Vas' reviews and other stuff2019-09-03

Fix the internet in one fell swoop

It is no secret that the web is plagued by bloat, malware and cancer. Despite numerous attempts and conferences, the problem remains and is worsening by the day. The web design community, instead of solving the problem the proper way, is instead doubling down on its pathological behaviour with more frameworks, boilerplate generators and compilers. All of us, including web developers, are aware that faster, lighter websites are superior both for the maintainer and for the user, and yet the industry refuses to adapt. Hell, it is adapting in the opposite direction. We have seen these issues in the past with leaded gasoline and tobacco, and of course presently with net neutrality and climate change. It is a market failure, and considering how much electricity is spent powering the internet, it is of paramount importance that we fix it for the ecological impact alone. As with all market failures, there is but one solution: brutal government intervention. Although I would love to throw every webshit into an unironic, nonmetaphorical and literal gas gulag, today we shall explore a less genocidal, peaceful alternative: money.

The primary reason (and often rationalisation) for the current state of the internet are economic concerns. While hosting a website is relatively cheap, hosting a very popular website can and does send costs through the roof very fast. If you use a limited data plan on your mobile phone and browse without an ad blocker, you are already paying websites money for the privilege of browsing by virtue of downloading all the shitware they include in their ads. For example, CNN’s front page alone is 10% of my monthly data plan. However, you pay through the middleman, the ad network, so you don’t fund the content creator directly, and multiple factors in between can take an arbitrary cut off your “payment”.

Most countries have a value-added tax or a sales tax attached to people’s internet bill. This tax exists in order to fund public goods, as determined by the government. I propose that sizeable chunk or the entirety of this tax is not collected by the government, but is instead distributed to participating websites. In other words, the government will invest in and subsidise these participating websites, and in turn a better vision for the future of the internet. The government will replace the ad agencies.

There are some security concerns, which are an implementation detail and trivially solved via cryptographic hashing, the same way that “safe browsing” is already implemented in Firefox for example. There are political concerns, but these already exist in the era where outraged blue checkmarks can convince your CDN, VPS provider, and advertisers to blacklist you; the creation of a legal framework with strict and outlined free speech protections on the basis of identity, content, and political orientation is an improvement on every axis.

The specific way the distribution is calculated is non-trivial, as there are a number of ways of calculating website load: number of requests, visitation frequency, concurrency, bandwidth, the complexity of the requests and so on. Most likely a hybrid function would work best here, taking all these variables into account and balancing them so as to prevent gaming the payment method or choosing intentionally inefficient technology so as to maximise income.

In order for a website to participate, it must opt in and meet certain… standards 😈. At the bare minimum, it must not use advertisements or track its users beyond what’s necessary for the service. That means no cookies, detecting incognito mode, detecting ad blockers, or any of that crap. This one change alone will massively improve the internet and bankrupt almost every ad company, which is a good thing because that way their employees can die starving in the streets of their own volition, instead of us having to round them up and turn them into soap in our gas gulags.

After our minimum viable product gains momentum, and participating websites purge trackers and ad-backed malware from the face of the planet, we can continually add more clauses to the contract. We can mandate a certain level of efficiency in terms of download size and compression, which will kill most frameworks and starve their authors, yet another victory for the gas gulag program. Or mandating strict security so that unencrypted HTTP finally goes extinct.

Payments go to the owner of the domain name. While this means that YouTube will collect money for the labour of all of its content creators, it will disincentivise centralising into a single, monopolistic platform. In order to ease initial setup friction, the government will persuade the ICANN into handing over or creating a generic top level domain, such as .website or .site and provide subdomains and SSL certificates to participants for free. Even with this much assistance, initial setup will be complicated for a layman, so private third parties like Neocities or YouTube will be able to sell web authoring tools with a nice GUI for a fee.

If a user visits 1000 random participating sites equally per month and pays $20 per month for access to the internet with a 10% VAT would hand out $0.002 per website per month. The cheapest VPS plans at the moment are around $3 per month, so such a website would need to receive 50 visits a day in order to pay for its own hosting costs, which I think is very manageable. With the internet effectively paying for its own infrastructure, all additional revenue is pure profit for labour, and will likely increase the number of creative businesses that are financially viable online.

In but a few years, the reduction in electricity wasted in tracking software and serving ads, as well as the increased revenue from larger and more profitable online transactions should more than outweigh revenue lost from not pocketing the VAT from the internet bill. With the advertiser incentive gone, we will see a reduction in clickbait and zero effort journalism, and we will have created infrastructure that can enable other types of services, such as a less censorious Patreon replacement. In one fell swoop, we will have fixed the internet.