Journal Entries By Year: 2015

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Assorted journal entries from 2015.

The (Commercial) Web is Dying? So What?

TL;DR — In defense of ad-blockers and a demonetizied web.

👓 3 minutes

Lately, there seems to have been a up-tick in the never-ending debate about the web, advertising, and content-blocking. While Apple’s recent introduction of content-blockers in iOS9 is the most proximate reason for this discussion, it isn’t a new battle, and has been raging for quite some time. The basic argument is that many sites rely on advertising revenue to cover not just their costs, but also to turn a profit. And these web-based companies are (justifiably) concerned that ad-blocking could reduce (or destroy) that revenue stream, which might force them to shutdown.

To which I say, “so what?”

I’m not trying to be mean, but the fact is that lots and lots of businesses are forced to close every year, and many (most?) of them close because they have what some might call a “flawed business model”. Like some others, I believe that’s exactly what the “web advertising” model is, because if it wasn’t, no one would be blocking the ads, there would be no heated discussion about it, and blog posts like this one would never exist. I mean, some may liken ad-blocking to stealing, but others see it for what it actually is - disruption.

Look, I’ve been online long enough to remember the early attempts at monetizing the web: first came the embedded banner ads, which paid-per-view, but were easily ignored by end users; then came the pop-up (and pop-under) ads, which were still pay-per-view, but which couldn’t be ignored (unless you turned them off, since they relied on JavaScript); then came embedded banners with a “pay-per-click” model, which didn’t work because nobody wanted to actually click the links. And as each one rose to prominence, there were always those crying for people to engage with their ads (“If you don’t click on one of my ads, I’ll be forced to shut my site down!”). But the web remains.

And that’s part of why I titled this the way I did. Even if the commercial web went away (which, let’s be honest, it probably won’t), it wouldn’t be the end of the world: many sites which rely on donations or subscriptions would remain, as would storefronts and sites that support physical things. Plus, there are still many sites which are run more-or-less as hobbies, paid for by the people who run them. And, despite what the anti-blockers would say, there are other successful revenue models out there.

So, if you are a blogger or news site who is concerned about how this change will affect your bottom line, you have my sympathy: not because I block your ads (which I do), but because you put your faith in a fundamentally flawed business model (and believe me, you aren’t the only one). If, however, you think I’m wrong, then I encourage you to take the next obvious step and start blocking (or Comic Sans-ing) users who run ad blockers. If your content is worth viewing ads for, then people who run blockers will turn them off just so they can see it. But be prepared for the horrifying truth: when people have to actually pay for something (either with their eyeballs and “unblock” buttons, or with cold-hard cash), your site may not be good/interesting/original enough to actually generate revenue. Again, you have my sympathy… but not my cooperation.

It has recently been asked what the web might have looked like if the ad-based model had never taken off. Since we can’t rewind the clock, we can’t know for sure what course history may have taken in that instance. But if we keep running ad-blockers long enough, we may yet find out.

Anti-GMO Scaremongering

👓 less than 1 minute

The people who push GMO labels and GMO-free shopping aren’t informing you or protecting you. They’re using you. They tell food manufacturers, grocery stores, and restaurants to segregate GMOs, and ultimately not to sell them, because people like you won’t buy them. They tell politicians and regulators to label and restrict GMOs because people like you don’t trust the technology. They use your anxiety to justify GMO labels, and then they use GMO labels to justify your anxiety. Keeping you scared is the key to their political and business strategy. And companies like Chipotle, with their non-GMO marketing campaigns, are playing along.

Unhealthy Fixation, William Saletan

Fatigue and Mastery

👓 less than 1 minute

Tero Parviainen has a nice piece about Overcoming Javascript Framework Fatigue, but don’t let the title fool you - much of the advice can be applied those who work (and live) in most any rapidly-evolving field. Plus, it contains one of the best quotes from Rich Hickey (the creator of Clojure) about what skills a developer really needs to have (and those skills have nothing to do with preferred language or framework):

Programming mastery has little to do with languages, paradigms, platforms, building blocks, open source, conferences etc. These things change all the time and are not fundamental. Knowledge acquisition skills allow you to grok them as needed. I’d take a developer (or even non-developer!) with deep knowledge acquisition and problem solving skills over a programmer with a smorgasbord of shallow experiences any day.

Via JavaScript Weekly

RSS & Atom Making a Comeback?

👓 less than 1 minute

Baldur Bjarnason thinks he knows why RSS and Atom have come back into vogue, powering both Apple News and Facebook Instant Articles after years of disuse:

There’s one thing that’s very different this time around for RSS and Atom and it’s the reason why this time it might be different. Back then ‘just the HTML, no CSS, JS, or Flash’ meant nothing more than rich text with images.

Now, ‘just the HTML’ means rich text, video, audio, SVG, and more. While at the same time ‘HTML with CSS and JS’ has come to mean slow loading websites full of annoying ads and broken functionality (i.e. scroll-jacking).

It’s that last point (again) that’s the most important, IMHO, but it’s also the one that seems to be falling on deaf ears.

On William Gibson and Cyberspace

👓 2 minutes

I’ve been on vacation for the last couple of days, and have used some of the time to finish reading William Gibson’s excellent “Sprawl” series.

I actually read the first book in the series, Neuromancer, some 14 years ago, and always meant to get back to it, but just never did. Then, about 2 years ago, I re-read Neuromancer and dove straight into the second book, Count Zero, before again losing momentum and abandoning the series. While packing for our vacation, I happened across my copy of the third and final book in the series, Mona Lisa Overdrive, and I made the decision to use this vacation as an opportunity to finally finish reading the series, a feat that I accomplished just yesterday.

First, I have to say that I loved the book. You can tell that Gibson’s style got more focused as the series went on, making each book better than the last. Also, the series fits his style well – he has a habit of creating apparently unrelated strands of storytelling, featuring characters that don’t seem to have anything to do with each other, and bringing them together in the climax. In that way, Mona Lisa Overdrive serves as the climax of the series itself, bringing apparently unrelated characters and story elements from the first two books together (along with some new ones) into an explosive ending.

Much of what I like about the series are the background elements, like the way he describes the sprawl and the histories of his characters. But, most of all, I love the idea of cyberspace:

Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.

As a computer nerd whose been into networking information and virtual worlds since the days of BBSing (and through into MUDs, the web, and even OpenSimulator, for a little while), the notion of connecting to digital realms directly via ones own mind has always appealed to me. In fact, one of the most depressing things about the books, to me, is that in the nearly 30 years since they were published, very little of that technology has come to pass.