Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Guest Post by E.A. Barbour: THERE ARE ONLY THREE KINDS OF WEBSITE, DAMMIT!

This came to me out of nowhere, unbidden. The author knows about the subject deeply, having seen the changes that have barreled through the online world from the 1990s to now.



THERE ARE ONLY THREE KINDS OF WEBSITE, DAMMIT!

by Mr. Barbour

So, as Jimboob would say . . . . . the World Wide Web (which is a horrible and outdated name for the damn thing) is a vast place, with billions of sites and hundreds of billions of "invisible" pages. No one understands it all and no one ever will, it is all the drivel and nonsense (and some useful information) of humanity distilled into a very large and smelly bottle of volatile chemicals.

Leave the lid off and it will dissipate rapidly, since the only real archive (archive.org) is very damn far from being comprehensive. Plus there are uncounted billions of pages that can't be auto-crawled or indexed. All quite ephemeral and prone to disappear. Consider what happened to the millions of personal pages that were hosted on Geocities.com before they were bought out and everything was shut down. There is a tiny and miserable selection of backed-up pages, so you can get a slight idea of the width . . . . of the river of utter crap on Geocities. Shreds of it were useful and most of it wasn't, like the Web in general.

Many academics have tried to study the Web and almost none of them have distilled any useful facts from their studies. Yet as it has shaken out since 1991, by becoming a commercial and corporate institution, the Web has already started to develop "hardened arteries" of its own unique type. It is now a deeply conservative and rigid structure. Internet libertarians still think they "control it" and "keep it free", but they are only kidding themselves. It's actually quite easy to chop almost the entire Web down into three crude categories, not counting minor incidentals like government and "overhead". Note that I'm leaving out smartphone-app-based "communities", because they are specialized; even so, they are usually profit-related and thus can be categorized as click magnets.

1. OUTRIGHT CLICKBAIT
Like television in its "Golden Age" of 1947-1970, the commercial Web has solidified itself around one crude goal: traffic. TV was all about raw ratings and advertising dollars in its early days, and that is how the profit-making parts of the Internet are structured. And the primary model is, of course, BuzzFeed. As time goes on, each and every "news site" or "outlet" increasingly resembles BuzzFeed, or its even-sleazier copycats like Upworthy and ViralNova. Calculated to keep morons clicking from one insipid feel-good or gawking "story" to another, on site as long as possible and without "offending them" into leaving.

Nearly all major newspaper websites; nearly all major TV news sites; major newsmagazine sites; Net-only publications like Salon, Slate, Gawker, TMZ, Digg, etc.; and even retail websites (walmart.com, kmart.com, amazon.com. etc., etc.) are increasingly BuzzFeed-esque. They grind out the shallow "You Won't Believe What Happened Next!!" and "Isn't This Awesome!!!" crap because all that matters are mouse clicks. And most people are stupid and shallow, and the marketers depend on it. Even if they're selling hard goods, they also play the clickbait game. The "affiliate marketing" deals many of these firms make, with sleazy outfits like Taboola putting boxes full of incredibly-stupid clickbait on "news" sites, ends up making them look more BuzzFeedy. And above it all sits the largest search engine, Google. Which also happens to be the world's largest advertising company. This might as well be the Big Three networks of the 1960s, grinding out moronic sitcoms ("Mister Ed", anyone?) and variety shows like toothpaste and filling the gaps with shrieking ads for guess what: toothpaste, cigarettes, liquor and gas-hog cars. Politics are incidental, "facts" are incidental. Choose your poison: sappy liberal clickbaiting (Salon, Mother Jones), sappy conservative clickbaiting (too many to list here), sappy whatever. They all look the same.

I recently explained to Strelnikov that Newsmax.com, a so-called "conservative news site", is far more concerned with turning a profit than with actual conservative political ideals. They grow and expand and try to compete with Fox News. Yet Newsmax remains a BuzzFeed click factory at basis. Founder Chris Ruddy sought out funding from right-wing organizations, and succeeded strongly, because he promised he would make a profit (unlike most of his pathetic competitors). If there were sufficient money in running a website full of lesbian furry torture videos, Ruddy would be doing that instead. For all we know, he IS doing that right now. Thanks to the Web's libertarian and ephemeral nature, Ruddy would have no difficulty covering up his association with websites that don't fit well with the Newsmax "creed". Politics mean nothing, just a click magnet. And nowhere in any of this is there any talk of "truth" or "accuracy".

And I have to mention the massive irony that Alexa.com, the major website that rates other websites for traffic, increasingly resembles an advertising conduit itself. It was bought by Amazon and turned into just another "business-to-business" money fountain. They even have a browser toolbar. And their website now hides their most important product, the top-500 website page. We must be in a deep recession; everyone has their hat out, begging for spare change, maaan.

2. BLOGS
Pure distilled ego in a can. It doesn't matter what a blog is about, it's always a pissing contest. While large blog platforms like Blogspot fade out, up pop even crazier versions like Tumblr. I run a Tumblr blog, and most of Tumblr has revealed itself to be a bizarre little sub-universe of dull-witted snivelling emo-ridden teenagers trying to "post something positive". To get attention, not because they have anything to say. Blogging somewhat overlaps with item 3 below, thanks to "group blogs" like Boing Boing, which merely have multiple dullards talking about their insecurities and obsessions and rubber fetishes, rather than a single dullard. Not to mention "amateur art" sites like Deviant Art. They end up looking like shitposting blogs anyway -- with bad cartoons.

Plus, Twitter is increasingly starting to resemble a deeply twisted giant group blog, in which nitwits hurl hashtags at each other. And it was hard-built into that pinnacle of traffic-chasing and privacy violation, Facebook. The more a site takes on multiple false fronts and functions, the more popular it gets. No wonder Facebook is either #1 or #2 in the Alexa rankings, locked in eternal mortal combat with those little pussies Larry'n'Sergey.

3. "FREE AND OPEN COMMUNITIES"
There are no such things as "free and open" communities online, since they almost inevitably end up censored to keep their neurotic members happy. One should ALWAYS put the word "open" in quotes when talking about the online world. Example: look at a sports forum sometime. Yet the libertarian cant about "free and open"-ness that drives them continues to falsify their actual nature. And keeps people coming back. The most successful of these take on features of all the above, plus putting on that essential "uncensored" false front; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest, MySpace, Livejournal, Flickr and many competitors and also-rans. And what would you call the sewer of millions of dull potato people blathering their usually-half-baked opinions on YouTube and other video sites? Those, too, are carefully castrated for your protection, while no one is actually admitting to the censorship. It's all a big game of pretend.

Forums also fit into this definition. Whether general or specialized, they often start out as "bastions of free speech" and always end up becoming screwed-down, insecure, and dull places. I've been bitching for years about Reddit and Metafilter, two of the most famous versions. People just go right on loving them, despite their massive flaws and lack of transparency. Go to reddit.com/r/redditcritiques if you want to see summaries of Reddit's dirty dealings over the years. (You won't find it anywhere else on Reddit.)

Open-source software sites? If they have forums or comment areas, they turn into "open communities", meaning not actually open. Meaning paranoid shriek-fests. Have you seen SourceForge's front page  lately? The resemblance to a profit-making, click-sucking corporate site is amazing. Because guess what, bunky, it now belongs to a profit-making corporation. The same outfit owns that "magical place of freedom" called Slashdot. Github looks much the same. I fully except to see more of this in open-source land in the future. "Free" software isn't truly "free" because most open-source programmers work on their projects on their employer's paid time, especially programmers in Europe; the vast majority of Linux projects are developed like that. Buying for-profit software has the costs of some open-source software built into the price. Everything has hidden costs, whether people in IT admit it or not.

And then we have that ultimate libertarian-lie freakshow called Wikipedia. The weirdest outlier of all -- full of random lunatics "pretend-writing an encyclopedia", and sometimes actually writing something. While other lunatics use it as a giant and deeply-ADHD Facebook clone in the background. Read the AN/I noticeboard or Jimbotalk and tell me that isn't a Facebook, I dare you. Because it's "free and open" (read "badly designed and chaotic"), anyone wanting to edit for pay, that terrible wiki-crime, can usually get away with it easily. And if you want to use it to step on people, just suck up to the insiders for a couple of years and they'll hand you the keys. Sick fun for the whole family. Well, the young male asshole members thereof, mostly.

Or better yet, go and look at Wikipedia IRC channels. They make ideal examples of the sickness of IRC communitarianism. Even though it's as "obsolete" as all hell and not part of the Web, IRC continues to be popular with Web and IT professionals and hackers. Who are often one and the same. Important subjects are quite predictable: video gaming, porn, "warez", fucking one's enemies over, whining about politics, and so forth. Few popular channels could conceivably be called "free speech", as in: you say anything on a channel that a few moderators don't like, and you're gone in an instant. That's censorship. And it's easy. So, IRC continues to operate.

GO AHEAD
Please, prove me wrong. Find a popular website that doesn't fit into at least one of the above categories, if not all three, apart from minor info/propaganda outlets like government sites. Yahoo is admittedly a giant mess and not easily pigeonholed. Yet it is trying to become another Facebook, mostly because it's declining. There are some various obscurities that don't fit, but they are almost never "popular" in any wild stretch of the term. (Encyclopedia Dramatica is just another "fake free community". And has been down for a week now anyway. Oops.) [Dramatica came back to life less than a day after this piece was sent - Strelnikov.]

Whereas weirdness and chaos made up most of the Web's structure in 1996, twenty years later the vast bulk of the traffic is money-making, ego, and/or "phony free speech" oriented. I've been predicting since 1996 that the Web would end up being heavily taxed, regulated and censored, and it happened. But the government didn't do it. The users did it to themselves. Huzzah.


Response by Strelnikov.

To me, the early Internet looked like it did because it came out of academia and the think-tank culture, which was using it for communication, weapon simulations, other hard-science stuff with military applications and then the network was opened to Joe Public, and a lot of those guys came from the BBS (bulletin-board system) culture of the 1980s; many of them were amateur radio ("ham") operators and ex-CBers and they brought those mentalities to computers. The other sort of notable "content providers" were 'zine publishers taking their publications and converting them into html. That model of running a website is still around in the more basement-y parts on the Internet; James Moseley of Saucer Smear (formerly Saucer News and Saucer Glues) used to have a man retype his typed, photocopied newsletter into html format, until Moseley died in 2012 and the entire online archives (1994-2012) were snapped up by a junk UFO publisher and sold on CD. All of his pre-Internet stuff from the 1950s to the 1980s is in the hads of collectors. So the first five or six years of the Internet were like living in a giant dorm (because all the servers were university owned) that also housed techies, old people, the religiously-insane, Klansmen (the extreme Right got online early, believe it or not), etc. I miss those years because the thing wasn't as formulaic; we no longer have sites like "Grandpa's House of Pee", "Hell.com","Fat Chicks in Party Hats".....the last of that sort of website had to be Gene Ray's "Time Cube" and now that's defunct.

As for the rest of Mr. Barbour's argument I agree with it only with the addition that the Internet has been a mirror of the globalized Neo-Liberal economic model, and that way of doing business is not very healthy right now. I get the feeling that we are on an edge of an implosion online because the business model is built around adverting, and if that goes away, this little "Web 2.0"  world we live in will disappear like GeoCities and Pets.com.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting reading, I totally agree but the internet is so vast and deep that it will be nearly impossible to argument that all the websites have the same motto (capitalism). I concur that almost everything is crap and the only goal is convert traffic into clicks and then money.

    The options of making money this days are more feasible by using only your imagination and time to be able to create something that could change you forever or the life of many, how come? by creating a company out of almost nothing and creating well paid jobs. I think this is the part that you didn't touch, yes the internet is full of crap, but what about the people who used to work for those "crappy" companies or for those who are keep working for them?

    All the eggs in the same basket? yes, but the current business model will have to change or evolve naturally and if you're riding the same wave you will have to change too.

    The are more generations to come, Google, Facebook and other big companies had their momentum, we don't know what will happen in 10 or 50 years or who's going to be the next Larry Page and Sergey Brin or Mark Zuckerberg.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Why give away such a large percentage of the money that YOU raised?
    CoverrMe.com is a tiny and lean crowdfunding platform, so we can afford to charge lower fees.

    ReplyDelete