Discussions about the Web - November 2019

created Nov 25, 2019

These are recent threads that I saw at Hacker News.

R.I.P Web - 1989-2014

Okay. This is a catchy title. The C programming language died in the early to mid-1990s, especially after Java was released in the mid-1990s.

Email was pronounced dead in 2005, and today, not a single person nor organization on Earth uses an email newsletter.

Blogging or personal web publishing, like here at sawv.org, was pronounced dead in 2008, 2012, and 2016. Actually, every year since personal web publishing became popular in the 1990s.

"The Web Began Dying in 2014 (2017) (staltz.com)"
https://staltz.com/the-web-began-dying-in-2014-heres-how.html
https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21618373

Big browser drama

"Edge vs. Chrome: Microsoft's Tracking Prevention Hits Google the Hardest (zdnet.com)"
https://www.zdnet.com/article/with-its-new-edge-browser-microsoft-takes-dead-aim-at-google/
https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21621329

Accessibility arguments

Always a hot topic, especially between people who like simple HTML websites for static document-type websites versus people who like to create client-side JavaScript web apps for EVERYTHING, including document-type websites.

Accessibility is important, obviously, for web apps, such as Fastmail and other fancy apps that require users to login to perform tasks. Such apps would include project management, banking, and accessing personal medical info.

But is client-side JavaScript required for such apps? Obviously not, since those functions have been available for long time, some of those functions existed in the 1990s when the client-side was primarily HTML and maybe CSS, and each user click in the web browser caused a GET request to a server-side program. Pages were dynamically generated. The Common Gateway Interface was the primary server-side tech used. How is this paradigm worse today when our internet connections are faster, and our computers are faster?

"No more Google for console junkies (blind.guru)"
https://blind.guru/endofgoogle.html
https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21626995

TBL's contract to save the web

"Tim Berners-Lee unveils plan to save the web (theguardian.com)"

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/nov/24/tim-berners-lee-unveils-global-plan-to-save-the-internet

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21626473 - 7 comments

Top comment:

Step one: do not create a DRM standard.

Step two: if it happens, make sure it can't be a proprietary binary blob.

Step three: damn, too late

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21624316 - over 90 comments

Top comment:

If he really wants to save the web, maybe start by reversing the insane decision on EME DRM that allowed it to turn into a secret vote at the W3C

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/07/amid-unprecedented-controversy-w3c-greenlights-drm-web

I'm really sick of these "influencers" doing horrible things and then coming back and expecting us to give them blank checks as defenders of the web, when they only seem to do the right thing when it's convenient for them. Get your own house in order before coming out and trying to fix everybody else's.

I'm guessing that none of the media articles will mention TBL's involvement with the above issue.

https://contractfortheweb.org/

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/24/opinion/world-wide-web.html

"Sir Tim Berners-Lee attacks Tories over misinformation"
https://www.bbc.com/news/business-50539795

If TBL is implying that misinformation campaigns are owned by "one side," then he has definitely lost it.

Too much focus is placed on Facebook. That's probably because Facebook allegedly has 2.4 billion users, and Twitter "only" has 300 million users.

But in my opinion, because nearly every journalist uses Twitter, then Twitter is the easiest and fastest way to spread lies. It's not that journalists are directly responsible, but journalists are no different than any other Twitter user when it comes to quick reactions without verifying. Misinformation campaigners can exploit journalists.

https://www.grahamcluley.com/twitter-warns-verified-users-against-attempts-to-mislead-public-about-conservative-factcheckuk-stunt/

Twitter is ruined by design. That's its main problem. Twitter is performing as intended, which is bad for the world. It's designed to inform AND misinform. Only a radical redesign of Twitter could improve Twitter, but then it would no longer be Twitter. It would be something useful.

https://www.techmeme.com/191125/p5#a191125p5

https://mediagazer.com/191125/p3#a191125p3

150+ orgs, including Google and Facebook, back Tim Berners-Lee's Contract for the Web, pledging to guard the web from abuse or face removal from supporter list

Cheese and crackers. If an initiative that hopes to reduce web abuse involves Google and Facebook, then the idea is a sham.

Top comment from the bigger HN thread:

If he really wants to save the web, maybe start by reversing the insane decision on EME DRM that allowed it to turn into a secret vote at the W3C

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/07/amid-unprecedented-controversy-w3c-greenlights-drm-web

I'm really sick of these "influencers" doing horrible things and then coming back and expecting us to give them blank checks as defenders of the web, when they only seem to do the right thing when it's convenient for them. Get your own house in order before coming out and trying to fix everybody else's.

Any business that supports Google's AMP is abusing the web. We need AMP-shaming.

https://boingboing.net/2019/11/25/aspirational-r-us.html

Corporate signatories promise that they will "make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone," "respect and protect people’s privacy and personal data to build online trust," and "develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst."

That's hilarious, considering these two paragraphs:

Individuals are asked to "be creators and collaborators on the Web," "build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity," and "fight for the Web."

Each of these points is unpacked in detail, with examples and references to international documents. Signatories include EFF, the Open Data Institute, Reddit, the W3C, Google, Github, Reporters Without Borders, Telefonica, Twitter, Github, Accessnow, Facebook, Duck Duck Go, Microsoft, the Open Knowledge Foundation, the Indian Public Library Movement, and many others.

Does Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook have to respect civil discourse? If so, then those companies will need to shutdown.

https://twitter.com/mlasandthelike/status/1198904369053388800

Essentially it's a plea from the inventor of the World Wide Web for people to please stop being arseholes online.

https://twitter.com/keithkurson/status/1198945468094590977

lol orgs including facebook tells me everything i need to know

That dude shares my suspicion.

https://twitter.com/torgo/status/1198883295255289856

“@timberners_lee unveils global plan to save the web” https://www.theguardian.com/ ... Great initiative but the presence of Facebook as a signer is frankly a joke, considering how they are rubbing shoulders with the far right & profiting from the spread of disinformation. Action needed.

It's hilarious that the above person used Twitter, the cesspool of the internet, to complain about disinformation existing on another platform. Twitter is an enragement machine. Twitter is worse than Facebook.

But users enjoy those services. Conundrum. Many small, local business owners maintain Facebook pages, but they do not maintain websites at their own unique domain names. I don't have a Facebook account, but I occasionally search and check Facebook pages of small local businesses for updated info.

Facebook seems to be the most important service for local small businesses and makers. Instagram is second. Etsy and Ravelry are used too, depending upon the maker. Twitter does not seem to be important, at least when I need to search for info about local makers and small businesses.

If I ran some kind of personal boycott of local small businesses, artists, and crafters who don't maintain websites on the open web, then I would reduce my enjoyment in real life, and I would take business away from those people.

The media people, tech people, and activists like TBL who complain about Facebook may be clueless as to how important Facebook is to small businesses and small makers.

Add major Facebook features such as Groups and Events to the mix, and then it becomes clear why so many people use Facebook and won't ever delete their accounts. They might change how they use Facebook, regarding who and what they follow, but I know that my wife finds Facebook Groups to be very important to her. Nothing exists that's comparable. Not Reddit subreddits.

But ...

https://chat.indieweb.org/2019-11-25/1574686268856200

12:51 @KateFlood PSA - if you added your mobile number when you joined instagram, it's not private. Anyone that follows you can access it and contact you via Whatsapp. What the actual fuck https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EKKajvpXsAUt8RJ.jpg (twitter.com/_/status/1198690400489398272)

Yeah, Facebook is or will become a good citizen of the web and/or internet.

TBL's website, although this is not a personal website.

https://webfoundation.org/2019/11/we-need-a-better-web-to-help-secure-childrens-basic-rights/

Wow. That's sleazy to frame the issue as something to help the children. Who could be opposed to be helping the children? And this is odd:

For updates about our work, sign up to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter at @webfoundation.

Follow them on the cesspool???

From the webfoundation.org post:

Just over half of the world is now online and Unicef estimates that one in three internet users are children. All around us are examples of young people using the web to innovate, express themselves, share knowledge and connect with people globally in ways that were unimagined three decades ago.

But the web is not the unambiguous public good it was intended to be. Many children and young people don’t have it at all, and for those who do, it isn’t all good. Too many lives are blighted by harmful content, harassment, data breaches and the shocking increase in sexual abuse online – and children are the most vulnerable. We need to fix the web.

If the cesspool, Twitter, can be used for good purposes by many people, then the same applies to the web and to the internet. The open web, however, gives more control to the users than a silo. The open web and internet are good now. Warts exist, but it's the bad with the good. Attempting to eliminate the bad on the open web/internet could harm the web/internet for all.

HN comment from the larger thread:

I'm sorry, but this just sounds like a bunch of feel-good babble that isn't taking anything seriously.

Free speech? Fundamental rights? "Support the best in humanity"? "Build strong communities"?

Yes, these are all good things. But also all in deep, fundamental conflict with each other. Moral and political philosophers have been debating how to resolve them for centuries... and the disagreements are just as strong as ever.

His plan isn't taking any strong stances at all, which would involve actually making decisions between competing values. Instead, he's just trying to have it all -- which sounds good, but provides zero actionable guidance.

Reply comment to the above:

It's even worse than feel-good babble. It's signaling TBL's shift from advocating a decentralized free internet towards a centralized censored internet.

"Free speech? Fundamental rights?" are what we want, but people who claim to want free speech and then claim they want "Support the best in humanity"? "Build strong communities"? ultimately mean that they want censorship.

It's basically what happened to social media and the internet. Remember that everyone from Reddit to Zuckerburg to news companies claimed they supported free speech a decade ago. Then money/politics/etc got involved and they started talking about ""Support the best in humanity"? "Build strong communities"?" and we have a censored dystopia on our hands.

In china, they use "harmony" as a propaganda tool to justify censorship. In the west, we use "civility" along with "best in humanity", "universal human rights", etc to justify censorship.

In my opinion, TBL and the above commenter are conflating content moderation by silos and censorship by governments. What Facebook does regarding content posted to their platform never involves censorship because Facebook is not obligated to be a platform for free speech. Our First Amendment does not apply to web silos, regardless of how big they become.

China, by design, does not offer its citizens free speech rights, like what exists in many other countries. I would say that is a form of censorship, but if China is also not a platform for free speech, does it engage in censorship when free speech has never existed.

Actually, the Chinese citizens can engage in free speech activities, but if the Chinese government becomes aware of such activities, then those people could be severely punished or disappeared.

Content moderation strategies used by the web silos are based upon increasing revenue and not based upon improving humanity.

HN comment that might be one of the best observations:

I suppose it comes down to who defines "the best" or what good and bad is. Your definition most likely won't be the same as mine.

Times that by 6 billion (and different cultural attitudes in different lands) and it's obvious we will never always agree. The World Wide Web won't solve the differences between people.

That's the scary part of TBL's idea. Someone else will decide what's permitted to exist on the web and what I can access. I prefer to decide. I don't need TBL's help.

HN comment:

Does anyone mind me being skeptical if this plan has been signed by Google, MS and Facebook from the start? These all sound very nice, but I don’t think there’s any company or government that would claim not to do these things.

HN reply to that comment:

Does Google and Facebook "signing" it mean they agree to abide buy the plan? If not, signing it means nothing. If so, then either they are lying, or the plan imposes so few restrictions that it is worthless.

HN reply to that reply:

Latch on to the plan from the start so they can influence it when it starts to look like it's going to impact their bottom line while also looking like they're the good guys.

Another HN reply:

The article says they will be kicked out if they don’t abide by the contract.

Kicked out of a list? And that does what? How many of Facebook's 2.4 billion users would notice that Facebook got removed from a list? What percentage of Facebook's 2.4 billion users know who TBL is?

Common sense HN comment:

If you care one wit about saving the web, then you will recognize that both the best and the worst of humanity will continue to coexist on the web so long as they continue to exist within humanity.

That does not mean that from a policy or prosecutorial perspective we should not continue to investigate and prosecute crimes as they occur, but crime will occur, and the best we can do is work to protect ourselves and others. That means security and privacy and cryptography.

Now there is the question, does the web need to be saved? I’m open to discussing whether it does, but the problem with this assertion is that it has never been easier to build and host a website containing all that you can legally host. If there are problems, they are legal, not technical. You can host webshit or family photos or pornography or your blog or a list of links to your favorite websites or a collection of selfies or a review site or a private reddit clone or your class notes or some personal research or any number of other things, because I could sit here all night typing out examples and probably find out of Hacker News has a character limit in the process.

You can serve JavaScript or ads or well designed style sheets or really really bad style sheets they make the blink tag look positively understated, or you can serve plain Jane HTML or even plainer text files, or even PDFs or DOCs or DOCX files or videos or sounds or any number of other binaries.

I’m not sure entirely what we’ve lost besides the websites that the owners have chosen not to host any longer. People have made bad choices about where to host the only copies of something they loved and built and hosted on someone else’s server, only to see those sites shut down, and will probably continue to make such choices. This is fine, an integral part of liberty is to have the ability to source enough rope to hang yourself with.

Enjoy the things you have now, for nothing lasts forever. Make that which you would like to see more of to seed the world and inspire others.

HN comment:

Google, Facebook and Microsoft are supporters of this? And do their names have to come before many others in the list? Do these companies now have the audacity to claim that they support or will abide by this contract? It sounds like propaganda lifted straight out of 1984 — “freedom is slavery” and “ignorance is strength”.

HN comment:

The "build strong online communities where everyone feels safe and welcome" point seems impossibly idealistic. And indeed, for lack of a better word, boring. I'd rather have a diversity of communities, run however they choose. If someone doesn't feel "safe and welcome", they can just go away.

Interesting if true ...

Link to the Plan (or Contract as it's being called): https://contractfortheweb.org/

HN reply:

The site's GDPR pop-up doesn't allow opt-out of tracking. What a great example to set for the web.

Another HN reply:

And phones home to a bunch of Google sites. I think we can safely ignore this.

HN comment:

We can start by preventing ads that highjack pages and redirect to undesirable locations. I tried three times to read the article on my phone and was redirected to other sites.

When viewing the Guardian article, Privacy Badger stated:

Privacy Badger detected 7 potential trackers on this page.

One of the worst things about the web are websites designed by media orgs. These websites are bloated, ad-polluted, crapware-tracking, garbage dumps, which create hostile reading experiences.

When I view that same Guardian article with JavaScript disabled, Privacy Badger detects only one potential tracker.

webpagetest.org results for the Guardian article:

https://webpagetest.org/result/191126_QH_e118ab5debbe3a9472330b80bbce3cfb/

Actually, this is "good" for a media org. Of course, the definition of "good" gets worse as media articles get more bloated.

From: Dulles, VA - Chrome - Cable
11/26/2019, 10:03:04 AM
First View Fully Loaded:
Time: 10.867 seconds
Requests: 315 !!!
Bytes in: 1,726 KB

A 1.7 megabyte media article is small by today's standards.

Over 300 web requests? It's a text article. This is the part of the web that needs improved for READERS. What is occuring with all of those requests? Any security and privacy concerns?

Even a 1.7 megabyte text article may be too big for people to download over spotty or slow internet connections. The media make the web more reader-hostile and in accessible by their web design choices.

It's hard to find anything useful in this article.

https://gizmodo.com/the-plan-to-fix-the-web-needs-more-murder-1840032962

https://webpagetest.org/result/191126_42_d99a19c5c875f78c563a0734e10fc2dd/

From: Dulles, VA - Chrome - Cable
11/26/2019, 10:05:29 AM
First View Fully Loaded:
Time: 30.060 seconds
Requests: 703
Bytes in: 7,513 KB

TBL's activism is misdirected. From what I can tell, the Gizmodo story is a simple text article, containing only a few hundred words. Why does an unsuspecting reader's web browser need to make over 700 requests to read a simple text article? Why does a reader need to download 7.5 megabytes of crapware to read some text?

How is this page accessible to people using slow-ish cellular connections in some parts of the world? Is the U.S. media being exclusive and lacking diversity, regarding how readers access the internet?

For that Gizmodo article, 3.39 megabytes of the download were for JavaScript. Holy hell.

When Gizmodo whines about Facebook, it's impossible to take Gizmodo seriously when Gizmodo maintains a dumpster fire website.

173 requests were for JavaScript. !?!?!? The media's war on the web. This is why Google promotes its nefarious web standard called AMP. And naturally, media orgs comply. Circle-jerk.

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