Every book on building websites and blogs has stressed the following point since ancient humans first described their hunts using stick figures scrabbled onto cave walls:
Content is king.
I guess that’s why the latest It Thing that makes the internet go is building innumerable barriers to content. A new day dawns. Welcome to the Lack of Information Age.
The paradigm shift away from content is now complete. Content is an old and busted philosophy. The new reality is stark and simple. It’s called Money Grub. Low class, I know, but somehow it always comes back to the almighty dollar.
One website I really enjoy recently sent out a bulk email containing the urgent news. Web traffic is surging while revenue (dependent on advertising) is plummeting into the toilet. As you might imagine, that’s not a very effective combination. This immensely successful website is now asking for donations and characterizes the situation as their very survival at stake.
Being one of the biggest and best websites on the web is no longer good enough to guarantee survival.
Meanwhile, the assault on our eyeballs, patience and intelligence is is full swing. How do they ignore the old adage “Content is King?” Let me count the ways.
You clicked a link from Google News? Ha ha! You deserve what you get. More often than not these days that’s the content fuzzed out and barely visible in the background. In the foreground is a popup box that must be dealt with.
“I am the gatekeeper. You shall not pass!”
Content was the king. Now it’s more like court jester.
Some websites now make you complete a survey to view their content. Answer these two questions and we’ll let you in. I have two words in response: Fuck and you. Weird, they aren’t on the list.
So I do what comes natural. I provide fake answers. Either I click at random or select the exact opposite of whatever might be true. “How likely are you to buy a John Deere Utility Tractor in the next 27 minutes?” I click the button that says “Hella!”
The Audience Is Listening
It’s the middle of the night. You can’t sleep so you tiptoe silently into to the office. Manners aren’t totally dead in this culture yet. You don’t want to wake anyone up. It’s called being considerate. Look it up!
The wife is on your lap and that cat is snuggled all cozy in the bed and snoring loudly. Or is that the other way around?
You click a website link.
BOOM! It’s like THX on steroids. The cat unloads several bloody gouge lines across your face as she launches out of the room faster than Apollo 13 and the wife is awake and demanding, “Who has disturbed my slumber?” Oh shit.
Yes, the website had audio that autoplayed. No shit, Sherlock. No less than three things are animated and moving around the screen including a video of an advertisement for a video you did not ask to play.
And we use to think 468×60 banner images were offensive.
You’re trying to read a news story about the latest rape of a 14-year-old girl by the high school football team but the article is blocked by a giant dancing bottle of refreshing Mountain Dew and the slogan “Just Dew it.” Somehow it’s distressing having to figure out a way to dismiss such a trivial commercial message while attempting to read about how another person’s life was just ruined by this indifferent culture. But everything is golden if there’s a way to profit from it, of course.
We want you to be interested in our content. We want you to come to our site because when you do you’ll see our advertising. But we’re also using a subscription model. We’ve trimmed our editorial staff by 80% and slashed wages. We’ve discontinued the print edition. That means value for you so we’re charging money. By viewing this page you are using 1 of 3 visits allowed this month. Sign up and pay $$$ because after all the deep cuts we’re obviously worth it. Enjoy this “free pass” to our “exclusive content.”
Advertisers toil endlessly working to improve (for them) the wallet extraction experience. I could be wrong but it seems to me they are gaining much more control over their environment. They are now able to manipulate the internet at the molecular level. Click into their news site in search of content and it’s like watching Leonardo da Vinci on time lapse. The website loads. A little dab here, a splash of color there. The framework of the site begins to take shape. The process seems to take forever. Slowly, though, advertising begins to load and fill in the gaps like butter leaking into a Thomas’ english muffin. Everything loads except the actual article. If you’re lucky, it’ll be loaded a full minute after the rest of the website was complete.
It’s a miracle. You’re actually able to view some contents. In your excitement you make a mistake. You move the mouse and/or scroll down to view more. Yikes. 27 boxes just popped out and, surprise, are blocking the story. Try to find the world’s tiniest X icon to close them down. Sometimes, despite your best efforts or perhaps their evil programming you are transported to a
dream world of magic new page which is an advertisement for Viagra Enema Gel. They know you so well! In desperation you click the BACK button and get to relive to last eight minutes of page loading all over again!
The page loads and you can see the top line of your content at the very bottom. The top of the page is consumed by an advertisement, usually a video or animated image, that is approximately the size of Rhode Island. Advertisers sure like to be subtle. So you scroll down and start to read, but as you do the advertisement magically closes on it’s own and suddenly you’re reading the copyright warning in the site’s footer.
Idiot consumers love lists. Content producers know that. If you are stupid enough to click a headline like “Jessica Alba’s 42 Favorite Styles Of Underwear” you’ll be in for a real treat. The story has been paginated into bite-sized pieces known in the industry as sucker bait. Each piece is about the size of a quark, a sub-atomic particle a lot smaller than an atom. To view the next page, you are forced to click a link. Guess what? Now you have to wait for a whole new page to load including new videos, advertisements, popup windows. Rinse. Repeat. Enjoy.
This is the part where you prove you actually exist. I gave you my content. Now you give me something. Reciprocity. Quid pro quo, Clarice. Use the comment space below to describe other egregious forms of content molestation. What are your observations and experiences?
Comply. Resistance is futile.