Dark Patterns are Bad for Everyone

Dark Patterns are Bad for Everyone

This has been going on since the beginning, and it's the thing that makes me get all bent out of shape sometimes. Ofttimes. OK, most of the times. The promise of technology is the opportunity to leverage the good. This is its dark twin, the other edge of the blade—the leveraging of the bad.

Charging a Percentage for Financial Transactions is Archaic and Greedy

Charging a Percentage for Financial Transactions is Archaic and Greedy

If I sell a $10 product and a $1000 product as a digital download and the cost to deliver it is identical for each, why then does the banking system (and many sales platforms) think it's reasonable to charge a percentage of my selling price? They did nothing more for me for the $1000 product than they did for the $10 product. There's no value they added that magically makes them worthy of receiving more of my money.

The value is in my product and my work and effort and that's why the price is higher for that product. The cost of moving the money and delivering the product is the same.

Why do you deserve more money for doing nothing more? I cannot understand this except by viewing it as an entrenched, unquestioned mindset tied to historical behavior established before the dawn of computer technology and automated systems.

In 1949, Frank McNamara forgot his wallet one night at dinner and the Diners Club card was born soon thereafter. It set the credit card standards we still have to this day.

We had no computers back then. Everything was managed by hand, by real humans. Books were managed, paperwork was reviewed and filed, letters were typed and mailed—practically everything was done by human hands.

There were no databases, no voicemail systems, none of the technologies we take for granted today and which have since reduced the cost of managing financial transactions by orders of magnitude.

Back then, in order to cover the cost of managing money and risk, you charged a percentage of the transaction and it made sense. More transactions meant more time spent by humans managing those transactions. It was a good and fair system back in those ancient and work-intensive days of computing pre-history when the only way to scale was with human sweat.

But today we have computers. Now we can set up one set of actions for a computer to perform and then multiply it to infinity for almost no additional cost.

The field has been leveled and the true cost has radically shifted downward toward zero, and yet, some opportunists are still using the old system to soak those of us unwilling or unable to question it and demand something better.

There is still plenty of profit to be made by charging a fair price for a fair amount of work. Computers have reduced the cost, but now you can serve more people for the same outlay. You can still profit exceedingly well by offering a service and charging for it. Yet, this is not enough when you decide that you should be able to take advantage of only one side of the new state of affairs.

In fact, I would suggest that there's a huge opportunity here. Eventually, everyone will catch on to your abuse of the system—leveraging ignorance only works so long before the leveraged rebel and tear down your schemes.

I don't believe any company has a right to a percentage of my income based on nothing more than me generating more of it. So, until they offer a flat rate, this will definitely be a no-go.

I have the same problem with all who price like this, chiefly product sales platforms and credit card companies, but I also understand I'm likely still in the minority. One day, it will change. We're still in the early stages of understanding that computers make things cheaper, not more expensive; it may take another 50 to 100 years for customers to realize they're getting fleeced. Meanwhile, it's a wild west greed fest and those who were early to the party are still feverishly cleaning out the vaults while they still can. As for me, I am the market and I will not bear it.

GIF is Pronounced with a Hard G, Jet Over It

GIF is Pronounced with a Hard G, Jet Over It

Why I bother, I don't know, but I must rebut, once and for all, the claim that the creator of the format determines the pronunciation of the acronym. In this case, the creator was neither a linguist nor a logician, nor remotely acquainted with English language conventions.

More than likely, he was one of the Internet's earliest trolls and cannot be relied upon for any useful information other than that which relates to his chosen field of endeavor, namely, engineering/programming. Q.E.D., he should be ignored regarding this issue.

Upshot: GIF should logically be pronounced according to the words comprising its expanded meaning: Graphic Interchange Format.  In other words, use a hard G, not a soft one.

Let us now move on to important things.

Removing Post & Comment Dates is a Terrible Idea

Removing Post & Comment Dates is a Terrible Idea

I recently read a post on Elegant Themes (aff link) that suggests you should remove the dates from your blog comments and “…Keep Your Discussion Fresh.” They proceed to show you multiple ways to remove dates from posts and comments. Don't do it.

Dates on blog posts are critical for signaling relevance and context to your reader. I can't count the number of times I've read a post I thought was relevant only to realize midway through (because the dates were scrubbed) that it was two or three years old and a pointless waste of time. Now, to be fair, some posts really are date-independent—the information is truly timeless and when it was posted is not important. But in cases like this, I would argue that this material should be reserved for an article section that is built on pages, not posts, and then dates can be removed without trouble.

As far as comments, it's also critical to know the dates, especially in those cases where comments are offering suggestions for alternative materials/software/ideas that are time sensitive. (Many posts I read and comment threads I follow are about X software for Y purposes.) You can save your reader a lot of wasted time and effort by signaling right up front that a comment, or entire thread, is too old to be relevant. And if that's the case, now you have a reason to write a new one!

This date-removal strategy is one that only serves the publisher and not the reader. If you really wish to help your reader, you'll aid them in every way possible. To that end, signaling relevance via clearly posted dates and references is critically important—it helps the reader place your ideas within a specific context. For blogs and publications that feature non-fiction and reviews and how-tos, this is even more important and helps readers quickly understand if they're in the right place at the right time.

While possibly less important for fiction and stories, keeping dates still allows for understanding where one is and reduces confusion in general which, in turn, creates a relaxed state of mind and more favorable perception of the work. It's really inspiring to see a story progress over time and understand how the author's style changes. This is hard to do when it all happened “right now” because dates are missing.

Having your time-sensitive material slowly become less relevant over time is a reality that comes with the blogging experience and it's better to accept that and keep posting new and better material rather than trying to hoodwink your reader into wasting time on old work that might not be relevant anymore.

I would argue that having your posts age out is actually a great thing. By looking at the old material that might be garnering more attention, you can know that the readers are interested, despite the date, and now have material for an excellent follow-up post that revisits the original subject and adds additional info and clarifications. You can then link to the old post and start new, current discussions, possibly on both the old and new posts. This can also boost the relevance of the old and new posts in Google's eyes.

I think there's too much focus on so-called “evergreen” material and the author/publisher's needs and not enough focus on remembering who we're writing for in the first place. Your reader is your number one, primary focus!

Instead of trying to pass old and busted off as the new hotness, go the extra mile and publish more and better work with all the dates and references in place so we can better understand the context. Your readers will love you for it and reward your efforts in kind.

As for me, when I see a blog that has hidden its dates, I immediately think the author is trying to scam me (and also thinks I'm an idiot who won't notice). And you can imagine how well that works as a first impression.

[All ideas and replies welcome.]

Time to Seriously Reconsider the Pop-Up Opt-In

Time to Seriously Reconsider the Pop-Up Opt-In

Knock it off

I think one of the most infuriating things on the modern Internet is this increasing tendency to throw a pop-up in your face demanding I subscribe to a newsletter before I can get three words into reading an article or viewing a video.

I clicked a link because I was promised an answer to the curiosity-generating headline published on some media outlet. I'm already waiting for a crappy Internet connection (on mobile, for example) that's in the way of reading the answer and the longer I have to wait, the more irritated I'm going to be if the article isn't as good as the promise in the headline. (And frequently these days, it isn't, but that's a story for another day.)

But then I finally arrive and the page finally loads and, as I read the first few words, I am suddenly assaulted by a pop-up that covers the screen and demands I join a mailing list.

If you manage a website and care about your readers/viewers, here's why avoiding this tactic will reward you mightily.

When I arrive at your web site, I don't know you. I don't know your site. I don't know the quality of your work. I don't know if I ever want to come back and the only thing that's going to answer all these questions is your writing (or your audio or video), which is now conveniently hidden behind your demand that I trust you and give away my email address so you can hammer me with more of your work.

You see the problem here. I don't know you and you won't let me learn about you before you demand something from me. And worse, I'm already feeling the FOMO (fear of missing out) levels increase every second I invested in your dubious link, believing your promise that I would get an answer to an interesting question.

All the other links I could have clicked are calling my name—the Sirens are screaming and you're busy playing games with the promise you made in your link. The promise you made is this: give me your attention and I will answer the question posed in the headline. Since you didn't indicate in the link that the answer required any payment, we all understand that it will be free of any demand for payment, including the cost of an email address (and my time finding the ever-changing-moving close box on your crappy pop-up).

If times have become so desperate, OR your material, whatever it is, is so crappy and uninspiring that you know that once I've experienced it there's no way in hell I'd sign up for your newsletter and you need to twist my arm to get my email address, you need to fix your material instead of using more and more irritating and obnoxious methods of demanding I give you my info before I can read yours.

If your work is amazing (and it should be), I'm going to look for a signup form. You won't have to force that on me.

I can only imagine being invited over to the home of a friend I've just met and, as I arrive at the door, he throws a big screen in front of my face and demands I promise to invite him over to my place next week before he lets me in the door. How incredibly idiotic would that be? Incredibly.

I'd turn around and go home and count that person as one less possible friend and one more ridiculous weirdo I need to avoid in the world.

I think the same thing of you and your site when you do that pop-up crap within microseconds of my arrival. You don't even know who I am or what I'm actually looking for and you start our relationship by virtually yelling at me to do something for you.

Exit pop-ups are only a little less evil, but even those are irritating and suggest you did a crappy job of placing opt-in forms in and around your excellent and endlessly compelling material.

Exit poopups (I'm leaving that typo because it's hilarious and actually a more accurate commentary on my thoughts about pop-ups 🙂 ) are crappy because they imply that I'm either too stupid to see the opt-in form in the article, OR I'm even stupider and, even though I saw the opt-in form near the article, I didn't realize I wanted to join the mailing list because I didn't have a pop-up slam me in the face and now I'll totally join your list since I almost missed out because I'm just that stupid. Not a good way to think about your future online friends.

The truth (and your opportunity as an online publisher) is this: I didn't want to subscribe to your mailing list because you either failed to create an interesting offer in the interstitial and surrounding opt-in forms and/or your material was just too crappy and you need to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to create more compelling work.

If people are not subscribing, the answer is not to twist their arms and slam even more pop-ups and barriers to your work in their faces. The answer is to create better work! Do a better job and people will flock to your site and DEMAND to subscribe to your mailing list.


PS – I thought we established that everyone hates pop-ups back in 2004.

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