The Infinite Ugly Scroll

Saikat Chakrabarti on Twitter:

Every now and then I think about bad readability on the Internet has gotten and it makes me sad.

Every major website now requires users to complete the same set of tedious tasks approximately every seven or more days from their last visit, or whenever the site’s cookies expire. It is horrible. Between data-addicted advertisers and marketers, and well-meaning but flawed policies intended to impress upon users some semblance of informed consent, the web is increasingly hard to read.

Via Shoshana Wodinsky in the replies to that tweet, here is an excellent March 2020 piece by David Roth for Columbia Journalism Review:

Even on the websites of august institutions ads interrupt the text every two paragraphs; ads follow you down the sides of the page like store security; ads pop up in boxes that resist being closed, the elusive little x evading your cursor.

There have always been websites like this, usually the kind that we save for private browsing: places to stream out-of-market sporting events, or download bittorrents of hard-to-find films, or browse other things that no reasonable person would admit to.

Now, a great many websites are at least a little bit like this. Not all of these sites are as hard up as they appear, but all of them — the authentically desperate and the merely thirsty, the ones trying heroically to sell their way out of a downward spiral and those blithely steering into it — have made the same choice. Which is to look and feel and be more friendly to advertisers than readers.

The galling thing is that this strategy works — not for users, of course, but on an entirely commercial level it works. Now that we are all inured to the horrific experience created in service of anti-privacy advertising schemes, there is little incentive for mainstream websites to do things any other way. This makes money. News websites can experiment with paywalls, but this problem extends far beyond those kinds of websites. Go to the online store of any retailer and you will have to decline a newsletter box and hide some sort of coupon offer; you might have to do the latter twice because it will appear again if you move your cursor towards the tab bar, triggering what is known in the business as an exit intent popup. You are clearly there to browse and perhaps make a purchase, and the retailer still wants to inundate you with hard sales tactics.

The web has fallen so far in just the past ten years. I am worried about what is the next lowest bar online marketers will collectively decide websites no longer have to clear.