The web isn't for content, it's for ads.Published: Wed Feb 02 2022
Recently someone asked me, why do I hate Website X, where “Website X” refers to a local news portal/influencer mash-up? This specific website is one of the country’s most popular websites and occasionally does top-quality journalism & covers topics that are considered taboo or non-conformist. So far, so good. Unfortunately, in between each great article, there are a hundred articles of click-bait & influencer content. “10 reasons why X is amazing. You wouldn’t believe number 7” kind of junk. Perhaps comparable to BuzzFeed, albeit on a local level.
While I hate Website X and rarely visit it, I don’t blame Website X. Website X is simply playing the game they need to play to generate revenue. Most of their revenue comes from ads, which is proportional to the number of visitors, time spent on site, and other similar vanity metrics. So they need to use these “cheap tricks” to increase their ad revenue. The problem is that their success is pushing other more reputable news portals to install paywalls or count on donations to keep up with their bills.
And the same problem can be seen all over the internet. If I open YouTube, I am recommended a bunch of videos that “beat the algorithm” (their words, not mine). Videos of people’s reactions while watching other videos. Videos with highly misleading thumbnails. Each one with millions upon millions of views. I don’t even care about most of these videos and “Don’t recommend channel” will simply replace it with another near-identical channel. It’s endless.
The same applies on Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok. Similar to YouTube, these websites strive to keep you engaged with the website or app. To watch another video, scroll to another page. You get a little dopamine rush when you see that little red notification icon. Someone has uploaded something new, someone has liked your video. They have entire teams working on algorithms and UX to get you more engaged. When I was still on Facebook, I found myself reading about people or content I didn’t care about. Their algorithms work.
When visiting a website, the goal of the website isn’t for you to consume the content you came looking for, but to maximize the lifetime value of your visit. To send you push notifications, subscribe you to a newsletter, or make you create an account.
The web isn’t to share content, it’s to serve ads.
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