Web complexity and the advertisement industry

Continuing the discussion from Trivial version of snowdrift.coop (Unix philosophy):

If two parties which follow the unix philosophy want their software to interact, there’s little need to negotiate. Even in the current web ecosystem, it’s very possible to write APIs (or simple HTML-only pages) etc that are mostly easy to use – but what happens more often is that web applications are written that are hard to parse and intentionally impossible to use automatically. The main reason for complexity on the web is not negotiation difficulties, but the advertising industry.

Killing the advertising industry would be very aligned with snowdrift.coop – but I would need some more talking/thinking to see how funding FLO would do that.

Funding FLO creates gratis alternatives to proprietary software, which is a huge pressure on the respective companies – they are forced to massively reduce their prices. The best way they can reduce their prices is to become an advertisement monster, e.g. microsoft’s semi-recent behavior.

Additionally, most FLO works can be displayed on platforms with advertisement without a problem. E.g. if someone would create high-quality FLO videos, it would be perfectly possible for youtube to show them and intersperse them with advertisements. (Similar to how they automatically create topic channels, they could automatically import FLO-licensed videos from other platforms.)

Furthermore, FLO works are typically re-used to the advantage of everyone in their respective sector. For instance, the linux kernel is used by google, e.g. for android. BSD is used by apple. Advancing FLO software means advancing the entire software sector – is this good for our society? The more important the digital stuff becomes, the more power google/facebook/… will have over our entire lives.

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I’ve thought about this a lot, and there’s no easy answers. But I think the more everyone can control their technology, the more we can choose to block ads. We can choose (and can politically promote this) financial support of projects that reject the ad-based model. The better-funded the projects are, the more they’ll have resources to promote people directly accessing them rather than through middle-man platforms.

So, as a reference: copies programs like LibreOffice and Blender are regularly sold on eBay under GPL. They are deceptively marketed to avoid all FLO references, GPL stuff is tiny print, and they call them just “office program” and “3d modeling software” etc. The suckers who buy these things don’t have understanding that they are already available gratis. This is not a GPL violation and can’t be readily stopped.

I think that well-funded and ethically-focused FLO projects and culture can be a part of creating a social norm where people understand that:

  • uncompromised high-quality public goods exist
  • you can get them readily
  • you can help support them

The more people understand that, the more they won’t bother to go where the same things are ad-laden. This is not a 100% solution, but I think it could go quite far. Make it as easy as possible to get the public goods directly, fund them enough for their own promotional efforts, change the social norms, etc.

Today, many people lament how the public has come to expect to get so much gratis (just via ad-funding) and thus there’s a widespread dislike of paywalls. We can go a step further and build the expectation that things can have no paywalls or ads. We just need to get the word out and get the things you can get this way to be better supported so they aren’t lower-quality or hit-and-miss so much.

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I would like to emphasize the importance of choice. If we (or anybody) can help build a socioeconomic niche where ads are irrelevant, great! But I’d like to do that without antagonizing people who are neutral or even positive on advertisement.

I’m reminded of a They Might Be Giants line: “I don’t want to change the world, I just want to change your half.” The irony is that diversity is healthy, and there’s plenty of space to build a new niche without resorting to zero-sum thinking. :slight_smile:

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