Clicktease

It’s apparent to me now: the modern web is designed to give us just enough of what we’re looking for to require us to make an action to find out more. We’re being teased into providing input into the system.

Did someone post an image? Guess what: that image will be cropped with just enough of the bottom edge (where the final words of a meme live, for instance) hidden from view, so we’re forced to click the image to see the full thing. The crop size can be steeper if the bots detect words in the image. That click is an input that tells sites like Facebook that we obviously want more, that we have a stronger susceptibility to clickbait.

Make a post over five lines? Cropped and hidden behind a “Read More” link. The click is an input. The second “Read More” link after a paragraph is yet another input. There’s no loss if they show you the whole post at once; there’s no cost per byte out of the web server, so why do it? Feedback and input. You have to act if you want to read more. Having fewer words doesn’t make the infinite scroll any cleaner or streamlined. It’s the input.

Search on Google for a thing? You’re given a page full of results as paragraph snippets with just enough in each to lead you on to action. None of those snippets provides a shred of what you are looking for. You have to click. It’s like the bots interpret what you search for and explicitly exclude that from the snippets. Want the definition to a word? Unless Google is feeling benevolent, you’re given a pageful of results like “Find the definition of <word> at Dictionary dot com!” instead of seeing any part of the definition itself.

What are the algorithmic effects of all this? Nobody in the general public really knows. My hypothesis is that the ad impressions on the destination sites are mostly the reason. The value of a site’s ad space varies with the number of visitors inbound from affiliates, as well as the number of visitors who stick around for multiple pageviews.

And now many of the major websites are advertising companies at their core, Facebook and Google being the major operators, and it’s incumbent on them to add value to their own system by driving up their own traffic, putting sites that aren’t part of their affiliate networks in a lower priority for search results. The presence of beacons on affiliate sites allows them to track you when you’re looking at things for sale. After looking at cameras, for instance, you go back to Facebook or Google and you see the same camera you were just looking at in a sidebar ad, and you have no control over that. You can’t click it away.

So it’s not just the site operators and content editors making clickbait articles with misleading headlines and lede images, as I’ve previously complained about. It’s the algorithms feeding us shreds of interest to goad us into action. We’re being trolled, like bad uncles sending us on snipe hunts for their own enjoyment and profit.

This is reason 4,815 why I hate the modern web.

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