were using ad blockers. The adpocalypse is almost upon us. Thank god.

    • A few years ago when I had a Faceberg account, I’d marvel at the ads they sent to me. Granted, I was not doing much of anything on Faceberg. I just used it to see what friends were doing. I’d see ads for dating sites mostly, which is mostly a scam. I’d see ads for things I bought last week. I’d see ads for junk medicine and snake oil. There was a low-rent quality to it.

      But, I don’t understand how Faceberg is a business. I continue to suspect it is a massive fraud.

      • “Faceberg” account. I like it.

        Are you channeling your inner Bill Belichick? He is not a fan of what he calls “My Face” or “Instasnap”.

      • Faceberg is an example I use in my US History surveys to explain boom-and-bust cycles. “What is their product?” I ask. Finally they get to: Information, user data. “But everyone has that already,” I point out. “Look at all the micro-targeted ads in your Gmail.” Eventually someone asks “so how do they make any money?” and I reply “Exactly! And as soon as a few big investors figure it out….Unless, of course, you think people still play Farmville?”

      • Facebook goes through these cycles, where everytime you click Like, they hit you with “Suggested Groups”. I’m pretty much down to three English Springer groups. When I Like the Springer pictures, I get their suggested groups, over and over. I really hate Facebook

        • What I don’t understand is why so many paleo-libertarians, non-cuck conservatives, alt-right, and dissident right guys would want to join or be part of Facebook.

    • 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.

  14. 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, quiet search page.

  15. 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 of the “load scripts temp.” then I just shut them all down and close the page.

    It would seem to me that there should be a rule that all scripts, ads or whatever MUST be loaded from the page that you went to in the first place. No placeholders where the data if filled from another internet address. Let all the traffic go directly through their servers. I think that they would rapidly see that the huge deluge is not necessary and counter to loading any sort of data.

  16. 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.

    • 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?

  17. 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.

  18. 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 around 1 second, on normal data plans.

    For advertisers, most are playing bot games. Click farming accounts for about what, something like half to two-thirds of all internet ad expenditure, so yes the ads are annoying and intrusive to combat easy click fraud would be my guess. A quick loading ad is easy to do click-farming on; whereas one that takes forever to load and is often killed by a user, well at least you know a human saw part of it rather than a bot cleverly emulating a human.

    Print has hung around because click farming is so rampant, at least with print fraud is more difficult.

    Compare/contrast Amazon, Lands End, LL Bean, and say, Pen Chalet (I’ve bought online from all of them, and work for none of them) vs. say the Washington Times.

  19. 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 downloads. This results in the text jumping around as each new picture finally loads, and I have to scroll up/down to get back to the passage I was reading. PITA.

    (Please, no jokes about the Kindle. It suits my purposes, and its skinnied-down Android system is thus immune to the viruses that hit smart phones.)

    • 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.

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

  21. 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.

  22. 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 a lot of eyeballs to even get someone to look at your product. Additionally, search engines have empowered customers to find what they need rather than what the ad men are telling them to buy (that is implicit in the data in the linked article).

    If you are google and you own both ends of the transaction (search and ad), then you are sitting pretty. Everyone else is in the Hobbsian state of nature.

  23. 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.

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

  24. 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.

    • This.

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

  25. 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 for PACs anyway — the Bezos Blog aka the WashPost, the Carlos Slim blog aka the NY Times, etc.

  26. 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.

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