The internet anno 2010: all about the money?
What has happened to my favourite medium? Well, in my opinion, popularity killed it and the internet is fastly becoming a shadow image of society. It's no longer a medium for the tech-savy people who like to share knowledge but a medium for the average 'Joe' to state their opinions, and with the possibility to do so anonymously, state it rather blatantly. Netiquette is a relic from the past...
Where does it leave me? Almost six years ago I gave up my career working for a consultancy firm and started working for Tweakers.net; at that time I was one of the first full-time employees with a history of volunteer work for Tweakers.net. I am still closely related to the Tweakers.net community and am an active participant (and moderator) in for instance the webdevelopment forum.
My own job changed from 'making Tweakers.net the most technically-advanced site' to 'making Tweakers.net the most profitable site', especially when VNU took over our site. Now I spent most of my time creating commercial-based pages, enabling commercial-based links and optimizing commercial-based advertising. And sometimes I really start to dislike my own job. Not only is my vision almost irrelevant now, also financially I'm no more than a code-monkey with limited future perspective. I expect this same story to be true for most take-overs; the owners will benefit, the ones that actually work for the site won't.
Back on subject: the internet is all about the money these days; as a visitor you may have noticed this already if you have not already blocked advertisements. If you have not: your internet experience could be improved considerably if you did. Yes, my pay-check gets paid because of advertisements, but my feeling is that advertisers go too far, and Tweakers.net has already partly left behind its 'conservative advertisement-policy'; you're probably in for a lot more abuse if you still think we're being lenient...
Why don't I just quit? Now that's a good question. I guess I just like the Tweakers.net community too much. I want to preserve this feeling as long as I can. Commerce is nibbling at our forum too, but I think they won't get a strong hold any time soon. I still like doing things for the community, making Tweakers.net not just a larger, but a great website.
Being part of a larger company does have its benefits; who knows what would have happened to Tweakers.net in the current economic crisis without the backing of a larger company? We do now have a larger editorial staff and a lot of output because of that. However I do feel that we've gone down on the slippery slope with regards to advertising and nowadays perform no better than any other sites. In essence this means that there's no 'conservative advertising policy' any more.
Maybe I'm digging my own grave here, but I don't care. I wish for the internet to remain a place of freedom, of free speech and no boundaries. Commerce should have no place in this or at least be restricted somehow. Right now there seems to be no limit to commercial activities on the internet and it is taking its toll; sites are slow because of advertisements.
So now we get down to the essence: current advertisements are probably ineffective because they are negative to the user experience. How long will it take for the advertisers to realise that?
Well, hopefully soon...
At least, some of the non-commercial parts still exist. Media like IRC and newsgroups (when they are not used for file sharing) are still pretty free of commercial stuff. But will it stay this way? There are movements that want the internet not to be free anymore. Even ideas that expand to limit internet resources to commercial activities.
And what will happen if piracy and child pornography are blocked? Will websites with other content be blocked? Will freedom of speech be a legend of the old days on the internet? What will happen to political opposition?
Hell, there are even stories that some american lobby organisations try to equalize open source software to piracy. Are we going to end up on an internet that doesn't know anymore on what its build on? An internet that runs on proprietary software, because open source software will be illegal?
Also, on my university, there are tons of students learning how to utilize HTML and PHP for commercial activities. Not in the way like lots of 'us' learned: by discovering it ourself, and learning it ourself completely. No, its like a factory, two hundred students a year who only want to master the skills to get a job. If you think about this, its pretty clear that its a fight we already lost. The Internet mostly will mostly be commercial. The question is: Can we preserve the non-commercial parts of the internet?
I'd rather see some ads on websites then see those websites dissapear.
Personally I do use an ad blocker, though it's more for performance reasons than to get rid of the annoyance. I couldn't stand having to wait on a connection to a third-party ad server before I could see the information I wanted, so away they went. I mostly frequent technical Web sites (like this one!) or non-profit sites, though.
I have always seen the takeover by VNU as the dawnfall of tweakers.net . And it's not only the commercials themselves. I see problems with news items as well. It appears to me that it is no longer about the quality but about quantity.
And if you don't like your job anymore, start looking out for something you do like. It does not have to happen overnight and you don't have to leave the bigger community when you do.
When will advertiser realise it? Never. As long as they are making profits they won't stop with it. If we find a way to ignore ads they simply think of ways to make them harder to ignore (think about the full screen ads we get these days). It's the same with spam. Why are we still bombarded with spam even though most people hate it and automaticly delete it? Because some ppl still fall for it. The only way to get rid of this annoyance is when websiteowners decide that it has gone too far.
Afaik at the 'worst' the management at that level sets a basic direction they'd like tweakers.net to go to in terms of editorial content.
If the quality of articles decreases in your opinion it may be to several, unrelated, reasons which people always seem to miss, forget or even ignore in order to be able to blame the takeover for it. So if you disagree with the content, blame the current editorial staff rather than the vnu takeover or management.
A few reasons you should consider: You're developing yourself, your expertise and knowledge increased over time and therefore you may actually see that as a decrease in quality of the articles. Or perhaps your interest has shifted in a different direction than whatever tweakers.net's editorial staff chose to focus on.
Something else you may not realize is that editors come and go, not that we're working with different people everyday, but over the years there will be changes.
So if you used to read articles which happened to be written by some author with the required knowledge and understanding to make the articles very in-depth, the depth of such articles will decrease if someone else writes about such subjects. And that's not because there was a consient decision to do so, but it was just the way it is due to the lack of required knowledge and understanding. As its quite hard to find skilled and knowledgable writers for all the areas Tweakers.net tries to cover, that may actually have been more often than not a reason decrease the amount of articles on a certain subject.
Anyway, I can understand crisp's sentiment. The problem for his expertise and interest is that he basically has to work for a company that supports his interest in siteperformance, gives him room to do it his (excellent) way and can afford him... I don't know how many such websites/companies exist that don't have to offer some form of advertisements to stay afloat or at least have no commercial obligation to try and maximize profits.
[Comment edited on Sunday 20 June 2010 11:54]
And thus the user is drowning itself in annoyance and frustration with all the advertisements that block his positive experience with the internet. If the user was used to pay just a little for content, the whole problem would be gone.
But there is too much competition to make the internet affordable that way; if you search your way through lots of sites to solve a problem, you wouldn't get far if you had to pay for all of it. And if I had to pay 1 euro for every site I use on a regular basis, it would cost me quite a lot of money, or I should make drastic choices of sites I get most out of.
The concept of commercially free internet is just not possible on a large scale like this. And going back to the *good ol' days* is not really an option. But there is a limit to the commercialization. Maybe it *is* a good thing the internet is becoming a shadow copy of society, where it is normal you pay for articles, art, music.
It is the same as opensource software. Not made to make profit with, but because you like to share stuff.
That was very nice, but it's part of history now. You cannot go back to that, and you cannot compare today with 20 years ago. It is impossible to serve millions of people music, images, news, movies and that sort of things for free without commercialization. People have to eat, bills have to be paid.kokx wrote on Sunday 20 June 2010 @ 15:04:
The first internet users weren't interested in getting money for delivering content. No, they made it available for free.
Or you have to strip everything back to just the text-based forums, and go underground so you only have a few thousand visitors. That were the old days. Stay impopular. Find a small niche. If you unfortunately become popular, you are going down.
Besides, lots and lots of people, even more than in the old days deliver content for free, just because they like to do it. So you should just avoid the commercialized websites.
But probably you like all the high bandwidth new technology stuff too much to disconnect from that, and nobody blames you for that. If you want to get the annoying commerce out of it, the owner of the website must ask money to keep it up and running. It is the only other way.
That is really honest. The personal parts shocked me.
But yes, it could just be a feeling.
Don't get me wrong, having more people on the internet is good, and it has opened up new ways of using the internet, far beyond what I'd imagined when I started working with computers. There's a lot of practical ideas out there to make our lives a easier, many interesting things. If it weren't for the internet, I'd not have switched to Gentoo, I'd miss a lot of knowledge, and I'd never met all those people I know from it. I know it's a cliché thing to say, but my life would be very different.
But there's a flipside: As more and more people use the internet, the average level of intelligence goes down. I'm perfectly fine with less intelligent people using the internet, hoping they amuse themselves and possibly learn things in the process. But, that's not what seems to be happening.
What I've seen is part of what crisp describes: Stupid people come barging into a forum, asks a ridiculously simple question, demands an answer this instant and gets very annoyed when this does not happen. I don't mind answering a question, but I'm not your mother, search engine or personal helpdesk hotline. Especially if the message is misspelled, badly punctuated and/or abusive.
All that leads to another big problem: It's getting more and more difficult to find useful information. Occasionally I'm forced to fix problems on windows machines. Since I'm an avid linux user, the more complex problems on windows machines usually need some looking up. I know how it works on linux, but that doesn't mean I know where windows hides its stuff. But, as time passes, it gets harder and harder to get past all the rants, silly questions and other male cow manure to find the solution to my problems.
However, the second problem is a (partial) cause of the first: If I'm fixing a problem on a windows machine, I don't want to have to go through endless webpages. If I can avoid going through 'The big [enter topic here] topic', mailing lists, 90%-ad pages or rant pages, I will. Going through such stuff can take a lot of time, which I don't want to spend on it (either at work because I want to get stuff done, or at a friend/relative's place because there's more interesting stuff than their PC's).
This results in either taking very drastical actions (reinstalling the offending application or just reinstalling windows), frustration, lost time and... forum posts on silly questions. Yes, I know.
So, maybe this could be improved by altering the search options? Setting a maximal thread length?
Edit @Blokker_1999: In my case, I started reading tweakers.net when I started using the internet, around '98. At that time, I only had limited knowledge of computers, so while I knew some stuff, there was a lot to learn. I wanted to have the fastest, strongest PC I could get, and while I was busy making money for that I wanted to get my PC (or rather, my parents' PC) to run as quickly as possible.
In the past twelve years, I've learned a lot about computers (side-effect of getting an IT-education, apparently). I've also grown older, and my interests shifted. Some of the articles bore me, because I don't care that manufacturer X made a new smartphone with OS Y on it and a battery that drains in 25 hours instead of 24. I don't care that manufacturer A made a processor R that runs at U MHz and needs its own power-station to power it.
But there's still a lot of interesting stuff around... I'm interested in the political stuff, because this is one of the few places that has people who actually understand what it's about, and can give a good view on the implications. Even if I don't agree with it, it's still useful, important information. The same thing applies to news on scientific breakthroughs, and the gathering of tweakers.
I'd also like to put in a good word for the tweakblogs. While I'd say there's stuff in there I'd rather skip, there's a lot of interesting stuff in there too. Kudos to crisp, Coltrui, MsD, fotografie999 and many others, you're doing a good job!
Last, but not least, the pricewatch, V&A, reviews and meuktracker. While they're not as important to me as the rest, they have made getting new hardware easier.
So on the whole I'm happy with tweakers.net. The ads occasionally are annoying, and there's stuff that doesn't really interest me, but as long as I can pick out the interesting stuff without having to go through heaps of useless stuff, I'm fine with it
[Comment edited on Sunday 20 June 2010 18:22]
However there's also companies that exist to make money, and happen to be publishing a website in order to do that. Those companies will try to lower the cost and maximise the profit as much as possible, so it will try to create as much content as possible with at least a decent quality, and as much ads as possible without scaring too many visitors away.
The internet started with idealists providing everything for free. With the growth of the internet and the higher cost of newer technologies the first kind of company came around, yet with the mass popularity it has these days we see the latter kind taking over more and more, at the cost of quality and an increase in annoying ads.
I guess at some point enough is enough, and we'll see smaller sites popping up to fill the quality gap, either for free or using the first company style.
As for tweakers.net, I have no inside knowledge so I can't say for sure, but I would guess it went from a nice free project by Femme to the first kind of company (Tweakers.net B.V.), and judging by what crisp writes VNU is more like the latter, which is slowly but surely also creeping into t.net I think there's a lot of companies out there which are a lot worse, but t.net does appear to be going in the wrong direction which is a shame. However at this time there is no quality alternative (in Dutch), hardware.info doesn't even come close as far as I'm concerned.
[Comment edited on Sunday 20 June 2010 19:10]
Ontopic but also in Dutch: I think "vroegâh was alles beter" nicely conveys what you are trying to say here. It obviously is as far as you're concerned, but I can't help wondering what Femme's take on this () is.
Furthermore, thanks for the great feedback. Even though this post is partly ranting and partly a longing back to the 'good ol' days' (as Ma.rkus.nl nicely put it in Dutch) I do feel it is understood quite well; the internet is changing ('evolving' some might say, or 'growing mature' as a medium) and sometimes change has its downsides.
It is actually no surprise that large companies and advertising become dominant on the internet, it happened to all the old media as well, and their dominance is being fed by the fact that websites need them in order to survive. This alone already offsets the balance of power in favour of the advertising companies.
Then there's the fact that small websites without any real for-profit goal, when they get popular and are being bought by bigger publishing companies, become profit-cows.
The more traditional media either have some sort of regulation when it comes to advertising (TV), or they are not so much intrusive as on the web (magazines, newspapers). On the web however the users have much more control over how they 'consume' the content; bannerblockers are a prime example of how users take control of their own web-experience on a level that is just not possible with any other medium.
So as long as publishers keep bidding to the ever more demanding wishes of advertisers instead of grouping together to counter-balance their increasing stronghold, and as long as there is no forced regulation of advertising on the web we probably will see more and more intrusive forms of advertising until users really get fed up with it and start abandoning certain sites, install bannerblockers by the masses, or some browsers start blocking them by default (like popups).
Like in society the power of the people will most likely prevail, and the winners of this 'battle' will be those that recognize what the people actually (do not) want. Imho allowing aggressive ads on your site is a sign of short-sightedness; if you (literally) put ads before your own content than you undervaluate your content and your users, and it may cost you in the long term.
Now rest assured; I wont be quitting my job at Tweakers.net just yet (and I didn't get fired over this post); maybe my ever critical vision is just what is needed sometimes, and the battle may not be over yet. At least I did not hear a fat lady singing yet
sjonge, wat een deprimerend artikel, maar helaas wel beladen met waarheid. Hoe graag we ook willen dat organisaties zoals t.net gedreven worden door idealen in plaats van winsten, als de stuurman een investeerder is in plaats van een idealist zal dit wel de praktijk blijken.
Ik ben ook bang dat de nare smaak die je proeft op heel erg weinig andere plaatsen afwezig zal zijn. Zo is bijvoorbeeld xs4all begonnen als eerste isp in Nederland, geboren uit een ideologie, de ideologie dat internet een publiek medium is waar iedereen gebruik van moet kunnen maken. In feite de vrijheid van meningsuiting ten top. Toch is het eenmaal overgenomen door kpn, het heeft nog wel een beetje de voortrekkersrol die het ooit had, maar heeft ook het commerciele nasmaakje gekregen.
Het probleem dat er in feite aan ten gronslag ligt is, zoals een bekend spreker ooit zei, de liefde voor geld. Geld is in zichzelf niet iets slechts, dankzij geld kunnen we een hooop mooie dingen doen, dankzij geld kan ik een deel van mijn welvaart uitdelen aan zij die er minder van hebben, dankzij geld kunnen projecten zoals t.net, xs4all of de tweede mijl op poten gezet worden.
Maar de keerzijde van de spreekwoordelijike munt is dat het macht met zich meebrengt. En mensen schijnen in zichzelf de neiging te hebben om als reactie op het verwerven van macht nog meer macht naar zich toe te trekken. Dit geld daarmee dus ook voor geld, rijke mensen zijn sneller geneigd nog meer geld te willen hebben.
Ik heb zelf ooit deelgenomen als vrijwilliger aan een collecte, we hebben geld opgehaald van deur tot deur in verschillende wijken in Noord Eindhoven. Opvallend genoeg werd er het minste geld opgehaald in de rijkste buurt en het meeste geld in de armere buurten (per huishouden). Het geld zelf is hier niet het probleem, maar de "liefde" voor geld.
Ik hoop dat je ondanks alle teloorgangen toch de schoonheid van de t.net gemeenschap zal blijven zien. Ondanks het afnemen van de idealen en het toenemen van het winstbejag blijven er veel fijne mensen hier. Bij aanwezigheid van een fysieke topografische scheiding tussen ons bij deze een virtueel schouderklopje om je te bemoedigen.
En tech-save people zijn er genoeg. Er is genoeg te snoepen hoor
Ik kan mij niet voorstellen dat de Tweakers site niet een zeer knap centje naar binnen haalt. Zoveel banners, abonnementen, het hele pricewatch verhaal, jobs, etc. Jullie zijn huge.
Ik ben die lul die van tijd tot tijd over een wiki zeikt. Jouw hele verhaal is eigenlijk precies de reden waarom dat wiki er nooit komt. Dat is echt iets voor de community en er zit niet direct geld in. VNU bepaalt wat er gebouwd wordt. Meer dingetjes waar geld uit te slaan valt gok ik zo.
Je schrijft het zelf: je bent niet bezig met leuke dingen ontwikkelen voor de site waar jij zelf echt wat mee hebt. Je bent vooral bezig met features implementeren zodat VNU meer geld uit de site kan slaan, en dat is niet waar jij continue mee bezig wil zijn.
De focus van Tweakers.net is in mijn beleving zichtbaar verschoven. Wat heel stom is, want als je gewoon maakt waarvan jij denkt dat de bezoekers er ook echt iets aan hebben / blij van worden, dan is de kans groot dat het zich wel terug verdient.
[Comment edited on Monday 5 July 2010 09:53]
Freedom with restrictions isn't freedom at all.. If you don't like where it's going do something else. Start-up a new community with your own ideas and principles and see where that takes you. For now you are just the average Joe whining about something..
There are a few things I'd like to say.
It was inevitable from the start that any huge success would kill the internet of early adopters. When the mass adopts a technique, the rules of the masses will apply: that's why netiquette isn't as important as you'd like it to be.
And 'massa is kassa' as we can say in Dutch: when companies tihnk they can make money, they won't let the oppurtinity pass. Just like tv is filled with advertisements - and commercial stations make a lot of money broadcasting commercials, with some tv programs to attract public.
The internet is no different.
Another factor that's come into play is 'advertisement blindness'. Ad advertisement should attract attention, even if people don't want to see them. When a lot of people don't notice, advertisement have to bigger, more intruding etc. It's not an internet only development here: frontpages of newspapers have been taken over completely by advertisers - something unthinkable in the 90s. A vast amount of tv shows is being made to please the sponsor(s). Advertising has been taking over our lives in the past decade on a scale we couldn't comprehend beforehand.
However, to paraphrase a known verb, a society gets the advertisements it deserves. You want free e-mail? Sure you can, Google and Microsoft only place 'relevant' advertisements beside it. You want free search? Ofcourse, but Google is registering your every search term and adjusts advertisements on that. You want free news? Fine, but journalists have to be paid and advertisers pay for a spot on the website.
It's a bit hypocritical to criticize the very society we're part of: if we didn't love free things, advertisers wouldn't have to be intruding like we see today. Only paying visitors could have prevented the internet being killed while it grew.
The same money paradox applies to the take over of Tweakers.net by VNU. The investments made it possible to survive the crisis and to hire a great deal of new people - of which a lot were editors. Like me. We've been writing a lot more news and reviews - and arguably it's better than it used to be.
Sure, VNU cares more about the money than about the community. But the folks working at T.net don't: we care about the very people we're writing for, we want to inform them the best way we can and we work our asses off to make that happen. And in spite that the paycheck proves otherwise, we feel we are being part of T.net, and not of VNU.
So I'm at your side Crisp: advertisers are intruding our lives and privacy on an epic scale like never seen before - but they're necessary and useful in many ways. And we just have to deal with that, because it's part of the society we live in. But I really do believe we can have a stronghold, a Asterix-like village surrounded by Romans where we keep up the values that once ruled. Commerce kan kill the pixels on your screen, but can it really kill your spirit?
Well, actually nofreakingme wrote on Friday 09 July 2010 @ 14:43:
I guess this post was written the day after you developed/implemented the ads that are currently displayed on t.net?
Although ofcourse I was involved on this 'takeover' ad consulting the media agency on the best approach to create such an advertisement. I did warn beforehand that it is quite impossible to get it 100% right if you don't know our site very well (on a technical level). I also warned about high cpu usage on some systems and the ad taking too long to load (causing a late repositioning of the whole site). Well, it turned out I was right on all accounts, unfortunately I should say but hopefully some people learned from this.
And again, for me, this is a paradox. I don't really like the society we live in. Not just because of the fact that money makes power makes rules that are not in the common interest, but also because of the fact that most people just go along with this. It's the same way that the (perceived) anonymity on the internet seems to bring out the worst in some people.And we just have to deal with that, because it's part of the society we live in.
So I guess my wish is not for a 'free' internet but a regulated one after all, but regulated after some image of perfection that exists only in my mind; I'm a dictator! That insight just blew my mind and I guess I can only agree full-heartedly now; you can only have true freedom as long as you're along peers. Tweakers is a semi-collection of peers, and together we can have a stronghold. Let's keep it up as long as we can!
The root of the problem lies with the founders of community driven sites. Such sites are for a very large part successful because of the community and their effort, and by a far lesser extent by the efforts of the founders. So when the founders start to see 'business' in the community, they are basically capitalizing on all the efforts from the community which they provided for free.
This issue, capitalizing on other people's efforts, is in my opinion a big problem. There should be a stricter separation between pure commercial sites (again, nothing wrong with them) and sites which are community driven, or otherwise incompatible with commercialization.
The question is of course, how will these community driven sites pay for their own existence? Of course such sites could still run ads, but more importantly, a lot of people are willing to pay for something they are a part of and actively invest in.
To reflect this on tweakers, I think the front page has very little real community driven elements left and is basically fit for a commercial environment (although some might disagree). The forum however is a pure community and in my opinion not suitable for commercial exploitation. When tweakers was sold, it would have been sound to separate the forum from the front page (stichting constructie?) so it could have maintained it's independent community driven status.
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