Friday, September 1st, 2023
Tuesday, August 29th, 2023
On the sad state of Google search today:
How did a site that captured the imagination of the internet and fundamentally changed the way we communicate turn into a burned-out Walmart at the edge of town?
Saturday, August 19th, 2023
Wednesday, July 12th, 2023
I’m not down with Google swallowing everything posted on the internet to train their generative AI models.
This would mean a lot more if it happened before the wholesale harvesting of everyone’s work.
But I’m sure Google will put a mighty fine lock on that stable door that the horse bolted from.
Tuesday, July 11th, 2023
Back when the web was young, it wasn’t yet clear what the rules were. Like, could you really just link to something without asking permission?
Then came some legal rulings to establish that, yes, on the web you can just link to anything without checking if it’s okay first.
What about search engines and directories? Technically they’re rifling through all the stuff we publish and reposting snippets of it. Is that okay?
Again, through some legal precedents—but mostly common agreement—everyone decided that on balance it was fine. After all, those snippets they publish are helping your site get traffic.
In short order, search came to rule the web. And Google came to rule search.
The mutually beneficial arrangement persisted uneasily. Despite Google’s search results pages getting worse and worse in recent years, the company’s huge market share of search means you generally want to be in their good books.
Google’s business model relies on us publishing web pages so that they can put ads around the search results linking to that content, and we rely on Google to send people to our websites by responding smartly to search queries.
That has now changed. Instead of responding to search queries by linking to the web pages we’ve made, Google is instead generating dodgy summaries rife with hallucina… lies (a psychic hotline, basically).
Google still benefits from us publishing web pages. We no longer benefit from Google slurping up those web pages.
Google has steadily been manoeuvring their search engine results to more and more replace the pages in the results.
Me, I just think it’s fuckin’ rude.
Google is a portal to the web. Google is an amazing tool for finding relevant websites to go to. That was useful when it was made, and it’s nothing but grown in usefulness. Google should be encouraging and fighting for the open web. But now they’re like, actually we’re just going to suck up your website, put it in a blender with all other websites, and spit out word smoothies for people instead of sending them to your website. Instead.
Robots.txt needs an update for the 2020s. Instead of just saying what content can be indexed, it should also grant rights.
Like crawl my site only to provide search results not train your LLM.
It’s a solid proposal. But Google has absolutely no incentive to implement it. They hold all the power.
Or do they?
There is still the nuclear option in
User-agent: Googlebot Disallow: /
That’s what Vasilis is doing:
I have been looking for ways to not allow companies to use my stuff without asking, and so far I coulnd’t find any. But since this policy change I realised that there is a simple one: block google’s bots from visiting your website.
The general consensus is that this is nuts. “If you don’t appear in Google’s results, you might as well not be on the web!” is the common cry.
I’m not so sure. At least when it comes to personal websites, search isn’t how people get to your site. They get to your site from RSS, newsletters, links shared on social media or on Slack.
And isn’t it an uncomfortable feeling to think that there’s a third party service that you absolutely must appease? It’s the same kind of justification used by people who are still on Twitter even though it’s now a right-wing transphobic cesspit. “If I’m not on Twitter, I might as well not be on the web!”
The situation with Google reminds me of what Robin said about Twitter:
The speed with which Twitter recedes in your mind will shock you. Like a demon from a folktale, the kind that only gains power when you invite it into your home, the platform melts like mist when that invitation is rescinded.
We can rescind our invitation to Google.
Saturday, July 8th, 2023
On day 1 of your class about behaviour change in a science course, you learn that behaviour change is not a simple matter of information in, behaviour out. Human behaviour, and changing it, is big and complex.
Meanwhile, on your marketing courses, which I have had the misfortune to attend, the model of changing behaviour is pretty much this: information in, behaviour out.
Tuesday, July 4th, 2023
Could the tsunami of AI shite turn out to be a flash flood? Might the models rapidly degrade into uselessness or soon be sued or blocked out of existence? Will users rebel as their experience of the internet is degraded?
In my most optimistic moments, I find myself hoping that the whole AI edifice will come tumbling down as tools disintegrate, people realise how unreliable they are, and how valuable human-generated and curated information really is. But it’s not a safe bet.
When we imagine future tech, we usually focus on the ways it could turn humans into robotic workers, easily manipulated by surveillance capitalism. And that’s not untrue. But in this story, I wanted to suggest that there is a more subversive possibility. Modifying our bodies with technology could bring us closer to the natural world.
Saturday, May 27th, 2023
Better Living Through Algorithms by Naomi Kritzer : Clarkesworld Magazine – Science Fiction & Fantasy
This short story feels like a prequel to Maneki Neko.
Friday, May 5th, 2023
Bosses have certain goals, but don’t want to be blamed for doing what’s necessary to achieve those goals; by hiring consultants, management can say that they were just following independent, expert advice. Even in its current rudimentary form, A.I. has become a way for a company to evade responsibility by saying that it’s just doing what “the algorithm” says, even though it was the company that commissioned the algorithm in the first place.
I’m not very convinced by claims that A.I. poses a danger to humanity because it might develop goals of its own and prevent us from turning it off. However, I do think that A.I. is dangerous inasmuch as it increases the power of capitalism. The doomsday scenario is not a manufacturing A.I. transforming the entire planet into paper clips, as one famous thought experiment has imagined. It’s A.I.-supercharged corporations destroying the environment and the working class in their pursuit of shareholder value. Capitalism is the machine that will do whatever it takes to prevent us from turning it off, and the most successful weapon in its arsenal has been its campaign to prevent us from considering any alternatives.
Friday, April 28th, 2023
Taking the child on a tour through punctuation, Mr. Stops introduces him to a cast of literal “characters”: there is Counsellor Comma, who knows “neither guile nor repentance” in his pursuit of “dividing short parts of a sentence”; Ensign Semicolon struts with militaristic pride, for “into two or more parts he’ll a sentence divide”; and The Exclamation Point is “struck with admiration”, his face “so long, and thin and pale”.
Thursday, April 20th, 2023
I have a very simple rule that serves me well: Don’t think too much about your life after dinnertime.
Tuesday, April 11th, 2023
But the real project of humanity – of understanding ourselves as human beings, making a good world to live in, and striving together toward mutual flourishing – depends paradoxically upon the continued pursuit of what Hitz calls ‘splendid uselessness’.
This reminds me of that post by Winnie Lim I linked to a while back.
Sunday, April 9th, 2023
Tuesday, March 14th, 2023
Sunday, February 19th, 2023
An entire generation of apps-that-should-have-been web pages has sprung up, often shoehorned into supposedly cross-platform frameworks that create a subpar user experience sludge. Nowhere is this more true than for media — how many apps from newspapers or magazines have you installed, solely for a very specific purpose like receiving breaking news alerts? How many of those apps are just wrappers around web views? How many of those apps should have been web pages?
These were my jams
In many ways, This Is My Jam was the antithesis of the prevailing Silicon Valley mindset. Instead of valuing growth and scale above all else, it was deliberately thoughtful. Rather than “maximising engagement”, it asked you to slow down and just share one thing: what piece of music are you really into right now? It was up to you to decide whether “right now” meant this year, this month, this week, or this day.
I used to post songs there sporadically. Here’s a round-up of the twelve songs I posted in 2013. There was always some reason for posting a particular piece of music.
I was reminded of This Is My Jam recently when I logged into Spotify (not something I do that often). As part of the site’s shutdown, you could export all your jams into a Spotify playlist. Here’s mine.
Listening back to these 50 songs all these years later gave me the warm fuzzies.
Instead of doing what the competing browsers are doing (and learning from years of experience of handling Web Push), Apple decided to reinvent a wheel here. What they’ve turned up with looks a lot more like a square.
Friday, February 17th, 2023
When I’m evangelising the benefits of building on the open web instead of making separate iOS and Android apps, I inevitably get asked about notifications. As long as mobile Safari doesn’t support them—even though desktop Safari does—I’m somewhat stumped. There’s no polyfill for this feature other than building an entire native app, which is a bit extreme as polyfills go.
With push notifications in mobile Safari, the arguments for making proprietary apps get weaker. That’s good.
The announcement post is a bit weird though. It never uses the phrase “progressive web apps”, even though clearly the entire article is all about progressive web apps. I don’t know if this down to Not-Invented-Here syndrome by the Apple/Webkit team, or because of genuine legal concerns around using the phrase.
Instead, there are repeated references to “Home Screen apps”. This distinction makes some sense though. In order to use web push on iOS, your website needs to be added to the home screen.
I think that would be fair enough, if it weren’t for the fact that adding a website to the home screen remains such a hidden feature that even power users would be forgiven for not knowing about it. I described the steps here:
- Tap the “share” icon. It’s not labelled “share.” It’s a square with an arrow coming out of the top of it.
- A drawer pops up. The option to “add to home screen” is nowhere to be seen. You have to pull the drawer up further to see the hidden options.
- Now you must find “add to home screen” in the list
- Add to Reading List
- Add Bookmark
- Add to Favourites
- Find on Page
- Add to Home Screen
As long as this remains the case, we can expect usage of web push on iOS to be vanishingly low. Hardly anyone is going to add a website to their home screen when their web browser makes it so hard.
If you’d like to people to install your progressive web app, you’ll almost certainly need to prompt people to do so. Here’s the page I made on thesession.org with instructions on how to add to home screen. I link to it from the home page of the site.
I wish that pages like that weren’t necessary. It’s not the best user experience. But as long as mobile Safari continues to bury the home screen option, we don’t have much choice but to tackle this ourselves.