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Giving Scroll a Shot

Trying out Scroll—an attempt at an alternative revenue model for journalism sites.

Scroll is the latest attempt to monetize news sites without advertising. It’s another variation on a theme, as there is demand for a better model and there is some amount of reader money sitting idle, and there are very annoying ads to not be served.

Their model is $5 monthly and they say they give a cut to the sites based on how much you read. So their model is really about like cable television: if they can match enough readers with enough sites, it works. You won’t read every site, and so it’s a numbers game of hitting the right mixtures to attract enough readers.

My preferred model would still include a per-article split, plus some way to influence the split if you really enjoyed a particular article on a particular site. But it’s worth a shot.

There are a few things I hope will eventually happen, regardless of this iteration of pay-news’ success. First, some kind of standards for advertising is obviously needed. Readers should be able to set what kind of ads they find acceptable, whether that’s text-only, no-animation, no-video, no-sound.

Sites should be prohibited from replacing ads after the page has loaded. The Washington Post has been bad about that for some time, and Ars Technica does it, too.

Sites should not shift text while loading ads or while you scroll. It is a mortal sin to pull text out from under the reader’s eyes. Anyone in the business of putting words in front of readers should know better.

The other thing would be a better relationship between readers and news sites. There’s a kind of hostility by the sites (I don’t interact with the readers, so maybe there’s hostility there, too), where using an ad-blocker or trying to read a one-off article is met with a kind of creepy store clerk hovering on you as you browse. “What, you don’t want to see our obnoxious (potentially malicious) ads?” “You know, you can’t come in the store again if you don’t buy something.”

Probably the big problem will be—for now—lack of selection and lack of easily knowing which sites are which. I tend to read articles on sites I’m more familiar with, because I know what to expect ad-wise. Will a random site be a clusterfuck? Happens often enough. So I’ll actually search for an alternative site with a similar article, if I think it’s less trouble than clicking through to a mess of a site.

Which is the other thing I eventually hope to see: standards of content display that go beyond advertising standards. Most dead-tree newspapers had pretty similar formats. They were built for reading, and they did it with minimal nonsense and minimal stylization. But the web, every site has to be overdesigned. That’s one of the reasons I’ve mostly given up on customizing styles on this site—hopefully it makes things a bit more standard, a bit less of a bother to whoever the heck reads this.

Anyway, for now I’m giving it a try. I don’t actually read most of the sites in Scroll’s list, but some of them were excluded because of their paywalls. So maybe now I’ll read them some more and see what’s what.

Facebook, Lies, and Politics

Thoughts about Facebook’s decision to allow lying in political advertising.

Twitter is banning political ads. Facebook is banning political ads from people they believe lie about being politicians. But Facebook will allow bona fide politicians to lie in ads.

What is the role for a platform, both in ads and in moderating?

That’s the wrong question.

The question we must ask is not what is the shape of a proper social network. Why not?

  1. There may be several, and they may coexist.
  2. The shape may change over time, including in cyclical ways (e.g., during an election cycle versus outside of it).
  3. These networks span the globe, so fighting for changes in domestic rules won’t help the most vulnerable overseas.
  4. We don’t know what we don’t know, per Donald Rumsfeld.

The proper question about social networks is: How do the people gain enough leverage to serve as a forcing-function to shape social network behavior, rather than merely being shaped by it?

Traditionally, the answer to that question has been money, and the answer to how to influence them through money has been competition. That is, if their income is threatened by the easy choice of users to go next door, then they don’t do things that harm users enough that they go next door.

In the case of Facebook, their money comes from advertisers of all sorts, including politicians, scams, major brands, and in the case of President Trump’s campaign, all three at once! (Gotta take the cheap shots as they come.)

But Facebook is global. It has diversity of users, including people who think their small business depends on it, including media types who think their traffic depends on it, including politicians who think they’re connecting with constituents, and, yes, including grandparents and such who feel social connection because of it.

Competition doesn’t seem to make sense in social networks, in terms of the need to maintain copies of one’s social graph in several services simultaneously. Instead, either you have several social graphs that look different per service, or you are migrating from an old social graph on one service to a new one on a new service.

But in what substitutes for competition, if you want to move people off of Facebook, you’re basically saying that those benefits need to flow to those users. You have to engage with the politician on Service X, so that their office recognizes that people are there, so that they care more about Service X. You have to let your grandparents see you responding to them on Service X. And so on.

That is how these networks function. People go where the people are. And a site like Facebook will respond only when they see that movement, or some other threat to their revenue. Lacking a brain, a heart, and courage, that’s all that can convince them that letting politicians lie for money is dumb as hell.

The Line Between Advertising and Manipulation

There shall be no compulsion in religion.

— Quran, 2:256

There was always the question of what separates a cult from a religion. And the answer is fairly straightforward. It’s compulsion. Deceitfulness and isolation of members. Arm-twisting.

The goal of the manipulator differs from the advertiser. The manipulator wants to suck you in, make you read story after story about the same thing until you believe that it’s everywhere.

Take vaccines. It tells a story. Beautiful kid gets a vaccine and everything changes. Suddenly they have this disorder. It could happen to anyone. Protect yourself: read the same story over and over. Because more information is the only protection, and with a dearth of information, repetition is the only way.

Same with anti-immigration. They aren’t publishing the millions of immigrants, legal or not, who ate a nutritious breakfast. That’s for damn sure.

Same with this wave of stories about free speech on campus. You’re on the mailing list. You have to know the latest outrage about how some kids who are neck-deep in debt didn’t want to pay for to a cultist to have a soapbox. Boo hoo.

This is a pattern. You get fed the same story over and over. Crooked crooked crooked Hillary Hillary Hillary. E-mails e-mails Benghazi e-mails e-mails.

Repetition is a key to learning. Repetition is a key to learning. Repetition is a key to learning.

  1. Identify a fear. Examples: autism, crime, suppression of speech, loss of guns, public corruption.
  2. Attach the fear to something. Examples: vaccines, immigrants, college campuses, Democrats/Obama, Hillary Clinton.
  3. Repeat it a lot. Forever.

Cults also make you feel like you belong. These manipulative causes make you feel like you’re red-pilling a bunch of sheeple with your guantlet of truth. Like share reply subscribe. Like share reply subscribe. Like share reply subscribe.

Because they don’t know, man. They are going about their lives sipping their Starbucks and they don’t “know what the queers are doing to our soil!” (The Dead Milkmen, “Stuart”) Being important feels good. You’ve got your little mission. Gotta keep up with the movement.

Don’t get me wrong. There are causes worth pursuing. But being a footsoldier is not the way. Supplanting your identity with a cause isn’t healthy, no matter how worthy the cause.

Advertisers are fairly open about the fact they want your money. They hope you enjoy their product so you’ll buy more, but they don’t want to hang out. They don’t hold meetings. Multi-level manipulators hold meetings.

The manipulators, they want you to hang out. Bring a sleeping bag and a sack lunch. We’ll provide the Kool-Aid. They want your money. But it’s in support of the cause. It’s the cause first. You were called. You were chosen. You alone can fix it.

God, what a waste of potential.