ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ Herman's blog

How the internet became shit

I recently replaced the battery on my iPhone 8 (it's the perfect smartphone; fight me) in an attempt to prolong its life by a few more years. However, the iStore service centre required that the phone be wiped to comply with the POPIA act prior to any kind of service work commencing. This was annoying, but being a thin client with good backup hygiene it was just inconvenient and not a major issue.

Once I had my phone back up and running with all my apps re-installed I found myself browsing Hacker News and followed a link to an article on one of the bigger news sites. And there were ads EVERYWHERE. I'd forgotten to re-install my adblocker.

Having not been on the internet without an adblocker in over 10 years, this was eye-opening. It was literally impossible for me to read the article due to all the slide ins, animated banners, giant separators in the content, hot girls in my area, and the like. And it wasn't alone. Most of the sites I visited via Hacker News were covered from head to toe in ads.

"Enshittification" is a term coined by Cory Doctorow, which accurately describes what was happening here. A decreasing quality of online services in an attempt to monetise. It is also used to describe companies that offer a free service but start charging once they've locked in a client-base (I'm looking at you Heroku).

I'd rather a product not exist in the first place if their business model requires them to eventually enshittify after they've lured people in. Because, unfortunately, a subsidised product crowds out products that are more basic, yet more sustainable in the long run. Creating something that captures market share and then turns the tables actively harms their users, and the market in general.

On the other hand, I love the internet. It's a place where people come to share ideas and digitally congregate. I see it as a bunch of campfires sprinkled throughout the darkness of cyberspace. I currently hang out on a Slack channel of devs in South Africa, where I can talk shop. I also spend a decent amount of time reading about people moving to new cities; interesting side projects; thoughts and musings; slices of life; and more on the Bear discovery feed.

I feel like these niche communities are so much harder to organically stumble upon since the wide-spread commercialisation of the internet. The first page of any major search engine, no matter what you search for, will be entirely populated with SEO goop, quite possibly written by AI, or indistinguishable from it.

There's a reason many people are now searching Reddit rather than Google. Since it's more difficult to monetise content on Reddit, there is less incentive to stuff it with SEO goop in an attempt to capture keyword rankings. That being said, even Reddit is becoming worse to use. Every page load tries to get me to install the app, they've killed off most third-party apps, and old.reddit.com is almost impossible to use on mobile. So even the "alternative" to traditional search engines is getting shittier.

Here's the part where I try to wrap up this post with a nice little bow, and say something like "and all we need to do is X" (damn, X is now a thing...so maybe Y). But I can't. I don't have a solution. The internet is a decentralised free-for-all, and there are obvious economic incentives to be exploited. I foresee communities becoming more exclusive, and I predict a future where curation and moderation are the hills that content sites and feeds live and die on. I'll hold on to RSS right until the end.

P.S. If you're looking for something nice to read, the Bear discovery feed is worth checking out.

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