Tag: internet

How Much Does It Cost To Browse the Internet, Ad-Free?

Nothing makes me give up on a website faster than seeing every available space on the page filled with ads. If the article I am reading is interesting enough, I’ll try to continue reading only to find that I have to scroll past a large ad every paragraph or two and then try to figure out if the text that I am reading is part of the original article, or ad copy. When the popups asking me to subscribe start, I’m out.

Economics was my worst subject in college, but it seems to me there must be a diminishing return for all of that advertising. If people bail before reading the article, let alone the ads, how can the site be worth advertising on?

I was thinking about this, and as my thoughts wandered, I began to think about cable TV. When I was a kid, there were 3 network channels, and UHF. Cable was a new phenomenon when I was 9 or 10 years old. The thing about some of the channels (like early HBO) that impressed me was that you could watch movies without commercials. Sure, you paid a monthly fee for that privilege, but it seemed moderate enough (to my 10-year-old self) to make skipping the commercials worthwhile.

I also recall the early days of the Internet, which came into its own in 1994, the same time I graduated from college and began my career. Back then, there wasn’t much advertising on websites. Indeed, for a time it seemed anathema. I remember sometime in the late 1990s, when I first saw a Yahoo! commercial on television, and thought, Wow, they have the kind of money to buy a television spot? In those days, you didn’t have to worry about pages filled with ads. You just hand to be careful of the blinking text that was all the rage for a time as people learned to use HTML.

The early days of Facebook also seem, in my memory, to be relatively ad-free, at least compared to today. I suppose that is the classic bait-and-switch of these services: grab you with the services, and then start putting ads in front of you if you want to continue using it–which, of course, many people do. A few months ago, I wondered why Facebook and other social media companies didn’t offer an ad-free version, one in which users would subscribe to via a monthly or annual fee. Imagine what it would be like to use these services without ads. After a few minutes thought (I was walking through the park and clearly remember where I was as I pondered this), I realized that social media companies must make far more money off showing ads to individuals than the would from any reasonable subscription fee that those individuals could pay.

Isaac Asimov, in his science essays, would occasionally explore extremes. I especially loved those essays: what’s the smallest possible distance? The largest? The coldest temperature that can exist? The hottest? It was a thought experiment as much as anything, and thinking of those essays made me wonder: is it possible to estimate how much it would cost the average individual to browse the Internet, completely ad-free? It doesn’t matter what the the answer is. What matters is the possibility of calculating it. I did some rough browsing on this question (seeing plenty of ads in the process) and didn’t come up with much. The cost questions center around how much ad companies make on people, or how much access to the Internet costs. Neither of those is what I am interested in.

Put another way: for the Internet to continue to have new content in much the same way it does today, but to be entirely ad-free, how much would access cost an individual? I imagine it would require calculating profits of countless companies and then dividing that number by total Internet users. What would the order of magnitude be for, say, one month of ad-free Internet browsing? Would it be $50/month per person? $500/month? $5,000/month?

I guess I’d like to know the answer, because once I know it, I’d wonder if it would be worth paying.

A Digital Commonplace Book Protocol for Internet Annotations

Any time I find myself thinking how great the Internet is, my thoughts drift to the one area in which I find it sorely lacking: a native annotation capability. The notion of hypertext and the linking of documents in a digital network is genius. It seems to me that if you can conceive of this, you have to understand that it works well only when you are talking about large volumes of “pages” or documents. And if you imagine large volumes of documents and the rabbit hole the links lead you down, you’ve got to wonder how we missed the native ability to annotate these documents as we go.

There are third-party tools that help with this. These tools can clip articles and store the clipped versions locally. Some of them provide tools for marking up the articles–highlighting, or adding your own annotations. But these often feel flimsy to me. It seems to me that what we need, is foundational tool for annotating what we read on the Internet. And while this does’t seem to be an operating system level function, it certainly seems to be something that a well-designed web browser should be able to do as part of its basic functionality.

Requirement for a Digital Commonplace Book protocol

The Internet is full of standards and protocols, and if I were designing web browsers, I’d see if I could come up with a standard for what I’d call a “digital commonplace book” protocol–DCB for short, since above all, a protocol must have an abbreviation. My DCB protocol would differ in some ways from tools like Pocket or Evernote. My list of requirements for a DCB would look as follows:

  • HTML protocols would be extended to support DCB. There is some additional metadata that would be needed to support annotations, like versioning, and being able to locate specific pieces of text or objects on the page.
  • Highlights and annotations could be stored locally or in a service (like Evernote or Pocket)
  • In addition to the highlights and annotation data being stored, information about the specific page and page version would need to be stored as well.
  • When a browser renders a page, it would look at the digital commonplace book to see if that page had entries, and apply CSS to the page to show the highlights and annotations when viewing the page.
  • If the page had changed since the annotations were captured, the meta-data collected as part of the annotation could provide a reference to the page version it was captured on, and the browser would have a kind of timeline slider for the page that allows you to scroll back in time to see the pages as it was at the time you captured your annotations.
  • On the server side, it might be useful to log how many times (and what parts) of a page have been annotated. These would all be anonymous logs. The site owner would not know who annotated the pages, just that (a) there was an annotation, and it which part was annotated. This would be optional at the site, or even page level.
  • The annotations features would be built into the browser, and the storage format would be standardized, and compatible with any browser.
  • Browsers would provide mechanisms for tagging, updating, viewing, searching, and exporting annotations.
  • The format of the annotations would be an open format readily accessible to other applications and protocols. JSON might be a good start.

The bottom line for me is that if I highlighted some text on a page in a browser, and made some notes about it, and then came back to that page a few days later, the browser would show my highlights and annotations inline as I viewed the page.

Making Kindle annotations compatible with the DCB protocol

The other major source of annotations I make are in the books, magazines and newspapers I read. And while Kindle provides a useful mechanism for highlights an annotating passages, it’s a lot easier to the get the data in than to get the data out.

I would make Kindle apps and devices compatible with the DCB protocol. I imagine this wouldn’t be too difficult, considering that the annotation functionality is already there in the devices and apps, and would just require some tweaking to make it compatible with such a protocol. The part I would spend a lot of time on is making sure it is as easy to get my annotations out as it is to get them in.

I was thinking about this because I am getting ready to write my next post on how I’m using Obsidian to catalog my reading and reading-related notes. I read in all kinds of mediums. I read web pages, articles in apps, on the Kindle, via Audible audiobooks, and of course on good old-fashioned paper.

For me, all books are interactive. I converse with the authors in the margins. I highlight passages and come back later and make notes on why I highlighted them. Long gone are the days when I revered the pristine look of the printed page, over the page that I have made my own. I encourage my kids to do the same.

In thinking about how I’ve organized my reading notes in Obsidian, it occurred to me my methods could be greatly improved if there was a standardized protocol for a digital commonplace book. Alas, one doesn’t exist at this point.

But at least you now have the context for why I organize my reading notes the way I do–but I’m getting ahead of myself here. That will have to wait for another post.

When connected is too connected

I hate to bring this up again, but it’s been happening more and more and I just don’t completely understand it. Just about every time I go into the men’s room at work and someone else happens to be in there, that someone else happens also to be busy on their mobile device. At first, you could hear the soft clicking keys of a BlackBerry emanated from within a stall (in and among other sounds). That someone can’t even go to the can without having to read and reply to email messages is a bit disturbing. But it is at least somewhat understandable. I mean, you’re sitting there right, your hands a free and you’ve got a few moments on your hand. Why not?

But then, I walked into the men’s room the other day and found myself standing at the urinal beside a fellow who was texting or IMing and emailing on his BlackBerry at the urinal next to me. He was doing this with two hands, unashamed, while emptying his bladder. Some might call this multitasking. But come on, I mean there is a line right? There is a point at which the IM or the text message or the email can wait the 60 seconds or so it takes to relieve yourself. No text message is so urgent that it must be coterminous with expulsion of the morning coffee, right? This is the part that I just don’t get. This is the part that seems to me to be too connected. And I wonder if this is just a guy thing. Do women find the same thing going on in their restrooms? (Granted, women don’t have urinals in their restrooms, but those BlackBerry keyboards are surprisingly noisy. My guess would be that they do not do this–at least not as frequently.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to run to the john. Someone just texted me and I’ve got two more emails to reply to.

Cable and Internet access is done! (Almost!)

The Comcast guy got here at about 10:30 and it was surprising how easy it was for him to get my cable setup. There were two minor snags, one of which is resolved, the other of which is pending.

I couldn’t get my computers connected to the internet unless I was directly connected to the cable modem. The cable guy “hated” Macs and furthermore, he didn’t know anything about them. He stuck around for about 45 minutes while I tried getting it working, but no luck. He had to go on another call. I spent the next two hours trying myself. I could get a connection if I was directly connected to the modem, but not if I wasn’t. On the other hand, if I plugged the Airport Extreme base station back into the DSL line, it worked fine. I called Comcast tech support. No help there. Finally, on a whim, I thought that perhaps the base station was retaining the mac address assigned by the DSL modem. I performed a manual reset of the base station, reconstructed my network–and everything worked!

I hooked my TiVo up to the new cable box and got it configured for the new channel line up. One nice feature was that all of my Season Passes were updated with the correct channel automatically. TiVo recently provided an upgrade which allows WPA2 encryption, so I was able to convert my wireless network back to WPA2 encryption. That is working great now too.

The final snag was that I was supposed to get a Digital DVR for the bedroom. There were none in the warehouse at the time the service guy went out there. So I have only “basic” cable in my bedroom right now. (That’s fine because I don’t watch much TV in there.) He said he’d keep checking the warehouse today and if they got one in, he’d bring it out. Otherwise, I’ll probably have to wait until next week. Once I have that, however, I’ll have DVR capabilities in both rooms (meaning I can record Gray’s Anatomy and Scrubs since they are on at the same time.)

I was frustrated by the Internet connection issue, but I’m glad that I got it all fixed. On initial glance, I think the cable connection is faster than my DSL. I noticed download speeds of just about 1 MB/second earlier. I’m going to confirm my downloading the most recent episode of Battlestar Galactica from the iTunes store. In the past, it takes about an hour to download. We’ll see how it goes over cable.

With the Inteweb, who needs the evening news?

Okay, I realize that there are many people out there who don’t have access to the Interweb (as “House” likes to refer to it). But I keep coming up with more and more creative ways to make use of it.

Case in poiint: During House last night, there was one of those commercial spots for the evening news that lasts about 10 seconds, where the anchor said something like, “He graduated with a degree in math and physics in one year…at eleven.” I’ve always hated these types of ads. It goes to show the lengths that the news organization will go through to get your attention. Since when did the news become a mystery story? Whatever happened to “Who, what, when, where, how and why?” Even when these late night news broadcasts start, they tend to lead with some tantalizing bit, and then say, “But first…”

Well I don’t watch the late night news. Aside from the fact that it’s terrible, it’s on at 11 PM and that is past my bedtime on a school night. But I was particularly curious about the person who “graudated with a degree in math and physics in one year”. I decided to use the Interweb.

It took me two google searches. The second search (search term = “degree in math and physics in just one year”) took me right to this article from a local news radio station. In ten amount of time it took my local anchor to blurb this story, I had read the entire article. The commercials weren’t even over yet. I had defeated their clever little attempt to suck me into watching a “news” broadcast that would have Edward R. Murrow spinning in his grave!

I felt great!

With the Interweb, who needs the evening news?