Forgive me - this isn't specifically about travel. But these themes are pertinent for any sector - travel included.

I've been working in online for the best part of a decade. I've been thinking about how things have changed and how I feel about that. I started blogging in 2008. Hardly anyone had heard of Twitter and Facebook - likewise YouTube. No one had a smart phone. Browsing the net on your phone was a pipedream.

Things have changed. A lot. Has the Net lived up to its early promise? I don't think so. Here are four things that I hate about the internet today. How do you feel about them?

1) Commercialisation of User Generate Content

Remember the early days? People just contributed stuff. Feeling part of a community was enough. I'm thinking particularly of Trip Advisor. People just shared opinions to help each other out and because it was fun.

It's now an incredibly profitable accommodation booking and advertising website. It doesn't strike anyone as outrageous that without the reviews that people provide freely, the site wouldn't function. The site free-rides of the back of this internet -enabled trend of people wanting to devote their time and energies to telling people their opinions. Indeed they've introduced all sorts of badges and rewards (non-monetary of course) to keep people doing it. I fell for it myself for a while. I don't review on TA at all now.

Similarly, the content on Facebook costs Facebook nothing. And Google. Remember how much less cluttered the search results page on Google was? Increasingly the results we see are paid for rather than organic. That's particularly worrying for the little guys, the bloggers, the non-commerical people just writing and sharing stuff because they love it and have something to say. They are getting crowded out by the people with money.

2) The dumb-as-crap advertising revenue model

When I started this blog I was amazed at the conversations. People found me and started to subscribe to my posts. The conversations were exciting and empowering. Fifty comments wasn't unusual. These days a little blog on the internet is competing with some absolute giants spewing out content at a rate of hundreds of articles a day. Much of what’s published by these big publishers is short term, tacky stuff aimed purely at picking up traffic. And because these companies are too dumb or lazy or scared to try other methods of monetization it's a chase to the bottom.

The most recent iteration of this is fake news. No one gives a crap about what they are publishing as long as it gets people's attention. Online content is increasingly focussed on the stupid, the downright nasty and the temporary. That's sad. Little guys writing potentially great content are totally drowned out by all this noise – and Google and Facebook seem quite content to allow the situation to continue – because they don't care as long as the ad dollars keep pouring in. It's turning us into idiots.

3) Being nudged and the lack of privacy

The idea that lots of stuff online was free or far cheaper was almost magical in 2008. Why buy a newspaper when you could read it online for free? Why go to a bookshop when you can buy a book on Amazon and get it mailed to you cheaper? Can you imagine? In the old days you actually paid a monthly fee to have an email account! It's all free now.

But there's a massive sting in the tail. As users of these services – services that need to make money – we're guinea pigs. I've touched on this before. It's getting more and more intense the way that these online services are harvesting data and using it aggressively to maximise the value they can screw out of people in the long term. So you may get a cheaper deal now, but they know all about you. You've coughed up your email address, you've shown them what you're interested in. Get ready for the non-stop attempts to make you buy more or watch more. Emails you don't want, friend suggestions you don't know, notification alerts you don't want, suggestions for other products you’re not interested in.

My wife wanted to buy something from ASOS yesterday. She couldn't check out as a guest. She had to provide her date of birth among other things to complete the purchase. This brazen data collection and these attempts to nudge us into habits we might not want to acquire feels to me like the tip of an iceberg. Facebook sticks suggested friends in your 'friend requests' – trying to nudge you into friending people, it tries to get you to turn on notifications by suggesting it's a 'system' requirement. Update to the latest version of any app and guess what? All the notifications are turned back on, even if you turned them off.

The Facebook app on my iPhone recently picked up a link about a health issue that I had shared with someone using iMessage. It suggested I share it with my friends. Fail to log out of the Facebook app and it monitors what you're doing elsewhere on your iPhone. It tracks your behaviour even when you're not using Facebook. And of course, it's actually quite difficult to log out – because of course, they don't want you to.

The next generation of voice controlled assistants like Alexa, Siri, Google Now and Amazon's Echo are all logging everything you say and that data is stored and analysed and used to sell you stuff.

4) Algorithms push us to extremes

This one has had a lot of coverage recently. I think it was Eli Pariser who first coined the phrase 'filter bubble'. Algorithms serve us up more and more of the stuff they think we like. So if you start reading stuff that's to one side of the political spectrum you'll just get served more and more of it by Facebook and Google or whatever news feed you use.

Imagine if you had the power to influence those first choices someone made around the kind of news the read, or the people they followed or friended? You'd trap them in that algorithm-powered filter bubble and they'd probably not realise. Well… it's happening. Powerful organisations are getting into SEO in a big way. They're spending big to influence the Google search algorithm by publishing vast amounts of dubious and biased information.

Read this excellent piece by Carole Cadwalladr if you want to know more. Start typing 'Are jews… ' into Google and auto complete would suggest 'Are Jews… evil?'. Try it with 'Are women…' and likewise you used to get 'Are women… evil?' Interestingly it looks as if Google has manually changed these two examples almost certainly because of the article I link to above. Carole's follow up piece is well worth a read too. As she says in the first piece most people think Google literally 'is' the truth. Kids assume it's like an encyclopaedia.

I don't like the internet very much now. How do you feel about it?

15 thoughts on “I hate the internet

  1. The Internet remains the same as it's always been, IMHO, it's just that large parts of it are now controlled by corporations, self-interests and politically-motivated schemes to get people elected (hello, Donald Trump!). It is up to us to see through it and refuse to fall into their traps. But that takes some doing.

    1. It is up to us to see through it - similar to my reply to Matthew above... the problem for me is that a LOT of people don't see through it because they just don't understand the situation at all. People are being influenced in negative ways and they don't even realise it's happening. Like you say, it takes some doing... and a lot of money too I reckon. As internet savvy people I think it's increasingly up to us to tell people. There should be lessons in schools educating kids that 'Google is just an advertising machine - it's NOT the answer to everything'. The auto-complete examples in Carole's piece I quote are mind-blowing. Try it. I just randomly tried 'Are black people' - the top auto complete suggestion was 'Are black people real'? Then see the results: https://www.google.co.uk/search?sourceid=chrome-psyapi2&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8&q=are%20black%20people%20real&oq=are%20black%20peopl&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l2.3552j0j7 Scary.

  2. I get where you're coming from, but saying 'I hate the internet' because of advertising & corporations feels a bit like saying 'I hate books' because of Jamie Oliver, or 'I hate movies' because of Hollywood. Sounds like you might be looking at the wrong stuff :) We can settle for the mainstream, and hate it - or we can try and find better, more interesting, worthwhile and creative stuff elsewhere, where it's always been.

    And if it isn't there, we can make it.

    1. I think my concerns are less about me (or you for that matter) - I like to think I'm pretty 'Net-savvy' and I think you are too. What concerns me is people who don't work in digital or media at all. The big corporations are marginalising the good stuff. aggressively and deliberately making it harder and harder to find. And I can't see it getting any better.
      Maybe it's like radio? I guess when it first arrived there were heaps of little radio guys broadcasting to niche audiences... and then bit by bit they got squashed by the bigger players?

      1. Yep, point taken! :) But wasn't it ever thus? Information has always been corralled by big interests - that, after all, is the definition of mainstream - and it takes one or two pioneers in each generation to break the mould and bring Good Stuff direct to the people: Allen Lane inventing paperbacks & flogging them cheap, the Radio Caroline people inventing pirate radio & beaming it into Britain, etc etc. Good Stuff is there, but there's only ever a tiny window where it hits (and often reshapes) the mainstream, before the mainstream flexes, eats it, and then New Good Stuff appears way out on the wacky margins, clunky, hard to find, widely overlooked, until a pioneer breaks through again.

        (Although, in both my examples, the platform - which was the real innovation - persists more or less unchanged!)

        I dunno. I'm pessimistic about a lot of things - far more than I ever used to be - and lots of things that happen online seem to me to be absolutely bad and undesirable, but that doesn't make me hate the internet. It makes me hate other things - our capitulation to deeply destructive forces in society and politics, for one - but not the internet itself.

        1. I think Matthew puts more bones on my feelings in this matter. There are a LOT of reasons to be really pessimistic about the Internet, with the faux news that helped to get Trump elected top of the pile. It is a truly insidious and utterly destructive path. And there are a myriad of other examples which touch on our daily personal and professional lives that are equally dangerous. In many ways, the Internet is in danger of propagating - and becoming - the destructive forces of both fascism and communism in the early part of the 20th century. But it is up those who see it to call it for what it is and to do their best to overcome it and ensure it does not consume the mainstream. There is still a LOT of good online (Avaaz, Change.org, etc) and we need to ensure that kind of positive influence can still have its say. It is obviously a long way from mere travel writing but, as travel writers, we probably tend to have a more world - and caring - view than most. Now, more than ever, we need those views to be aired.

          1. 'as travel writers, we probably tend to have a more world - and caring - view than most. Now, more than ever, we need those views to be aired.'
            I couldn't agree more, Simon. How do we get these views aired? I have no idea.

          1. It's certainly easier said than done! But we have taken the view that we will use the obvious outlets on FB and Twitter to make our views known. We have never offered any social or political comment in the past as we thought the business of what we do should stay separate from our personal views, but we think the time has passed for those kinds of niceties. We do have separate pages on FB for ourselves/Veness Travel Media, but we're not averse to using Twitter for social comment, and the same goes for LinkedIn and Google+. Forums like this are also valuable (can you also put this on LI, for example?). There is obviously a fine line to tread from going on an all-out crusade against faux news and the perils of the Internet, but the more we talk about it on as many platforms as possible, it will help to start to redress the balance. Many regular internet users are certainly ignorant of its perils and pitfalls (including many Millennials, we've found), so it is a case of trying to address the problem in general terms, not knowing quite WHO we might influence, but that we certainly can if we're diligent and persistent. And we're certainly open to other ideas!

  3. As for google suggest/autocomplete can I suggest you just turn it off. I wish google would. Pretty sure big G manipulate it towards bigger advertisers. It's also a pretty poweful tool for the naughty

    eg I just seatched

    Donald Trump is a __________

    First and only auto suggest was


    Maybe the algo ain't totally off

    Nice piece Jeremy

  4. Oh I dunno, use something other than TripAdvisor, use DuckDuckGo rather than Google, use simple privacy tools to minimize tracking, set your cookies to vanish on closing browser ... also make pretty hat out of tinfoil ;-)

    In the next few years the web will fracture, has already begun, and we'll have two webs - a free one swilling with trash and a paid one that is a bit better. Not an ideal result, but arguably better than what we have now.

    Stop using services you don't or no longer like - as I have with Twitter - or as it sounds like you should with Tripadvisor. These are not hard decisions to make!

  5. I see some familiar faces from my twitter days here :) Ironically, given the comment about paying for what you get, I subscribed to your blog feed (as one of a handful only!) back in the days of google reader... And I am still using a free service for feeds, but if that one stopped working I'd probably not even miss it. I feel much the same but I also still love the Internet. What I'm not loving so much is fb,ta and all those guys. I've long gone and deleted the twitter app. Same with fb. Interestingly more and more of my online world is 'private' communication, messenger/wa etc., with real offline friends/colleagues. At least the internet got that part of things right!!

  6. Thanks everyone who had commented so far. It's great to remember how good these debates were/are.
    Lots of people saying - 'well just take action and dump the stuff you don't like'.
    Thing is... I'm not talking about me so much. Sure I can and will do that. It's the bigger picture that concerns me. People who are less internet savvy. They are being manipulated. I've worked alongside SEO people for years and thought nothing of a commercial entity paying to try and influence the search algorithm. It felt like fair game. But a political one? That's really different.

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