Facebook and a handful of other social media are so entrenched that few people think about life before them. But the Web was conceived 15 years before Facebooks’s founding in 2004. Facebook put a pretty face on the Web, and billions of people have flocked to it. And Google Search, YouTube, and a handful of other giants –fueled by tons of advertising revenues—exercise a lot of control over what people can see and do, so much so that there is growing sentiment about breaking up these monopolistic organizations. And delivering fake news or vicious propaganda from the likes of ISIS (ironically ISIS can even get PAID by YouTube while it disseminates its messages of hatred) adds further pressure for this breakup.
The Mercury News’ demoting its business coverage to the back pages of the Sports Section was a populist victory even before Trump’s election. Or does this situation simply derive from the biblical truism “no prophet is accepted in his hometown”? In any case, the rest of the world—including major newspapers—seems more entranced with the goings-on in San Jose and surrounding cities. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal have permanent staff in Silicon Valley who seem to turn out significantly more column-inches of reporting and opinion about technological accomplishments in this geography than do the valiant-but-outnumbered technology staffers at the Mercury News.
This demotion came a few months after the April 2016 renaming of the San Jose Mercury News to to reflect its merger with the San Mateo Times. But the spirit of San Jose, which some years ago was dubbed “the USA’s largest truck stop”, lives on in the focus of its printed media. (Apparently a number of other cities in the U.S. claim that theirs is the largest, and a number of locations have subtitled themselves “Silicon XXXX”, like “Silicon Prairie” which can refer to Dallas-Fort Worth or the Chicago area or a multi-state area of the upper Midwest.) We are a bit baffled because the advertisements in the Mercury News don’t seem to be for products and services that the typical sports fan would buy.
You may believe that worldwide luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Hermes are like the GOOD money that would be driven out by the BAD money according to Gresham’s Law. But in this case these luxury brands are the bad guys. Like their always-empty stores in airports, these future ones in San Francisco’s tony Union Square are just very expensive billboards. And the independent retailers are the good guys (like Arthur Beren Shoes and Britex Fabrics). But even if it weren’t for the purchasing power of the most-valued of these luxury brands, the current craziness of Bay Area land prices would likely have raised the retailers’ rents beyond affordability, so they would have had to relocate or downsize or both. And even the luxury brands have no control over the mess being created by the new subway.
Well, Google sure isn’t making it easy for individuals, thanks to the messy combinations of accounts, email addresses, channels, and browsers that makes it a nightmare to find videos once you have more than one of each of these four entities. And to make matters worse, Google threw its failing Google+ social network into the brew. Using Chrome we find three channels (or are these accounts?)—Wilddancer, Beekeeping (thus far empty as we try to sort out the whole mess), and Bill Coggshall—associated with one email address, and two channels—Car Tunes by Coggshall (which started out as “Car Tunes” that YouTube allowed me to reserve then reneged and forced me to add “by Coggshall”) and firstname.lastname@example.org (strange-looking channel, no?)– associated with a different email address (email@example.com). Using Firefox we find two channels (or accounts?)—Car Tunes by Coggshall and firstname.lastname@example.org—associated with email address email@example.com.
The Internet and the Worldwide Web have arguably changed the path of history. And they have made companies like Google into mega successes. But those companies have also caused much consternation among their millions of users. Why? Apparently they don’t bother to check with many (or any!) of those users to see how logical and self-evident their websites and associated tools are for their target audiences. Examples abound, and we will be posting some of the more egregious. But the Internet giants could have been even more successful, and keep website visitors on their sites longer (where they would be exposed to more advertisements) if their user interfaces were less opaque. The goal is usability, which is not rocket science. Two of most used tools are the Chrome browser and YouTube, which we will discuss in separate posts.
I was shopping for MEN’s pickpocket-proof travel pants, and I must have visited travelsmith.com in my search. That was on Monday, May 2. Now, on Wednesday, May 4, EVERY site I visit—on searches totally unrelated to clothing—I am dealt a Travelsmith WOMAN’S Walkabout Knit Short-Sleeved Drape-Neck Top. I hope that Travelsmith is not paying Google (I am using Chrome) or another ad-dealing company very much for these ads. What is their logic? Do they think that I want to buy my wife this top (admittedly, at $27 it IS a lot cheaper than the pants)? Fortunately, after repeating this advertisement ad nauseum, Google graciously offered to let me fine-tune my ad preferences. Hmmm.
Google makes a huge amount of money serving up ads, which funds a lot of interesting, though not always quickly successful, ideas. Most everyone tolerates these ads because their search engine is such a helpful gadget. But we wonder if it wouldn’t be more effective if it would serve up ads that we are more interested in. We suspect that they have already collected plenty of data about our habits that could be parsed to make both Google users and Google advertisers happier. Regarding the off-target ads, we advise: let Google eat their own ads.
Does it really make sense to keep hammering on us month-after-month to buy more of the same item we have bought? (The high-tech rubber duckie Edwin Duck that we bought for a Christmas gift appears daily … sometimes several times.) And although in general a repeat customer is the best customer, there are lots of specialty items that advertisers should know are bought only once by individuals and used for years, so isn’t it better to spend their ad dollars to chase non-owners? Strangely, Google doesn’t seem to have taken a lesson from Amazon, which does a far better job of suggesting stuff that actually COMPLEMENTS what we have recently bought.
We thought that Google had gotten religion recently when we ran across a link leading to an “Opt Out” headline. But the religion they had gotten must have been from insane or malicious gods, because you can only opt out of “interest-based” ads, i.e. ones related to your interests, previous visits to other websites, or demographic details. WHAT??!! It seems to us that those are the ads you might WANT to see. So apparently, after opting out, you will only receive ones that are based on nothing and even more likely to be irrelevant.
History buffs may liken this situation to the spy-and-counter-spy among countries. It surely seems to us at Technology Bloopers to be a great waste of resources and a great inconvenience to the more than 3 billion current users of the Internet today. Most users have already been spoiled by the “free” goodies they enjoy in return for their viewing increasing volumes of advertising. This arrangement has been around for at least 150 years in newspaper and magazine publishing, although most of the important hard-copy publications make their revenue from a combination of subscription fees and advertising purchases. By contrast, the much more recent Internet is mostly free to users and paid for by advertisers. Some interesting exceptions are Wikipedia, language-learning site Yabla, and purchase or rental of plugins and themes for WordPress. In the opinion of Technology Bloopers, there are many Internet sites for which users would pay reasonable fees, which would reduce the conflict among the titans of Silicon Valley. Google has contributed great gobs of technology but financed it heavily with ads. But users have had their fill of ads, leading to a rapid growth of ad blocking software. And some of the ads are so intrusive (the ones on SpanishDict.com are the worst in our experience, interrupting users with highly-distracting audio and video) that they cry out for ad blockers … and boycotting of such sites in favor of more ones that are less obnoxious. The advertisers have been spooked by this software, leading to a rapid growth of software that undoes the blocking. Most recently Apple has jumped into the fray with its own ad blockers, which is a welcome counter-force, though actually Apple has its own ads buried in its Apps, so the only beneficiary is Apple, while Google loses business and consumers continue to be annoyed by ads.
Few would dispute the great usefulness of Google search. And most of us are willing to put up with the numerous ads that come along with the content. They are usually a small price to pay for the convenience and completeness of the information we seek. And we rarely have a choice of ads + free content vs. paid content. Sometimes the ads are distracting and/or invasive (especially ones with audio, video, or animation). But perhaps the worst ads are the ones that don’t look like ads at all. For example, the one in the graphic above, which is formatted to look just like the usable content itself. This strains the limits of ethics; at least in paper periodicals the advertisements are either clearly advertisements (as is easily seen by their formats) or are clearly labeled “ADVERTISEMENT”. Unless you truly need the content you found, we urge you to peruse other, more ethical, websites for your information needs. (It was interesting that we found this on a website dealing with CAPTCHA’s, which is another phenomenon of dubious merits.)
Most Internet users have been spoiled by so much apparently “free” content. Well, of course it’s free to them because advertisers are paying for it, and are putting ads next to that content, just like newspapers and magazines have done for many decades. However, some of the same sort of technology that have brought us all this cornucopia of useful (or at least entertaining) content, is now being employed to strip the ads off this content, as described in some detail by The Financial Times.
Google itself has already (very recently) started a small initiative that lets people pay to watch YouTube videos sans ads. Those are all or mostly for mass market entertainment content, so the cool creative stuff (“coolness” is in the eye of the beholder, so even cat videos count here) may still be afflicted with ads. But we suspect that millions of people would be willing to pay reasonable amounts of subscription money to use sites they value. One proof of that is the large total contributions per year that are made to support Wikipedia. So we can hope that other sites with value-added start to offer alternatives like this new one from Google.
The worst ads are ones that have video (or animation) or audio, which are REALLY intrusive. One of the worst sites in this regard that we personally use is spanishdict.com. (But despite this unpleasant behavior, spanishdict.com, is highly-ranked by Alexa, 1,818 in the world as of May 14, 2015 with a whopping 907 improvement in the preceding three months.) Ironically, when one narrows the viewing window, the ads—which are mostly on the right side—get chopped off. No wonder they have to resort to using audio, video, and animation to attract attention.