Earlier this week I had the misfortune of accidentally opening a link to a website in google chrome on my phone.
Permanently moved is a personal podcast 301 seconds in length, written and recorded by @thejaymo
Nobody Clicks On Links Anymore
Hello everyone. It was my birthday last week so I had the week off. Seems like midseason breaks are in this year.
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So earlier this week I had the misfortune of accidentally opening a link to a website in google chrome on my phone. Like Dave Bowman entering the monolith, what happened next was wild….
My god, it’s full of ads, the view port was full of ads. Unusable to the point of parody.
I’ll include a screenshot in the show notes, but I’ll attempt to describe it to you.
At the top we have a tiny banner ad for some undisclosed path to success, its background image is a deep green forest path. Directly below that sits the sites header toolbar. Below, an unrelated video plays. A news article about how Turkey is fighting to protect Antakya’s ancient heritage after the recent earthquake. Below that, a full one third of the screen is taken up by a pop up powered by Survey Monkey that reads: ‘Can we ask you a few questions’. Below and behind the survey pop up you can see another page advert asking if I’m hoarding any old TVs at home. Lastly at the bottom in the sites footer an animated advert to book a foreign holiday.
Not a single word of the page I wanted to read’s content was visible.
I immediately copied the URL and opened it in Brave Browser. I honestly couldn’t believe it. I had no idea that the web had gotten this bad.
I haven’t seen a popup or an advert in my web browser for 20 years. In fact, spelunking an old hard drive recently I found Firefox 0.5 beta from 2003.
Anyways, my recent brush with all that advertising chaos has brought something crashing home to me. If this is what the web is like this for normies, no wonder everyone spends their time in siloed social media platforms or apps. This has got to be a contributing reason to why no one clicks on anything anymore.
I totally get why too.
It’s better to suffer though ads integrated in an app every 3 posts than click a link and have to wade through a spaff of popups, adverts, and EU cookie consent banners.
About 10 years ago I gave a Pecha Kucha at the much missed north London project space Lima Zulu. Called ‘Viewer Discretion Cannot be Advised’.
The talk was written in the context of social media at the time. Back then, it was a norm for graphic images of Gaddafi’s capture, Isis beheadings etc to show up in the feed uncensored without warning or consent. In the talk I spoke about a sense of danger inherent in the hyperlink. What might the world of the future look like when you could click any link on social media and it could send you anywhere. What would culture look like when the day to day realities and conditions of other people on the planet are just a click away?
Now that we’ve arrived in that future of course, the question is answered. People have stopped clicking links entirely. And who can blame them? The web, the open/commercial web, is basically unusable.
I’ve talked somewhat saltily on 301 and my blog before about how Twitter, or X I suppose, has been a terrible place to promote one’s independent work for over the last few years.
For the longest time I’ve thought the reason for the drop in traffic and usefulness of social media for this was because of social media’s de-prioritisation of out of platform links in order to maximise user dwell time and duration spent on site.
But clicking that link in Chrome earlier this week has shown me that it’s both shit social media AND the shit web.
So what are we supposed to do? Our digital landscape has fundamentally changed. Somewhere along the line we traded the early Internet as a place of exploration, creation, and freedom – for an one dominated by algorithms, and ads. Maybe it’s time creators listening ditch Google Analytics, as a first step. I did recently when I rebuilt my blog. But we’re not trapped between ‘bad web’ and ‘bad social’.
Increasingly, the best of the web is happening in places and on platforms where creators have more control. Newsletters, Substacks, Podcasts, Blogs etc. But we also need to rebuild some of the other parts of what we’ve lost.
The creator economies of the ‘bad web’ is creativity in single-player mode. In the 2020’s we should be doing things together in multiplayer mode. Things that involve Community, Sharing and Connection.
If you make and create things online, stay curious and critical about the online spaces you inhabit. Let’s all try and make things and/or places online that are worth spending time in, exploring, and sharing with others. At the very least consider paying for, or even just sharing the things you enjoy online with others.