THERE, I.M.: I am remembering the brief period in the late ’90s when the Internet was like a newly established egalitarian neighborhood where civility ruled. I remember this because I wrote a weekly essay in what would later be referred to as a “blog,” a distasteful but probably accurate word for the reams of indecipherable free association that now populate the Internet. I actually had several hundred subscribers from around the world, not one of them ever making inappropriate or anonymous comments.
No, I am not medicated. These were actual events.
The Web was less ominous as well. I did a search two nights ago for “Prescriptives.” It’s a discontinued brand of cosmetics. The next day as I was looking up something on dictionary.com, all the ads that came up were for Prescriptives. I have a message for brand managers.
Dear Brand Managers,
Back slowly away from the guys at Google and Facebook. Do not break eye contact. Continue smiling and nodding your head. This will make them less likely to attack you with condescending mathematical verbiage designed to make you feel like a moron should you question them. Remove yourself from their presence and ask the people who use the Internet about their experience. Do you think that I will now ever buy anything from Prescriptives? No, I will not. Do you think I will ever buy anything from a pop-up window? No, I will not.
I offer this advice freely, though donations can be made via PayPal.
Speaking of online ads, and onlinity in general, I hope a miracle occurs and injects some elegant order into its ongoing development. (Seriously. I am not medicated, and I did not have bourbon for breakfast even though the world ends tomorrow. I don’t have any whiskey in the house.)
The evolution of the ’Net up to now reeks of a singular goal: To squeeze as much money out of it as quickly as possible. Now I’m all for squeezing money out of something as quickly as possible, as long as it doesn’t give me cancer or kill children. But I think the fast-dime business strategy has time and again proven itself to be unsustainable, generally leading to ever-increasing acts of desperation. Otherwise, I would never, ever be confronted with a story about thousands of people dying in a natural disaster, running alongside a flashing animation of someone’s apron belly turning into a six-pack. No, that ad would run beside a story about visual stimuli that induce a vomiting reflex.
While online advertisers stalk me and activate my gag reflex, content providers assume I have the IQ of a fruit bat. (On the other hand, I have never seen any other member of our taxonomic rank go online, which in itself suggests we should perhaps cede control of the world to animals.)
Content providers have long assumed that people have brain partitions preventing them from reading the same words online and on paper, or accessing any other type of material on multiple platforms. This brain-partition theory is why Gerald Levin is running the desk at a day spa. ’Member Gerry? Merged Time Warner with AOL. Bad idea, and one that still informs most Internet content strategies. Can we move on, already?
Different types of content work better on different platforms, regardless of age groups. Young women still buy fashion magazines for the photography. The quality and availability of photography is never as good online as it is in print. Very few things are nearly as good online as they are in traditional media forms. Allow me to say, “iPod” and “turntable, amplifier and Klipsch speakers.” I know a 20-something who would just stare at me as if I were speaking in gibberish, primarily because she’s never heard music from a turntable through a pair of Klipsch towers in a sparsely furnished, wood-floored room. She has seen HDTV, however, and guess what. There’s one in her little house, along with an array of fashion magazines. And this girl’s online all the time.
I don’t even want to start about the typographical nightmares on the Internet, like light gray on white or 6 pt. agate in 12-inch lines. The folks who create the systems that render web pages should at least be forced to use them and read the results every day for a month. The remaining few who are not blithering and blind can then institute a few user- and reader-friendly modifications.
And not quite finally, there’s the death of headline writing. Gene Weingarten of TheWashington Post went there.
“On the web, headlines aren’t designed to catch readers’ eyes. They are designed for ‘search engine optimization,’ meaning that readers who are looking for information about something will find the story, giving the newspaper a coveted ‘eyeball,’” Weingarten wrote, naming that particular post, “Gene Weingarten Column Mentions Lady Gaga.”
And finally for real, there’s the new “reimagined FCC.gov,” clearly having been reimagined by people who do not search the site on a daily basis. No, the new reimagined FCC.gov appears to be the product of some reimagineers looking to move onto greener pasture$, because that’s what folks at the FCC do. Ask Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker, if you can find her. Either scroll down from the reimagined FCC.gov’s self-congratulatory billboard, or visit the old FCC.gov with its stodgy old informative presentation.
Now if you’ll excuse me. I have to make a bourbon run.
~ Deborah D. McAdams
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