Category Archives: webmedia

Ad-blocking

One of those simmering arguments in the background has been blowing up spectacularly lately. The advertising industry, and to a lesser extent, the media industry, is up in arms about ad-blocking software. They do not like it and to some extent, you can probably understand this. It does not, exactly, support their industry.

There are two approaches which I think need to be considered. The advertising industry and the media industry, instead of bleating about how stuff has to be paid for, need to consider how they have contributed to this mess. On mobile, in particular, advertising is utterly destroying the user experience. When I wind up with content that I want to read because I can’t access because there is a roll over ad blocking it, for which I cannot find a close button, then the net impact is not that I feel a warm fuzzy feeling about the advertiser and the media site in question. The net impact is that I spend less and less time on the media site in question.

So, instead of screaming about how stuff has to paid for with advertising, maybe the media companies need to recognise how advertising is wrecking their user experience and how, ultimately, that is going to cut their user numbers. The fewer eyes they have, the less their advertising is going to be worth. I have sympathy for their need to pay their bills but at some point, they need some nuance in understanding how the product they are using to pay their bills now will likely result in them being unable to pay their bills at some point in the future.

As for the advertising industry, I have less sympathy. They appear to think they have a god given right to serve me content which I never asked for, don’t really want and which might cost me money to get particularly on mobile data. Often, the ads don’t load properly and block the background media page from loading. They have made their product so completely awful as a user experience that people are working harder than ever before to avoid it. Instead of screaming about how adblockers are killing their business, it would be more in their line to recognise that they have killed their business by making it a user experience which is so awful, their audience are making every effort to avoid it.

The ability to advertise is a privilege, not a right. It would help if advertisers worked towards maximising user engagement on a voluntary basis because by forcing content in the way which is increasingly the normal – full screen blocking ads – on users they are damaging the brands and the underlying media channels. Maybe advertisers don’t care. Maybe they assume that even if every newspaper in the world closes down, they will still find some sort of a channel to push ads on.

Adblocking software should be reminding them that actually, they probably won’t.

 

All for the want of a nail

Last week, it was announced that the Web Summit would be leaving Dublin and this caused a certain amount of handwringing about the impact this would have on Ireland. There were muttered comments about hotels and room rates as well.

I found it very difficult to get excited and upset about this. The bigger news in Dublin last week was the “delaying” of the interconnector, a massive, massive piece of infrastructure which the city is screaming out for and has been screaming out for since I do not know when. Dublin public transport is painful.

The other issue is that I’ve never really seen the Web Summit as anything to get excited about. I have never seen it as a technology conference and most of the people I know who went to it worked in marketing or were students. I’ve always felt a lot of claims have been made for it but when push came to shove, they really only seemed to mention one big deal that was done there. And it was the sort of deal which doesn’t happen without a lot of advance preparation. In short, it was the sort of deal which I suspect would have happened anyway.

So where does that leave us? Well, I still don’t care about the fact that the Web Summit is relocating to Lisbon. My personal experience of rush hour traffic getting from Lisbon to the airport in Lisbon would not necessarily lead me to believe things are massively better there. But there are linked issues. We don’t really have the infrastructure for a large indoor conference like that (although let’s face it, we do a decent enough job on music festivals and ploughing championships). The question is, would it be worth our while building somewhere to handle conferences and fairs with an attendance of tens of thousand? I have some doubts. If we learned anything much in the last 10 years – and I doubt it was much – it was that Build It And They Will Come is not a recipe for success. I cannot see the point in doing something like that unless we could identify a minimum number of annual events to make it worth our while to build it. I’m not in event management so maybe someone could come up with it. However, I do have certain interests and can say that frankly I have had cause to look at some of the events which go to the Hannover Messehalle and Frankfurte Messe. We’ve a long way to go.

That being said, the big issue I have with the Web Summit is that it’s not a technology conference much and it certainly isn’t tech sector in my view. It’s event management and that’s it. I don’t think it’s a loss to our tech sector and for all that’s said about it, evidence that it has a major impact on our tech sector seems to be scant. Given the ability to shout about it, I find this curious.

If we are to be concerned about the Web Summit at all, it is purely in the context of whether we want to be able to attract large conferences/fairs/shows to Dublin and whether, given our relative isolation, we would be able to. We can be expensive enough to reach if you’re not on a point to point connection. So no decision on whether the loss of Web Summit is good or bad should be made in the context of ochon o my chroi, we’ve lost the Web Summit, but in the hard cold calculations of whether we can, at least 4 times a year, get large numbers of people to come to Dublin for a conference of any description. When I look at the conferences I’m more familiar with such as CeBit in Hanover and the London Stationery Show (I have diverse interests), I recognise that we are nowhere close to even being able to start with these things. And for all the big shows which take place like the various car shows, yes these places have airports. Most of them also have rail connectivity to other urban areas. Put simply, I doubt you could argue in favour of a large conference venue in Dublin absent a high speed train connection to more places than Cork and Belfast. We are not Frankfurt, we are not Hanover. We are not London. Our hinterland is too small for things like this in my view. For all that Portugal has a bigger population, I’m not convinced that they are any better either.

I’m of the opinion that if Web Summit genuinely had a vision of a future where they were huge and could bring that level of audience to Ireland consistently, they would be able to build their own premises as a conference centre. If the demand for large conferences in Ireland was there, it would make them a profit. If it isn’t, it wouldn’t. They’ve very obviously voted with their feet.

GIT and open source, the victory or not

During the week, Wired published a piece under the title Github’s Top Coding Languages Show Open Source Has Won.

This is basically – and I am being diplomatic here – not what Github’s Top Coding Languages shows.

Fundamentally, for Github to show this, every piece of operational code would have to be on Github. It isn’t. I’d be willing to bet less than half of it is, and probably less than a quarter, but that’s a finger in the air guess. Most companies don’t have their code on Github.

What Github’s top ten coding language shows is that these are the ten most popular languages posted by people who use Github. Nothing more and nothing less.

I suspect Github know this. I really wonder why Wired does not.

 

In search, Google’s localisation seems to be poor

Google are able to identify my location via useful clues like the GPS on my phone, and, I suppose, a reverse look up of the IP from which I connect to the internet sometimes. On my computer, Google knows exactly where I am, down to demonstrating my location when I open Google Maps, for example. There are additional clues: I’ve told it, in the past, that I am based in Ireland, and, mostly, when I run search, it is via Google.ie.

But it has become increasingly useless as far as finding outlets for online shopping. Today, I am looking for top spiral bound A4 notebooks – we’ll skip why exactly that is the case because it doesn’t matter. Google returns to me, as top search results, companies uniquely in America. This problem is not unique to top spiral bound A4 notebooks – I have had similar frustrating experiences with art supplies. There could be a thousand stationery shops in the UK, Ireland, and most of Europe, and Google still seems to think that someone based in Ireland is going to order off companies in the United States of America.

I appreciate some of this is based on search engine optimisation carried out by the companies concerned, but given that Google’s sponsored links are generally regionally appropriate, or at least more so than the first 2 or 3 of its search results, it would help if the organic search results were also regionally appropriate.

There is a wider issue with Google in my experience, however; while it provides services in a large number of languages, and provides online translation facilities, it seems to mainly operate on the assumption that most of its users are monolingual. I generally have an issue with Google News on that front, and have basically set up a feed from Twitter to pull news from a number of different source languages. For all the media organisations which Google News serves, it doesn’t seem to cope well with the idea that people might be more than monolingual.

The rush to apps…

A little while ago, I noticed that if I tried to open a link to a major property website in Ireland, it insisted on sending me to an unknown protocol and demanded that I used its app.

The website in question has a website. It may not be completely pretty on a mobile browser, but you know, sometimes I am in a hurry. And when I am opening a link from an email either in an email application which has a local browser or from web readable email in something like Chrome or Safari, I expect the link to open. I don’t expect to be told the browser doesn’t recognise the protocol and I don’t expect to be told that the company has an app and then be redirected to the app store to get it.

I expect the page to open.

I realise there has been some serious bandwagoning around app development – but the problem is this. We’re moving to web based applications via a browser on desktops – slowly – but we’re getting there. To quote that nice Mr Randall Munro, at XKCD:

 

But we seem to be moving in the other direction on mobile. I don’t want 100 applications on my phone. I don’t need an app for every individual company whose website I wish to browse. Already, at least one company that I can think of (but won’t name) has an app which doesn’t even include the key functionality I need from that company. And they are still pushing me to use their app.

This is not stepping forward. It’s stepping backwards. If this is the future, I really, really don’t want it.

I have a browser for a reason.  I expect to be able to browse data on the web in it. I expect not to need a proprietary application per company to get at their online store front.

I know you’ve got an app for that but

…it doesn’t do what I want it to do.

This rush to put out apps for mobile devices is completely futile if your app has less functionality than your website does. And continually insisting on tell me about your app which is crippled compared to your website is a futile exercise if you want to win my heart and mind. I’ve downloaded your app. It’s functionally useless for why I want to visit your website. If I visit your website from a mobile device, serve me the link I clicked on and stop giving me a page that says your app exists and I should download it. I ALREADY HAVE AND IT DOESN’T DO WHAT I NEED IT TO DO.

Have you got that? I click on a link in my email to a page on your website and I can’t get to it because you’ve blocked it with a demand to download your app.

 

 

 

 

 

There is no point in having a mobile app for the sake of having a mobile app.

Failed personal projects – NowILiveHere.com

One of the hardest things you have to do sometimes is reflect on projects which fail for whatever reason. For me, the key one is just occasionally, an idea comes along and I cannot give it the time it requires to make it work. We have only got a limited amount of time, it seems.

For me, the one that I really regret was the NowILiveHere.com idea. I’ve completely abandoned it for now because with the benefit of hindsight, the idea was nice, but making it happen turned out to be difficult in light of the amount of time I had to devote to it.

The idea was simple enough. NowILiveHere.com was to be a directory of all the activities you could get up to no matter where in Ireland you lived. The key objective of it was to make it community content driven – that meant people could sign up and plot their town and their local clubs and activities on it – so that if A N Stranger arrived in the town, family in tow, for a new exciting job and start in their lives, they had somewhere to look other than the local newspaper to find out about things that they could get involved in.

I believed this mattered because on the surface, most of Ireland appears to have GAA and the odd football team. I am willing to bet, however, that the top rugby players in small towns in Cork are completely unaware that the North Cork Lacemaking Guild is one of the best in Europe if not the world, or where the local judo club meets.

Part of this is rooted in my own youth. When I was a teenager, the choice of activities seemed to be limited to some of the more obvious (GAA) sports. I was fortunate that my parents were good enough to get me to a swimming pool every Sunday morning during the winter because I had zero interest in the local camogie club. Part of this is also rooted in a conviction I have that very often, things are going on that we just don’t know about. Things like knitting clubs, volunteer organisations building things. The media would have you believe that all the weekend is about is partying and sleeping in on Sunday morning. But I pass through towns, small towns, and realise that they have karate clubs, yoga classes and I thought that a central site where you could just go “okay, I’m living in Portlaois for the next year or so, what’s going on there?” rather than spend weeks asking at libraries, looking at notices in supermarkets.

When I built it – and I built it twice –  I set it up on Mediawiki because it struck me as possibly the handiest CMS for a project like that. I had grand plans involving linking into Google maps as well. Typically, however, on both occasions, it got heavily attacked by spam and I didn’t have the time to do any of the wider customisation and development I had in mind for it. Sometimes, the tools we give something are just the wrong fit.

I’ve been thinking about the whole idea again lately and am still tempted to try and figure out a way of making it happen. I might not necessarily go with Mediawiki – having looked at that again lately for other reasons, I’ve concluded that it doesn’t fit the needs of that project any more; that in fact, building something straight onto a Google or Bing map might even be a better fit altogether rather than trying to build anything more elaborate.

I’m still interested in making it community driven; I look at how boards.ie has developed into something highly useful (although occasionally monumentally diversionary) for a lot of people, particularly in specialist areas (I have an interest in the photography and commuting and transport fora there). It’s just, something like that can be hugely open to abuse, and the question is how you go about policing it. On the flipside, I really have no idea what people do in their spare time in the way of clubs and societies and classes in every town in Ireland. I need to crowdsource that information.

On balance, though, it matters that people who have ideas look at trying to implement them, and learning from the failure.