Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sunday Snippets - the end of the internet?

I have become very tired of constant changes to web sites. This is the new Canberra Times web site. No doubt it's been designed for mobile use, and that's a problem in itself, but its actually a crowded mess for a serious user with limited time. More pap, less content, time consuming navigation.

This is the new Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) web site. At first sight it looks visually appealing. I am still learning to navigate my way around. That, of itself, is a problem. Time limited, I resent having to relearn navigation. However, there is a greater problem. Most of these changes actually take content away. Instead of making it easy for users to choose the content they want, organisations decide which content they think users might want to have. The result can be a mess.

Two weeks ago, I wanted some census data. I know that it's there. I have used it before and very efficient it was. In just a week, I was able to track the pattern of certain key attributes across NSW. Now I wanted part of the same data for one area in Victoria. I could not find it. ABS kept giving me the information that it thought that I might be interested in minus the key data I wanted.

No doubt it's there, but now I need to spend a large slab of time relearning how to find stuff that once was simple.

We are our own worst enemies, of course.

Thursday morning flying to Melbourne, there was a free copy of The Australian. I read it on the plane with interest. I may dislike the paper's political stance, but there was some good stuff there. Since the on-line Australian went behind the paywall, I had stopped reading both the on-line and paper editions. Note I said both. I used to check the on-line stuff, but also buy the paper itself from time to time because I was interested in learning more. Once the paywall went in, the paper dropped of my radar and so did my purchases.

Reading the paper, I thought that if I want the print editions to survive I should buy them. There is still a problem, mind you. If I'm going to quote a story, I want to be able to give an on-line reference and I can't because of the pay wall..

Staying with the worst enemy theme, I little while ago I got a new mobile phone. Suddenly on the way to and from work, I found myself joining the assembled throng checking Facebook and messages. It was quite nice, but then I had to say what am I doing?!  This was my train reading time, a brief and actually precious space, and now I was caught in the trap of instant stimulation to redeem the tedium of travel. Except, and this is important, travel time wasn't tedious. I was trading stimulation for thought.

Recently, Google changed its search algorithms. Part of the aim was to make the search function more mobile friendly. I checked my blogs  as suggested and was told that they were mobile friendly, in part I think because a use a simple old-style format. However, one outcome was a very sharp fall - around 70% - in my total blog traffic.I still have quite high traffic, but the fall is very noticeable.

Then I realised something else. When I went to do my own web searches, the proportion of crap had exploded. It was taking me more and more time to find useful information. I search over a number of computers in different places and the pattern was the same. Even Wikipedia is not immune. Who would have thought that that the Wikipedia entry on a topic would end up on the second or third search page?! And as for "minor" sites like the Australian Dictionary of Biography, the only way I can be certain of getting there is by putting in an ADB identifier.

Yes, to a degree I can work my my way around all this, but it leaves me wondering. The internet was seen as a freedom device, a way of finding things and communicating, that would allow even small niches and specialist interests to reach out and survive, Now I really wonder.

In a world where constant improvement and change is seen as a given, it can be hard to recognise that stability, not doing new things, can be of very real value.


Sue said...

ADB a minor site? Dreadful, simply dreadful.

Anonymous said...

Yes, agree most certainly. The internet needs a good sweep up; there are only so many dusty corners left to fill, surely - and not enough carefully considered controls before they will be lost forever. Jim, I nominate you.

"In a world where "

Aahh! Saw that somewhere on that thing which shall not be named:

- credited to a guy who looks alarmingly like... no, never mind :)

Sue - what's objectionable about the Australian Development Bank, or the Anti-Discrimination Board, or even Australasian Dirt Bike, for that matter. Have you yet not got a bank, or a bike, or a bio? Bless :)


Jim Belshaw said...

Now kvd, you know my views on controls! I used your remarks as a platform for today's Monday Forum post. Sue, I also referenced our 79 trip. This still stands out in my memory as probably the most enjoyable overseas visit.

kvd, you didn't actually address my main point, what I see as a decline in the value of the internet.

2 tanners said...

Google needs to revise its search algorithms so that sharp SEOs don't fill the most likely search page with junk. Unless this is their plan, and they are monetising it in which case I'll wait for Vivaldi to come out and hard code in some search priorities of my own.

(Riddle: Where is the safest place to hide a dead boy? Answer: on page 2 of a Google search, no-one will ever look there!)

Probably like Jim, I look for the occasional job on the internet. What is it with multibillion dollar organisations who can organise a vacancy, advertise it far and wide, only to forget to put the selection criteria on their own website?? At an address that is listed in the job vacancy ad?

OTOH, Jim, maybe the ABS is actually reacting to requests for easy access to very broad brush data at the cost of access to fine data.

So the internet is not (necessarily) losing value, but individual denizens, including quite large ones, are damaging their own worth there. I suspect that in some cases the IT managers have enough layers between themselves and decision-makers that design decisions are not taking in-house advice or expertise into account.

Anonymous said...

Jim, you said I didn't actually address your point, so..:

The other day I read the usual scare story, I think this time in the UK Tele, about just how much 'the internet' knows about you, and, how scary.

But when you drilled down the 10 point (no kpi's) scare plan, it described "a world where" :) people were "living in their internets" via logons to google, facebook, twitter, pinterest, etc. etc. et al.

And "they" (shocks-a-daisy) could tell all this personal stuff about you, and "they" could decide for you what you should see, via search, newsfeeds, or otherwise. I came away feeling less than impressed about how much "they" - those scary they - might know about me.

fwiw my opinion is that if you choose to disclose so much of your life and interests to commercial companies such as those, then you must accept that they will take advantage of your innocence.

And I'm just surprised that you would complain.


Anonymous said...

And what tanners wrote is just self-centered bullsh-t. And I mean that in the nicest possible sense. He's looking at the tool as if it were invented for his convenience - not for the companies large enough to actually earn a dollar from it. Innocence.

For every moderately discerning user (such as he) there are a million willing dupes, all willing to plunk down a dollar or two for the latest "thing" - as brought to them by that which they have come to "trust"; because thinking is hard, and kardashians are cool.


Anonymous said...

Apologies. There were only 7 points, not 10:

Note that small detail mentioned a couple of times "login to your Google account". What a load of bollocks.

In summary, the internet is "free". But penalty points are deducted for how 'free' you are with your own life.


Anonymous said...

And finally, half (only) in jest, I'm thinking of crowd-funding an iPhone app (Android to follow) called something like "GetOffMyLawn" whereby with the press of one button you would be automatically logged off from the above Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, WordPress, Pinterest, SMH, YouTube, eBay, etc.

And also location services disabled, and all your 'cloud' storeage (emails, pics, spreadsheets, correspondence, etc) would be deleted. (But it's so convenient, and surely nobody looks at my stuff?)

Or maybe call it the "Privacy Project" - that has a ring to it, and anything with "Project" in it is bound to attract the punters :)


2 tanners said...

You're half right about my self interest, but why would we consult the web if not for that? In some cases employers will deliberately act dumb because they want to show they tried but due to lack of outside applications, had to hire an insider. In other cases, they will want the best candidate available (regardless of whether or not that is me) and then their carelessness makes little sense.

More importantly, I am happy to be the first crowdfunder for GetOffMyLawn, especially if the icon is a grumpy old man taking potshots at datafiles or login screens. Android version, please, modified for a tablet due to my ever failing eyes.

Anonymous said...

tanners, if you think I'm 'half right' then you only half understand what has happened to you.

For instance, right now, if you have no ubiquitous electronic footprint, you wouldn't be employed at the level you are. Your loss of privacy (or at least, any sort of private existence) is now working for your need for employment.

Geez, even I automatically search out the backgrounds of prospective clients who wish to pay me money for my services, such as they are. How sad is that?


Jim Belshaw said...

Well, chaps, you have wandered well beyond my scope, but that's fine. Love the app idea.