Friday 21 October 2016

The Downfall of the Ad-Supported Internet

The Internet has been an amazing tool these past twenty years since it came into the public eye. The rise of various web services, including free e-mail, search engines, social networking, gaming, and other tools has been extraordinary. However, these have historically been supported by advertising revenue. Google is a multi-billion dollar company, and the vast majority of that comes from advertising. So how does that happen? How do they make all of that money?

Well, advertising revenue is nothing new. If you want to see how it worked before the Internet, the Yellow Pages are a great example of an ad-supported product. They provide free listings of phone numbers in the local area, and allow businesses to pay for larger entries, or large ads in a given section. Another example is the newspaper, or flyer delivery. Obviously, the newspaper costs something to have delivered, but it would cost a lot more if it was not supported by the advertisements. Newspapers have a lot of costs to cover though, from content production, to printing costs, to delivery costs. Public transit also typically relies on advertising revenue to help offset costs.

However, in the modern era of the free Internet, ads became more common. You may remember from the early days of the Internet when you might expect a banner ad at the top of the page at most. In fact, they became so common, that we began to train ourselves to ignore them. This resulted in more aggressive advertising, including sidebar ads, pop-up and pop-under ads, mid-text ads, and even text-link ads. You also, occasionally, find sponsored content, where an advertiser pays a journalist to review a product, or insert a product into content. This can be as bad as an article commissioned to review a product as superior to the competition.

The effect of all of this, unfortunately, is that more and more companies are more and more desperate to get advertising space, but it is less effective and not worth as much as it used to be. At some point, this is going to result in a situation where either the advertisers will stop buying ads, and the revenue won't cover the costs, or a site will be almost entirely ads, with very limited content to justify the existence of the page. At some point, we're going to have to face the fact that the freedom of the Internet is either going to decrease, or we will need to create a different means of monetizing it.

This is going to be a huge problem for companies like Google and Facebook, that draw most or all of their revenue from advertising. This is also going to be a problem for the rest of us and especially the ISPs, because these companies are what make the Internet valuable. Content makes the Internet important, and without content, access doesn't matter. That is why some of the net neutrality arguments are so ridiculous. Internet providers are complaining that people are using too much data? If there wasn't so much data, people wouldn't be willing to pay for access to the Internet. Comcast can't handle the Netflix traffic? That's why Comcast exists! Almost, the ISPs should be sharing their revenue to the content producers, because that is the source of their livelihood. Comcast should be paying Netflix to stay on its network. Verizon should be paying Facebook to keep people interested in the online. AT&T should pay Google to make sure there is something for its customers to go online and start from. Of course, they are unlikely to see it that way, and almost certainly will not be willing to pay for the Internet to exist for now.

So what is the solution going to be? I have some ideas, but it isn't going to be a quick fix. The Internet needs a new method of monetizing content. That problem will not be solved overnight. The Internet is going to experience some growing pains as we switch from the advertising revenue model to find something new. Of course, advertising will probably continue, but hopefully we can scale it back down a bit to what it should be, back when the Internet began.

Wednesday 29 June 2016

The Calendar We Use Makes No Sense

Have you ever wondered why the calendar is the way it is? Have you ever wished it made a little more sense? Well, you are definitely not the only one. The calendar we use doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and there have been various projects over the years to update the calendar so that it actually makes sense. None of these have ever received the amount of support they need, but the twelve months we use are weird. Of course, it's not a huge surprise that they have never gained significant support. Just look at the difficulty there has been with units of measurement. It has received more or less support, and officially the standard system is the international system of measurement, but the USA is still stuck on the Imperial system, as are other countries. Canada certainly has not done away with the Imperial system when using it at home. So how could we make the calendar work better? Well, the French devised a Metric calendar and clock at one time. It made sense, more or less, but it never caught on. An image has been floating around the Internet, and it makes more sense, coinciding with the Lunar cycle, having thirteen months in a year. It is explained in the image posted below. It has thirteen months, matching the thirteen lunar cycles, and has four weeks every month. One or two extra days is added at the beginning of every year.

This fixes the issues, as it is easy to keep track of, but would it ever catch on? The metric calendar made even more sense, but it never caught on, so why would this? Actually, it wouldn't catch on any better. There is significant benefit to the seven day week with at least a one day weekend. Learning a new calendar, or having two valid calendars would create huge problems. It could be changed, but the cost would be huge, and there is no system that would create any real benefit. In the end, it's nothing more than a fun idea, and it won't be implemented. There's just no justification.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Why is Google making Allo and Duo?

Have you heard about the upcoming Google apps, Allo and Duo? They are expected to be released some time this summer, but the exact date has not been set. So, what are they, and why should you care?

Well, clearly, you should care. People care about iMessage and Facetime, and that's effectively what Allo and Duo are. Allo is a new app that provides the same functionality as iMessage, and Duo provides the same functionality as Facetime. That is an oversimplification, of course, but Google is clearly looking to take on those messaging platforms. Currently, they have one app that has nothing like the ubiquity of Apple's products. Google's current app (which they intend to keep, for now) is called Hangouts.

Allo has a bunch of slick features that are intended to update the messaging experience. It is expected to support the famous group chat of iMessage, it will definitely include potential unsaved encrypted messages, and it will involve an AI to assist you in replying or planning things. For instance, the AI will pop up with suggested responses based on what was sent to you, and suggest things that might be relevant, such as nearby restaurants when you are talking about meeting up for food. The rumours also seem to suggest that it will also make it possible to sync messages to your computer.

Duo is a video chat app similar to Facetime. It is designed to provide high-quality video that will work on Wi-Fi or mobile data, if you allow it to do so. It has been reported that the transition is seamless, too, so you won't notice the change because of a glitch in the video. There is also encryption available for video chats, of course, just like in Allo. It also has a clever feature to show you the incoming video before you answer, so you can see who it is. Of course, you're not sending video until you answer.

Both of these apps are designed around your phone number as the identifier, which hints at being able to seamlessly transition between your contacts, friends, and unknown parties. Both apps will be available on both iOS and Android, so you don't have to worry about what you're using in order to connect. Unfortunately, this may mean that they won't work on other devices yet, that don't have phone numbers. This also means that they could be planning to take on Apple, or play nicely. It would definitely make things easier if Duo and Facetime could interact, or Allo and iMessage. Of course, that is probably just a pipe dream at this point, as the likelihood of those working together seems to be a ways off.

So would you use this software? I probably would. And I will definitely give them a try in the summer when they are available. Will I continue to use them? I like using hangouts, so if it isn't better then I have no need to stick with it. What do you think?

Wednesday 15 June 2016

What is the Value of Your Time?

Do you know what the value of your time is? Well, in reality, it's the value that you put on it. So what value have you put on your time? What will you sell it for? Do you need to rethink how you use your time, how you spend it?

The reality is that nothing in life is free, and there are three ways that you receive products and services. The first way is the traditional way, by exchanging money for products and services. Before the advent of the personal computer, that was typical. You received physical goods or visible services for real money. However, with the rise of the personal computer, and particularly the Internet age, an alternate business model has become prevalent. That is the growth of ad-supported services. They existed before the Internet, of course, and some companies were very profitable.

There are two ways that ads are delivered, however. One is delivered in such a way that it is ambient, like billboards. The banner ads, sponsored service labels, and so on are one way that services are paid for. For instance, Google puts paid results on their search site. A company might sponsor a Stampede breakfast. You see a billboard, or products shown in videos. These are relatively unobtrusive, and promote good will for the company, while also making you aware of the services and products they provide.

However, there is also a way in which you spend your time on the advertisements. These are roadblock advertisements. You cannot use the service without watching the ad, or dealing with it in some way. These are times when you are spending your time to receive some service. This is the way TV has operated for years, and it is also the way YouTube operates. Sure, it is obnoxious, but you don't have to pay for it, do you?

I would say that this mentality is wrong. You are paying for it, but you are paying for it in time rather than real money. Is that what your time is worth? The developer only gets a very small amount of money for a thirty second video clip, probably less than a penny in most cases. If you are doing things supported by thirty second videos, by the time you watch 30, a quarter of an hour has gone by, and the advertisers have probably paid out a few cents. Is that what your time is worth?

That is the difference between paid and free content. If you watch videos on Netflix, you will save a significant amount of time, but you will pay a few dollars per month. Is it worth it to you? Will you use the saved time to be productive? Will you use it to do more in life? Or would you end up doing nothing anyway? Whatever you choose, it's your life, and you can spend your time and money how you want, but you must choose to spend one or the other. Which will you choose?

Wednesday 1 June 2016

The Hillary Clinton E-mail Server

So, unless you have completely avoided any mention of American Politics, you have heard about the Hillary Clinton E-mail Server scandal. You may think it is unimportant, or you may think it matters quite a bit. However, you need to understand what you can learn from the scandal so that you do not make the same mistake.

Was it a mistake for her? In retrospect, it absolutely was a mistake. The FBI will determine whether or not it was a criminal act, and the people of the US will decide if it was a criminal mistake. However, she definitely should not have used a private e-mail server for her job as the US Secretary of State. So why shouldn't she have done so? What can you learn from her error?

In order to fully understand the significance of the error, you need to understand how e-mail works. There are variations, but in basic form, an e-mail is a text file being transmitted across the Internet. It cannot be fully encrypted, but it can be partially encrypted. The part that cannot be encrypted is referred to as the headers, and indicate the e-mail address to which it is being sent, as well as other information such as the sender, time it was sent, the subject of the e-mail, and so on. That is what you create when you type up an e-mail. For more information about encryption of e-mail, you can check out my recent posts.

Once you click send, then your computer talks to your SMTP server, which is responsible for sending the e-mail. This communication can be encrypted, and usually is. The SMTP server then makes a note of what is being sent, along with all of the information about the process, such as the result of attempting to send it, the username that is sending it, and so on. There is now a copy of your e-mail stored on the SMTP server. It is then communicated through the intervening networks to get to the recipient's mail server. This is accomplished by transferring the text file containing the e-mail from server to server until it reaches the intended recipient.

As the e-mail is sent on, it may or may not be logged on the servers that forward it along. The ISP of the mail server may have a copy of each message you send, the recipients mail server will have a copy, and at least a few servers in between could have a copy. This means that any e-mail you send is compromised, and may be read by other people. This is exactly like sending a postcard, which can be read by anyone involved in transmitting the postcard to the recipient.

That is the nature of e-mail. Anything that is sent by e-mail can be read as is, anywhere along the network path. This can be mitigated by two things. First, if the e-mail contents are encrypted and only the headers are readable, then this will make it more difficult for outsiders to access it. The other way is to control the entire network from sender to recipient. This is not typically possible, unless the sender and recipient use e-mail servers on the same network, or the same e-mail server. For instance, if you and your co-worker exchange e-mails, and you are using the same e-mail server, which is likely, then the entire process will take place on the server.

In the Clinton situation, she should have used the Government server. Anything that was sent by her to other Government employees would then be secure and not sent across the Internet. It would remain private and confidential unless the Government servers were compromised. Instead, every single e-mail she sent was potentially visible to others. This is even more true if her server was not set up to use fully secure communications between her and the server. This is perfectly acceptable for personal e-mails arranging that get together with your cousins, but if there is anything private or confidential, it is not acceptable. So if you are tempted to use a private e-mail server instead of your company's e-mail server, just don't do it. It isn't worth the risks to store private information on an unauthorized server.