I’m not down with Google swallowing everything posted on the internet to train their generative AI models.
Wednesday, July 12th, 2023
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.
Monday, April 17th, 2023
Wednesday, March 15th, 2023
Interesting to see an article on web performance on the BBC. Perhaps we should be emphasising green over speed?
Tuesday, January 24th, 2023
The positively steampunk piece of hardware used for tracking Alexei Leonov’s Apollo-Soyuz mission.
Monday, January 16th, 2023
A few years ago, I wrote about how much I enjoyed the book Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson.
Not everyone liked that book. A lot of people were put off by its structure, in which the dream of interstellar colonisation meets the harsh truth of reality and the book follows where that leads. It pours cold water over the very idea of humanity becoming interplanetary.
I wonder if the author might regret the way that some have taken his Mars trilogy as a sort of manual, Torment Nexus style. Kim Stanley Robinson is very much concerned with this planet in this time period, but others use his work to do the opposite.
But the backlash to Mars has begun.
Maciej wrote Why Not Mars:
The goal of this essay is to persuade you that we shouldn’t send human beings to Mars, at least not anytime soon. Landing on Mars with existing technology would be a destructive, wasteful stunt whose only legacy would be to ruin the greatest natural history experiment in the Solar System. It would no more open a new era of spaceflight than a Phoenician sailor crossing the Atlantic in 500 B.C. would have opened up the New World. And it wouldn’t even be that much fun.
Manu Saadia is writing a book about humanity in space, and he has a corresponding newsletter called Against Mars: Space Colonization and its Discontents:
What if space colonization was merely science-fiction, a narrative, or rather a meta-narrative, a myth, an ideology like any other? And therefore, how and why did it catch on? What is so special and so urgent about space colonization that countless scientists, engineers, government officials, billionaire oligarchs and indeed, entire nations, have committed work, ingenuity and treasure to make it a reality.
What if, and hear me out, space colonization was all bullshit?
I mean that quite literally. No hyperbole. Once you peer under the hood, or the nose, of the rocket ship, you encounter a seemingly inexhaustible supply of ghoulish garbage.
Two years ago, Shannon Stirone went into the details of why Mars Is a Hellhole
The central thing about Mars is that it is not Earth, not even close. In fact, the only things our planet and Mars really have in common is that both are rocky planets with some water ice and both have robots (and Mars doesn’t even have that many).
Perhaps the most damning indictment of the case for Mars colonisation is that its most ardent advocate turns out to be an idiotic small-minded eugenicist who can’t even run a social media company, much less a crewed expedition to another planet.
But let’s be clear: we’re talking here about the proposition of sending humans to Mars—ugly bags of mostly water that probably wouldn’t survive. Robots and other uncrewed missions in our solar system …more of that, please!
Monday, January 2nd, 2023
I’ve come to believe the best way to look at our Mars program is as a faith-based initiative. There is a small cohort of people who really believe in going to Mars, the way some people believe in ghosts or cryptocurrency, and this group has an outsize effect on our space program.
Maciej lays out the case against a crewed mission to Mars.
Like George Lucas preparing to release another awful prequel, NASA is hoping that cool spaceships and nostalgia will be enough to keep everyone from noticing that their story makes no sense. But you can’t lie your way to Mars, no matter how sincerely you believe in what you’re doing.
And don’t skip the footnotes:
Fourth graders writing to Santa make a stronger case for an X-Box than NASA has been able to put together for a Mars landing.
Sunday, December 11th, 2022
NASA is posting some lovely pictures on Flickr from the first Artemis mission.
Wednesday, March 30th, 2022
You had me at “beautifully resilient apps with progressive enhancement”.
This is a great clear walkthrough of enhancing a form submission. A lot of this seems like first principles to me, but if you’ve only ever built single page apps, then thinking about a server-submission process first might well be revelatory.
Saturday, February 5th, 2022
I really hope that Betteridge’s Law doesn’t apply to this headline.
Monday, November 29th, 2021
While the dream of “personalized” ads has turned out to be mostly a nightmare, adtech has built some of the wealthiest companies in the world based on tracking us. It’s no surprise to me that as Members of the European Parliament contemplate tackling these many harms, Big Tech is throwing millions of Euros behind a “necessary evil” PR defense for its business model.
But tracking is an unnecessary evil.
Even in today’s tracking-obsessed digital ecosystem it’s perfectly possible to target ads successfully without placing people under surveillance. In fact right now, some of the most effective and highly valued online advertising is contextual — based on search terms, other non-tracking based data, and the context of websites rather than intrusive, dangerous surveillance.
Let’s be clear. Advertising is essential for small and medium size businesses, but tracking is not.
Rather than creating advertising that is more relevant, more timely and more likable we are creating advertising that is more annoying, more disliked, and more avoided.
I promise you, the minute tracking is outlawed, Facebook, Google and the rest of the adtech giants will claim that their new targeting mechanisms (whatever they turn out to be) are superior to tracking.
Behavioral ads are only more profitable than context ads if all the costs of surveillance – the emotional burden of being watched; the risk of breach, identity-theft and fraud; the potential for government seizure of surveillance data – is pushed onto internet users. If companies have to bear those costs, behavioral ads are a total failure, because no one in the history of the human race would actually grant consent to all the things that gets done with our data.
Tracking-industry body IAB Europe told that it has infringed the GDPR, and its “consent” pop-ups used by Google and other tech firms are unlawful. - Irish Council for Civil Liberties
Google and the entire tracking industry relies on IAB Europe’s consent system, which has now been found to be illegal.
Monday, March 29th, 2021
Good to see Google, Mozilla, and Apple collaborating on fixing cross-browser CSS compatability issues:
- position: sticky
You can track progress here.
Sunday, February 14th, 2021
The moment after eclipse
I’m almost finished reading a collection of short stories by Brian Aldiss. He was such a prolific writer that he produced loads of these collections, readily available from second-hand bookshops, published on cheap pulpy paper.
This collection is called The Moment Of Eclipse. It’s has some truly weird stories in there, as well as an undisputed classic with Super-Toys Last All Summer Long. I always find it almost unbearably sad.
Only recently, towards the end of the book, did the coincidence of the book’s title strike me: The Moment Of Eclipse.
See, last time I had the privelige of experiencing a total solar eclipse was on August 21st, 2017. Jessica and I were in Sun Valley, Idaho, right in the path of totality. We found a hill to climb up so we could see the surrounding landscape as the shadow of the moon raced across the Earth.
Tuesday, November 10th, 2020
I can see how this would be good to have fixed at the browser level.
Sunday, October 18th, 2020
Sunday, May 17th, 2020
Looking at COVID-19 through the lens of pace layers.
…a citizen could actually play a part that was as important as a vaccine, but instead of preventing transmission of the virus into another cell at the ACE receptor level, it’s preventing transmission of the virus at the social network level. So we’re actually adopting a kind of behavioral vaccine policy, by voluntarily or otherwise self-isolating.
Friday, April 10th, 2020
It was fifty years ago this weekend. Follow along here, timeshifted by half a century.