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It's Not Only Social Networks - The Entire Internet is Gamified to Meaninglessness

by Oz Zeren 10 months ago in social media
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The entire Internet has become one giant, meaningless clickbait

The entire Internet is clickbait (image licensed to author)

After I wrote about how engagement algorithms are killing meaningful content in social networks, I started noticing some things on the Internet that I did not pay attention to before :

It's not only social networks - everything on the Internet is gamified to utter meaninglessness in order to increase 'engagement'. From search to websites, from emails to services.

Websites try to make you click more links and visit more pages on the same website so that they can get more page views, which the search engines will notice and send them more traffic. At the same time, they will be able to show you more ads.

Search feeds this loop by sending more traffic to websites that keep the users busy more than others. 'Bounce rate' should be low - that is the advice that is given to website owners. Meaning that a visitor should visit more pages on a website before going away.

Emails come in with catchy subjects, smileys, and other bait to have us click them. Some even come with misleading or fake subject lines. And when you open the email, there is more clickbait waiting for you inside - all for the sake of making you click this link or launch that app.

Services and apps are no different: They stuff up on features, interlinking them, trying to make you use more of the features present in the app in order to increase 'engagement'. This is a 'good thing'.

In the ensuing engagement stampede, anything meaningful is lost.

The users get conditioned to click more, scroll more. Click like, comment - quickly move on to the next item. Open that options menu, scroll down, click that button and move on to the next menu. Go to that website, scan that text, click to move on to that other linked page that is pushed in your face. The user is made so busy that s/he doesn't have a second to take a moment and pay attention to anything.

Even worse, engagement mechanisms betray the very purpose which they were implemented for - having the users look at ads, pay attention to offerings or buy products and services: The user is so conditioned by the engagement algorithm to keep clicking, scrolling, and moving on that he has no time for anything else.

Combine this with the natural tendency in people to block out ads and other non-relevant things, then you end up with a total blocking-out of the very things for which the engagement algorithms were devised - offering ads, products, and services to users to make money.

It's a crazy, vicious cycle that betrays itself, at the same time turning the Internet into a bottomless pit of meaningless engagement.

What could be the solution to this?

Facebook's failed experiment shows that removing the algorithm altogether is not an option either - it made things much worse, apparently. People got a lot more irrelevant things in their feed, and they were upset with the interactions they had. Moreover, back and forth commenting/dialogue between friends also declined.

Maybe regulating tech algorithms could be an option, as I wrote about before. Or at least, preventing the algorithms from changing without any input and participation from the users or those who will get affected by the algorithm change.

Another option could be giving control over the algorithm to the users.

If we could give weights to different sides of the algorithm using simple sliders or percentages, if we could turn certain logic in the algorithm on or off, depending on our preferences, we could not only personalize the algorithms to our own preference but also put some democracy into the very logic that governs our online lives.

Actually that this kind of personalization still not being possible is an amazing irony in itself - we are able to customize almost everything on the Internet, except the very algorithm that governs the very websites and services we use.

One wonders which website will be the first one to democratize the algorithm…

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Oz Zeren

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