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Against Nonpersistant Web Advertising

Long story short, some advertisers don’t understand the web. Even big ones.

I have a lot of complaints against advertisements in general, which I will not be discussing in this post. Instead, this post is dedicated to one of the biggest problems with web advertising: not being able to see the advertisement again.

Take YouTube as an example; if you visit a YouTube video, they apparently invoke some Pseudo-Random Number Generator to determine both whether to show an advertisement, whether it should be video versus popover, and whether it should bear any relation to the video.

Worse, though, is that you can’t replicate the PRNG; they don’t throw you the seed they use or anything. So if you start to watch a video, and decide later you actually want to click that advertisement, you can’t. If you stop watching a video advertisement a few seconds in, closing the window, but then process the snippet you saw and decide you want to watch it, you can’t.

This isn’t unique to YouTube. All over the web there’s different advertisements with each pageload, and you can’t get back to them. Some sites like Reddit are a little better in that they do have persistent addresses for at least some of the advertisements. But you still can’t see the advertisements you’ve seen.

You can’t share these advertisements. They’re like ghosts. They’re black ops. Appearing for a mere moment, just long enough to draw the knife blade across your throat. Okay, maybe that’s too dramatic. They’re more like insects that buzz up by your ear just long enough to make you wiggle a little.

“But!,” I hear the marketadvertbrandologists say, “Advertising is not about selling products, it’s about…” and there they go trying to sell advertising as being the equivalent to your grandmother’s cake or grandfather’s pie. That they want you to feel like a kid in a candystore when you think about your vitamin supplements, carrying around a brown paper sack and scooping the goodies into it.

The main thing is, even that excuse doesn’t work if people want to spread the advertising message. If Smith says, “Jones, did you see the really cool video advertisement for genetically modified hermit crabs?” Jones says, “No, I did not.” Smith says, “Well, that sucks, because I can’t give you a link to it.”

Just one more reason to dislike advertising.

Designing for the Future

Throwing out some ideas for improving designs to the end of making things less cumbersome.

Between the death of one world-renowned designer and one tech-world-renowned designer (Steve Jobs and Dennis Richie, respectively), the world needs to keep thinking about design. While I’ll be the first to admit that the final word in design is evolution, that doesn’t mean we can’t design for evolution, rather than simply waiting for it to decide our fate.

I’ve been reading Just for Fun, a book co-authored by Linus Torvalds (who started and maintains the Linux Kernel, which is the piece of software that bears a fair share of responsibility for re-democratizing the UNIX-type operating system).  In the chapter on the future of technology (Part Three, Chapter Three, The Amusement Ride Ahead), he states:

[…] What everybody wants is this magical toy that can be used to browse the Web, write term papers, play games, balance the checkbook, and so on.  The fact that you need a computer and an operating system to do all this is something that most people would rather not even think about.

And that’s true for a lot of things, so today I’ll throw out a few ideas along those lines.

Chewing your teeth clean

Although this idea had floated around before that time, it’s actually come close to a reality: from back in 2005, we have US army develops tooth-cleaning gum.  The article discusses the concept and invention of a chewing gum that is enhanced to clean teeth.  This just makes sense: the food particles get onto your teeth from eating, not by brushing them on.  Thus, using the same mechanism for cleaning should provide for a more thorough and less cumbersome process.

Not only is this a great idea for soldiers that can’t spare the water or the time to practice traditional hygiene, it could also improve dental health in the developing world and other low-income areas.

Automatic detergents (etc.)

When you load a dishwasher or clothes washer, you have to add detergent.  This extra step is likely due to lobbying by the commercial cleaning companies that want every load to cause you to have a nervous fit trying to decide which of their brands will do what you want.  But 99% of the time you’re using the same detergent repeatedly, so it would make a lot more sense to have an attachment-area where you would attach the entire container of detergent, bleach, etc.  You could then either let it automatically decide how much to dispense or still set an amount manually.

The idea here is one of minimizing interactions.  As with the chewing gum, it simplifies things, but it also reduces the likelihood of spills or other user error, and it dispenses with a moving part that the user must interact with.

Redesigning the Jump Start

When a combustion vehicle has a dead battery, it often needs a jump start to allow it to operate until it can be recharged or replaced.  The problem here is that it’s more complicated than needed to perform a jump.  That creates a case where people are reliant on the experienced to operate what’s considered a ubiquitous technology.  In the same way we don’t want to necessarily think about our computers or operating systems, why should we need clamps to jump-start?

So, having a new interface would be useful.  It would consist of a special pair of plugs that would have forcing-functions built-in to make the process simple enough for anyone to perform.  It would also ensure that the process occurred in a way that prevented damage to the good battery.

The actual design would take time to be certified and adopted, but would basically consist of two three-prong plugs connected by a wire, with each plug having a switch to engage it.  It could be designed so that the positive would need to be engaged before the negative, and so that the switches of all the prongs would need to be disengaged before connecting/disconnecting.

The Human Microphone 2.0 and Goes to Congress

Down at the Occupy Wall Street protest, they are forced to use the Human Microphone, which is a process whereby the speaker yells a short phrase, which is then re-yelled by one or more groups of people, to allow the manual/collaborative amplification of the speech.

Foremost, a system could be devised, in order to improve coordination between the speaker and the microphones.  That might simply be hand signals, or it might be lights or even appending a specific word like the telegrammatic stop bit (ie, each phrase would have “STOP” appended to it, and no further progress from each side would be made until that part was spoken.

But the other idea here would be to actually require that the legislative bodies begin using the Human Microphone.  That would mean that they would have to pay enough attention to the speech in order to repeat it.  That might actually cause them to think about it a bit, in order that they should actually have conversations and thus enable progress.

To some extent the Human Microphone makes communication a scarcer resource, which means that what’s said can tend to be more important.  If you’re relying upon 30 people to repeat your speech, I’d think you’d be less likely to waste their time by spouting bullshit, lest they shut your mic off.

In the former case, this probably still constitutes a design of the sort being discussed.  In the latter case, this represents a much-needed regression.  Congress currently revises and extends its comments on everything under the sun by shoving it into the record without ever needing to let it pass their lips.  I’m pretty sure that group of monkeys has successfully recreated the works of William Shakespeare, and if I was bored enough I’d dig through to find out.  This regression would mean they had to start synchronizing their brains with their mouths again.

URI Extensions

This is the last of the batch today.  I’d like to see some form of extension to the URI that makes it easier to create groups and hierarchies for things like links, bookmarks, tabs, etc.

The tab I write this post in currently has five other tabs that pertain to it.  Websites like Reddit have a comment link and a content link, which get separated as things currently work.  When you pull some research out of the web, you often want to keep it together for later, which means either tagging it or creating a folder.

I’m honestly not sure if this should entail extending the URI Specification, or simply creating some new HTML element or just shoving it into some JSON that can wrap the URIs together in various ways.  But I am pretty sure that this shouldn’t be continually handled by humans when our benefactors (ie, the computers) could handle it.

In the case of Reddit, the workaround is to use their iframe feature, which loads the content in an iframe below a little bar that contains the submission information and links.

But the basic paradigm of design that is unearthed every time is to take what exists and look at the extra, repeated steps around it, and try to pull another step into the design itself.

Canonical and GNOME

Canonical Limited (the main driver for Ubuntu Linux) and the GNOME project couldn’t work together so they are each moving forward with their own, reinvented desktop interfaces. GNOME is going for gnome-shell and Canonical/Ubuntu will get Unity.

Removing the minimize button?  Not giving a preference to turn off the display and not suspend when you close your laptop?  Moving the window controls to the other side of the window? Making the tabs square instead of round? Not allowing the editbox to be manually resized? Hiding the RSS icon? Moving the link preview to the URL bar? Removing the status bar?

And those are just the ones I can recall at the moment.

The computer is so central to peoples’ activities, that there is a certain fear that someone will break it for them.  That’s one of the major motivations behind Free Software in the first place: if I can build it myself, then you can’t force me to use the broken one.  If I can’t, then MicrosoftAppleSonyPaypalMastercard can up and decide to force their will upon me, and my recourse is simply to stop using them.  No stabbing big corporations with a fork.

Canonical Limited (the main driver for Ubuntu Linux) and the GNOME project couldn’t work together so they are each moving forward with their own, reinvented desktop interfaces. GNOME is going for gnome-shell and Canonical/Ubuntu will get Unity.

I don’t think this is a bad thing, excepting the bickering.  The larger community of desktop Linux users will get to see two different approaches in the wild for at least a year, which will inform the next iteration of the Linux desktop landscape.  There’s also an open-ended possibility for reunion later.

The dispute is territorial, which is not uncommon in open source.  The uncommon part of this is simply that it’s between two big players rather than between one big player and the users.  Though, the latter has occurred for both reinventions as well (see a few of the questions posed in the first paragraph).

Project governance is hard.  Cooperation is hard.  Finding the best way is hard.

If it weren’t for the bickering, nothing would be wrong.  There’s too much distrust and fear, because that’s what we’ve been taught by the proprietary realm.  When we used proprietary software, we could be stuck with a bug indefinitely.  Or things could change with no warning.

So we’re edgy.  But when the source is open, we shouldn’t be.  And if we weren’t, it would make project governance easier, it would make progress easier.  We should be willing to give the code an honest run.

At the end of the day any shift in any system will require a new equilibrium to be reached.  In open source that means some users will switch, forks might be created, etc.  But it also means that most users will find a slightly better workflow, will be a little (or a lot) happier and more productive.

I just wish that the developers weren’t so quick to assign blame, because they’re both building the foundation for the future, and they should be proud of their efforts even if they fail.