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Online Things That Bother Me

This is intending to be a quick post, so I hope I can keep it as such.

There are a few things online that are really starting to get under my skin. Thankfully, the problems can all be solved by an opt-out approach, one way or another, with of course the most dramatic staying offline. I thought I'd share my thoughts, as it seems others are following suit as well. Could this be the end of an old era, and the beginning of a new?

  1. Email: Believe it or not, this is annoyance numero uno, and I think the problem doesn't come from spam, but unwanted email nontheless. In my Gmail account, I probably receive somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 spam messages a day, all which Google does a good job sending to my junk folder. However, I still get unwanted email from services I've done business with in the past, such as eBay, Amazon and 1800FLOWERS. While I don't regard these messages as spam, I don't like them, or spend the time reading them. It seems to be quite the fad to auto-subscribe you to mailing lists when you do business with an online company. Even though I have Gmail automatically label this mail as Junk, mark it as read and archive it, it's still annoying. Looking over my mail, I would dare say that less that 1% of the mail I receive, I'm actually interested in. Yet, other services like SMS, Microblogging, IRC and IM I'm much more inclined to read, for a couple of reasons. First, the interaction behaves much the same way email does, except with Microblogging and IM, I specifically opt-in to people that I want to follow or have a conversation with. This whitelisting, effectively and totally eliminates spam, and even further unwanted data. I probably read 90% of this data, and I'm more likely to read it first before my email. With SMS and IRC, while still subject to spam abuse, IRC has been around longer than email, yet spam isn't a problem at all in the channels I frequent. Many channels are even an invite-only status, providing a strict whitelist to the participants. I can opt-out of SMS through my cell phone provider if spam SMS becomes an issue, even notifying those sending me the SMS that I am no longer receiving them.
  2. Truncated feeds: Truncated RSS feeds are just flat out annoying. Imagine me publishing the first 1% of my photo, and requiring you to click further to see the rest of it. Maybe I just give you the first 30 seconds of my podcast, but the rest can be found by visiting the site. This is just silly. First off, the whole point of RSS is so I can read your content without going to your site. I want a single point for my news, not several. Further, if I'm willing to share the data in the first place, it just makes sense to me to share the data in its entirety. Your content has to be exceptional for me to subscribe to a truncated feed, otherwise I don't bother. The only truncated feed that I subscribe to intentionally is LWN.net, due to the fact they require a paid subscription to view the content. Yes, it's that good.
  3. Ads: I've grown tired of ads, and it's not really the ad itself, as much as the abuse of ad space on websites. I don't want to read the wrapping text around your ad. I don't want to scroll half a page to reach your content. I don't want your ad distracting me from my reason for visiting in the first place. Your ad should be well placed, and out of the way. Putting the ad "above the fold" makes the most logical and monetary sense, but many web admins seemed to have interpreted this as "fill the entire top half with ads, make them large, make them flash, make them animated and make the user scroll for the content". Additionally, posts or articles that require several clicks to navigate the post, just so you can maximize your ad exposure, chap my hide. I usually look for the "Print preview" link, which will publish the content, usually sans-ads. If one such link doesn't exist, I won't continue out of principle. So, over the years, ads on the web have brought me to keep an aggressive ad blocker installed in my browser. You might not like that as a site owner, as the vast majority of your income is coming from the ads. I'm sorry. I hope you can find another avenue for making money. I just won't do it.
  4. Voicemail: I've grown tired of voicemail. The reason is simple- it sucks retrieving it all the time. Why? Dial the number to access it, then enter your password or PIN, then navigate an automated menu to listen, fast forward and delete or save the message. Such a pain. It's not uncommon for me to leave 5 or 6 new voicemails in the queue before I bother clearing them out, but by the time I do, I've already discussed with you the reason for your voicemail, so it promptly gets deleted. I've come to the conclusion that I don't leave voicemails any longer. Everyone I call has caller ID, and they'll notice my call. If they want to speak with me, they'll call me back. If they don't notice my call, or if I want to speak with them, I'll call them back. The same is true from me. When I see missed calls on my phone, I'll call the number back usually, even if it's from numbers I don't recognize. I don't need to spend 3-5 minutes listening to a voicemail, when I could call them directly, and speak to them just a quickly. I must say, however, that Vonage makes voicemail less painful, by emailing to the email address in your account an attachment in WAV format of the voicemail. This makes it easy to just pull up the email, click the attachment, and click play. However, Vonage also well tell me who called, so rather than wait for the WAV attachment to download, again I'll just call back.

I would like to think that these dinosaur technologies are actually going the way of the dinosaur. Looking at many of the social media applications online, such as Facebook, Identi.ca, Jabber, Freenode, and others, I see no reason really to hold on or pay attention to email. Sure, there are communities on mailing lists, but there are also communities on Facebook and the other technologies with just as active posts. I could entirely eliminate email, and not even miss it. I could turn off voicemail, and still get a hold of the people that need me and the reasons they called in the first place. I've already eliminated ads, and RSS is opt-in, so I don't need to subscribe to truncated feeds, or click through for content.

Just some thoughts about what is really starting to annoy me from the world of the Internet. If you're of the same opinion or not, I would be interested in your reasoning.

{ 14 } Comments

  1. Jussi using Firefox 3.0.8 on Ubuntu 64 bits | April 12, 2009 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    I agree mostly on what you are saying, with the sole exception of voicemail. Giving a missed call without leaving a voicemail is like leaving a contentless ping on IRC. I find when people are really busy if you leave a voicemail they can listen, decide if its a now thing or a later thing and answer you as per your need. Just my 0.02c .

  2. Timothy Lord using Firefox 3.0.7 on Mac OS | April 12, 2009 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    Aaron:

    All of these are compelling, legit gripes, but the voicemail one bugs more more than anything else. My parents and siblings, despite conversations about this topic and the message I had on my old phone that said "Please don't leave a voice message" and listed some reasons, suggested other means of contacting me, etc, nonetheless left long, rambling messages. Friends and strangers did, too, but on that front I could at least rationalize that they might have thought I was kidding / overstating / etc.

    On my new phone, I never set up a voice mailbox; I thought that this would leave me with a generic "You have reached number XXXXXXXXXX, please leave a message." No -- it just says that this voice message box is not set up!

    Victory.

    An annoying victory, to be sure, because even with my distaste for it, I know sometimes voice messages are useful, and I may end up caving. But it's been several months now of very few regrets on this front.

    The best thing, IMO, would be if vox messages were either a) automatically sent to email as MP3 (or other encoding) files and / or b) transferred TO THE PHONE, and made visually accessible on the handset, with relevant items displayed (name of caller, length of message, etc), with instant zapping, ffwd'ing, etc. Using the phone as an awful remote control for an audio-based interface is just plain brain-dead design. Would I take it over having no phone, or being a caveman, or a sharp poke in the eye? Sure. But that's not a good defense.

    I'd also like to give friends a password / passcode that would be necessary to leave a message, so getting a message would mean it was from someone who was authorized to contact you by this overall annoying method.

    Cheers,

    timothy

  3. Ali Gunduz using GNU IceCat 3.0.8 on GNU/Linux | April 13, 2009 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    I find it very shortsighted to abandon email for facebook et al.

    These are closed networks that you have no control over and where you have no chance of storing and/or migrating your communication. They are very much against standards as their business model and you will be using different networks and services in several years (or even months) probably.

  4. Dougie using Firefox 3.0.8 on Ubuntu | April 13, 2009 at 3:11 am | Permalink

    Email's big advantage is the read receipt, being able to prove you sent something when you know the guy on the other end who told his boss he was never told just plain didn't do it.

  5. Omari using Debian IceWeasel 3.0.6 on Debian GNU/Linux | April 13, 2009 at 4:20 am | Permalink

    * email - you can tell Amazon, eBay, etc. not to send you mail. They will respect that. With legitimate businesses I find it takes less effort to opt out than to maintain a list of email addresses to block. As for Facebook as a replacement for email: I guess I'm a fogey, but I don't use it. My experience with this "social networking" stuff is from Myspace, where people would send messages. I would then get an email: "You got a Myspace message. Login to read it." This was completely useless. I already have sophisticated tools to use email, and I routinely read it, but now I'm supposed to log in to someone's crappy website to read email? That said, maybe Facebook handles it better--do they remail stuff sent to you through the site? There is no way I would start logging into a whole bunch of different websites just to see who is sending me two-line messages.

    * truncated RSS--feeds that include all the content are definitely better. I killed subscriptions to truncated feeds with comic strips--that is definitely useless. Otherwise, truncated ones are not so bad. I can scan the headline and summary, and typically I read only a fraction of the posts.

    * ads - Adblock Plus. Done.

    * voicemail - I used to have Sprint wireless and it didn't make you enter your code to get voicemail if you were calling from your phone. I thought this was standard. Then I switched to Verizon, which makes you put your code in every time. That is annoying--as if I am worried about someone stealing my voicemail messages if they are calling from my phone. That said, I have seen other people complain about voicemail. I don't think it is so bad. Why do you leave voicemails in the queue? Just delete them after listening to them. And I definitely do not call numbers back if I do not recognize them. "Hello, I have no idea who you are, but you called me"? VM can be great, and because it takes more effort for somebody to leave one, I pay more attention to them than I do to emails. Again, I guess this makes me a fogey.

    But you definitely have the right to be annoyed by all these things :) I just don't find them as annoying.

  6. ethana2 using Firefox 3.0 on GNU/Linux 64 bits | April 13, 2009 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Right on.

    I haven't checked my voicemail in years. Send sound files to my gmail or something by all means, but I'm too lazy to use the system Verizon uses now.

  7. themiddaysun using Internet Explorer 8.0 on Windows XP | April 13, 2009 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    I love email and I prefer voicemail. As you stated gmail does a great job filtering my spam, and I have a seperate gamil for my online shopping, so this leaves my real account rather spam free. I really hate social networks such as facebook and myspace, so using them as an alternative isnt an option for me. As for voice mail, I agree with jussi, I can listen to them at my leasure and decide if I want to call back based on the content of the message left.

    As for ads on websites, I have to totally agree. They are getting way out of control.

  8. Flimm using Firefox 3.0.8 on Ubuntu | April 13, 2009 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Email is still better than facebook because:
    - it's decentralised
    - it can be secure
    - it can be used offline using your client of choice.

  9. Aaron using Debian IceWeasel 3.0.7 on Debian GNU/Linux | April 13, 2009 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    @Ali Gunduz- I would agree, except I mentioned more that just Facebook. In fact, Facebook is the only closed solution I mentioned. Identica is a Microblogging solution based on the Open Microblogging Protocol. Jabber is based on the open XMPP, IRC is also an open standard, all of which can be federated. Further, migrating data from one provider to another provider isn't interesting to me. I've migrated email from MSN to GMail, and it was a pain. If I was that concerned about my data, I wouldn't trust it to a 3rd party to begin with. But that's just me.

  10. Aaron using Debian IceWeasel 3.0.7 on Debian GNU/Linux | April 13, 2009 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    @Flimm- Facebook was just one of many services that I mentioned.

    * Identica is a microblogging platform that uses the Open Microblogging Protocol, and can be federated.
    * Jabber uses XMPP, another open and federated protocol.
    * IRC is also another open and federated standard.

    All 3 of the above, I can use with proven clients, which can also provide logs for offline access. Facebook being the only exception.

  11. Ken using Firefox 3.0.8 on Windows XP | April 13, 2009 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I have to disagree with most of this. Voicemail I 100% agree with. Text me or email me, don't force me to listen. E-mail is needed over Facebook and Twitter for the simple reason that I shouldn't have to be a member of whatever flavor-of-the-month site you'd like to be part of today. An e-mail address is transient, ubiquitous. If GMail went away tomorrow I could just change my address. Not so with Facebook or Twitter. Everyone else would have to end up on the same service as me.

    The biggest issue I take is with ads and truncated content. If your RSS feed is for a "planet" style site where content is basically a blog post, I can see your point. However, for something like a news site or anything else where people are being paid to post content, who are you to say that it's unacceptable. You're asking people to give away information for free without ad support. You don't want to go to their site? Well why should they put up content for you? It's like you mentioned, LWN you pay for so you're OK with the shortened content. A news site is getting paid with ad-clicks so what's the difference. If anything, it's better for the consumer because you don't have to pay anything, it's ad supported. If you don't like the ads, AdBlock and be done with it but don't criticize the business plan because it's inconvenient for you.

  12. Flavio using Firefox 3.0.8 on Ubuntu | April 13, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Facebook is also annoying in requiring a login just to see some video or post. I agree with Flimm, email is at least decentralized and by using PGP you can block shady people (like Facebook owners) to skim your private stuff.

    Furthermore those (anti)social services live in their own data island. I cannot install the Facebook/Twitter/Identica application on my server and be part of the network. That's not how the Internet (nor the Web) is supposed to work.

  13. David using Firefox 3.0.8 on Ubuntu | April 13, 2009 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    LOL, 1800Flowers... They've botched every order I've made from them.

  14. A.Y. Siu using Firefox 3.5b4 on Windows XP | May 5, 2009 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    I have to agree with most of these.

    1. For me, it's not so much the email itself as the frequency with which it comes. If I'm doing business with a company, I may actually want to hear about specials they have or certain announcements they want to make. I do not, however, want to hear from them every week (or, God forbid, every day). If companies like Amazon and ProFlowers sent emails twice or three times a year, I'd love it, and I might actually read the email.

    2. Yeah, I'm also not a fan of truncated feeds, but I still prefer them to nothing. For me, the feed serves two purposes: to let me know there has been an update, and to let me read the update. I'd love to have both, but even just knowing there is an update is better than my having to go back and visit each site every day to see if there is one.

    3. Yes, ads have been abused. I keep the ads on my site at the very bottom. Not very great for bringing in the big bucks, but it shows a little respect for my visitors. I still get enough revenue to pay server costs, so it's all good. Right now I'm using NoScript to block annoying Flash-based ads, but regular banners or text-based ads I still leave alone. I know people still need to fund their websites.

    4. We got the voicemail as email attachment thing at work, and it is sweet! Still, I'm annoyed more by having to listen to the message than having to navigate the menus. Oftentimes what people say in a two-minute voicemail could have easily been sent an email that would have taken me ten seconds to scan and get the gist of.

    Phones are for friendly catch-up time with friends or sensitive professional conversations that need discussion. Everything else should be done by email, if not in person.

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