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[eighty-five] minus one-oh-four: what even IS that?

centaur 0

Recently on Twitter I said everything’s going to hell in a handbasket on the Web. Let me show you …

Oh, wait, I can’t show you, because WordPress’s Gutenberg is not letting me paste a link. More properly, it’s turning the link into a Twitter embedding. Now, that looks nice, and it seems like a nice feature, but I didn’t want that, because Twitter is increasingly erratic, and I am afraid the Twitter embedding feature will go away when Elon Muskhead gets tired of suing people over his own stupid mistakes and starts mucking with the code again. So I just wanted to paste a link, and then the text, myself.

But I had to “hack” the interface to do it, first posting a different link, which I then edited to point to Twitter. Does that seem right to you? That’s one thing that inspired my post. Let’s try again to see it:

Anthony Francis @xenotaur
The Web feels like it is disintegrating. Popup ads everywhere, train wrecks at Twitter and Reddit, Threads is just mobile, sponsored results on Google, fake reviews on Amazon.

And here I am watching my 1,000 curated RSS feeds slowly vanishing, going “This is fineā€¦” #ThisIsFine


Part of the problem is what Cory Doctorow calls the “enshittification” of the Web: first companies are nice to users and attract them; when they have users they screw them over for their business customers; and then they screw business users overs as they start to chase advertisers, eventually driving the users away.

I think that’s right, but it’s more than that: people lose sight of what the Web actually is. Web 1.0 is a place to share documents; Web 2.0 is a place where you can create them online. We’ve had ads and subscriptions in this place since their earliest days, and I don’t mind them – I put “banner ads” on my early website to advertise people whose blogs and books I liked, for free, just to publicize them.

But losing sight of the purpose – turning editors into viewers, or documents into ads streams – means the reason people were here, to consume and create content, can no longer be accomplished. And that’s going to ultimately kill the great grift that is modern Web advertising – but let’s not kill the Web too!

As an on-point example, I offer the Gutenberg editor, which constantly hides from you the widgets needed to transform a piece of text into, say, a pull quote, because it is incorrectly (and I will fight you on this) trying to make the page look like a piece of paper, instead of a craftsman’s tool for producing text, with all the bells, whistles and knobs needed to make it format right, much less look good. Want something simpler? Fine, try Notepad. Don’t inject your bad UI design into my editor, which, as I remind you, I am forced to use on my platform, which I never wanted to, because they broke the Classic Editor to push this idiocy.

It’s not that the features aren’t useful. It’s that the entire philosophy of “UX” – user experience – is wrongheaded, and we need to go back to the more basic principles of software usability. Usability is not “modern”, usability is not “clean”, usability is not “design” – only usability is usability.

And so, if you take a tool that is designed to produce text … and try to make it look like a view of text … you will inevitably end up with something that is not usable. And if your philosophy tricks you into thinking that that is OK, your philosophy will drive you to make decisions which make the interface less and less usable.

And that would be the end of rant … except I have a counterexample at the top of the page.

This is a page that recently appeared in my reading. I will take the clean, modern, well-designed Gutenberg editor any day over what modern web pages have become. Look at that above! What even IS that? What is it supposed to be? Where did my article go? What are these different blocks supposed to be advertising? They’re so layered over each other you can’t completely see any of them. “Choose great value” sounds like a line from a badly translated JRPG.

As best as I can determine, somehow I scrolled down to read the rest of the article, and it jumped to a join between articles on an “infinite scrolling” page. While some infinite scrolling pages are OK, most simply aren’t. Especially a page for an article: you can’t read the article anymore with infinite scroll. It doesn’t stop, and if the next article has a similar topic, it can even seem like a new heading, making you wonder what the connection is, but giving an opportunity to sell ads – leading to what I think happened here.

So, while trying to read, and thus, scroll through this content – an article which claimed that Doctor Who’s time travel was surprisingly accurate, which is more true than most people know – the page jumped to a join between articles in the infinite scroll. Because the page “jumped”, all of this just popped into view; it wasn’t clear that I scrolled, or that scrolling would get me out of it). The layout completely hides the articles above and below, and the jumble of popups fall over each other, leaving me no context of what to click on.

If you try to turn a document reader into an ads stream, you will fail at doing both.

I fear for the future. Because I love the Web … and it’s killing itself.

-the Centaur

Pictured: a screen shot of, of a broken article on the science of Doctor Who, correctly recommended to me by Google News, and completely garbled by ScreenRant’s infinite scroll and jumbled ad presentation, leaving me unsure of what, if anything, to do other than … just close the page.

(Actually, I reloaded it from scratch, selected the text of the article, and printed it for later reading. I don’t care if there’s an ad on the page or not; that’s fine. I just demand to be able to read the darn thing.)

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