Decline and Fall (of the Internet)

The internet is coming in for a lot of love in these covid times as we all come to the realisation that we never have to meet our colleagues or extended family in person, ever again! And in the midst of global financial ruin it has been great news for stockholders in everyone’s new favourite company Zoom Video Communications (+6% last Friday) and the unrelated Indian e-learning company Zoom Technologies (+72% last Friday). Who said you had to be smart to earn lots of money in finance?

It is the Southern Oatcake view, however, that the user experience of web browsing is at a low ebb. Things started well in the late 90’s when everything was new and exciting, and the predominantly Californian nerds in their oversized garages coded for fun, having not yet realised that they could make money from advertising.

In a handful of years we went from the invention of Google to the as yet unsurpassed MSN Messenger to the veritable menagerie of free online games from, amongst hundreds of others. Computing even went mobile:

Just as we were all piling online came the first of the internet’s falls- toolbars. Far too easy to install and practically impossible to remove from Internet Explorer 6 (peak IE), hundreds of links and search bars blighted our sight, all ready to take us to some poorly tailored search adverts. Once you had got past the bookmarks bar, the seemingly non-optional Microsoft toolbar, the necessary Google search bar (the Microsoft search was obviously terrible, and one could not yet search from the address bar), the Yahoo tool bar you installed by accident with the latest update of some mundane software package, the tool bar (not you too miniclip!) and weirdly the Ask Jeeves toolbar, which seemed so funny at first, there was barely room left on your hulking CRT monitor to display the bikini pic you had just spent that last 3 minutes loading. All while your parents were deprived of making a phone call while you gobbled up every one of those 56 kbps. And don’t forget about the pop ups!

Google Chrome stormed to the rescue, removing all toolbars from its ultra fast browser and forcing the rest of the industry to follow suit. It was only much later we realised this king of free browsers had been created to harvest everything we do online.

Around this time came the great boom of the browsing experience. Broadband revolutionised our possibilities. Youtube popped in to existence and with the forceful war cry of Leeroy Jenkins it changed the way we consume media forever. Let’s enjoy that special moment again.

God damn it Leeroy.

Then there was smartphones, apps and online services to cater for all of our needs. Sure, the amount of adverts we got increased, but such was the pace of innovation we didn’t care. It all seemed worth it.

Now everyone and their houseful of cute pets has a webpage but we are still making purchases in broadly similar quantities, so the amount of money one can make from an advert has crashed. Instead of everyone closing down their pointless blogs and lifestyle advice pages, the response has been to cram more and more advertising on to each page and to use whatever desperate means necessary to drag our conciousness back to their pages. The second dark age of internet browsing is upon us.

Around 90 seconds before I started this rant my girlfriend (another surprise for my readership there!) sent me an article about the now extinct Giant Ground Sloth of South America from the (possibly) once reputable Business Insider website. As anyone with an animal loving partner knows, one ignores such a link at their peril. The cost of not reading such an article can be large, as I am still discovering as I rage quit the read.

Life is short, dear reader. There is not time to fight your way in to every article. The internet was supposed to improve our lives and make them simpler. But Business Insider is one amongst many that disagrees. How can I simply learn about the Giant Ground Sloth when I have to accept the cookies (never optional), decline the offer to have a jumped up “news” website bombard me with system notifications, turn off my ad blocker, reload the page, re-accept the cookies and then have my ridiculously over-specced £1.5 large laptop freeze as it cannot handle scrolling down the site’s sidebar which is offering me cheap holidays, scientific x-ray cameras, local older women wanting an affair, a discount on Adidas tracksuit bottoms, yet another white American man with a podcast, a Shimano gear set and, for reasons I still can’t work out, half price wigs. All that, to see a picture of a sloth!


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