… it is rude and inconsiderate. For some reason we tend to view the website as the host, and the visitor as the guest, but in practice it is the other way around the way modern websites push most of the computation to the clients. Like guests to a dinner party, we as website owners should respect our hosts, the users,

Huh, this is thought-provoking and you should read it: I disagree vehemently!

The case I always have in mind is art, because I refuse to consider it peripheral to what technology is “for”. A website has the ability to pursue Gesamtkunstwerk with gusto. Who is presenting the art? Who is the audience? Who do you really imagine as host and guest? What can be necessary for art?

As someone who gets a big kick out of user styles (e.g. Wikipedia) and user scripts, I think a lot about how relative to an actual piece of art it’d be pretty horrifying to modify in the way I do. There were people on Tumblr back in the day who had scripts to replace cursing with cutesy Battlestar Galactica nonsense, such that when they reblogged something they’d be propagating a Bowdlerized version. I despised it. It’s all quite contextual: if you create a linear text version of House of Leaves for shared study or programmatic analysis, that’s possibly useful and good – but if you create one because Isn’t It Rude Of The Author To Inconvenience Me So I Have To Keep Rotating The Book To Read It, you’re an asshole and you’ve completely missed the point1. Context, context, context…

…and that includes material context. Notice that the author is objecting in their parable to a form of advertising that isn’t implied to track or target. Notice the scorn in “you gotta make a living somehow.” Sometimes I think us techie types just don’t live in the same world as other people – how dare you get your grubby commerce all over my technology for refined free association! You should be giving me whatever you are offering without any mechanisms to recoup your time spent. My attention is what’s valuable, and you should be catering to me without recompense, and it is “rude and inconsiderate” of you to frame this interaction otherwise. This is all a social norm that can work if you are imagining an Internet used as an auxiliary tool by tenured academics or well-paid database admins or whatever, but that’s a ridiculously exclusionary vision. Some people do gotta make a living. If I search for something I want to access for free, someone’s labor from which I want to benefit, shouldn’t I bend my expectations away from what I’d demand from something I pay for? Recipe blogs vs. cookbooks – if not, I’ll be the asshole.

I read a thread recently of people complaining about a financially strapped podcast project moving to a paywall, that it violated the “spirit” of the thing. Some spirit.

  1. I often see abled people using an anemic version of accessibility as a rhetorical tool to advance their own idea of what is essential and what can be dispensed with. The House of Leaves example may be illustrative. One could easily say, hey, you know, you’ve made something pretty inaccessible there with your tiny footnotes-on-footnotes and colored text and backwards text on the backs of pages. The intellectually lazy response: therefore we should get rid of it! The intellectually honest response: how do we translate the artistic effects here into e.g. an audiobook for people with vision loss? This is harder – it is harder and complicated to figure out what a thing means, how to make a thing the right amount of a pain-in-the-ass when being a pain-in-the-ass can be part of the point. There is a certain kind of person who balks at this, and a certain kind of person who finds it an energizing challenge. “All that ever really matters is the plain text content” is a former-kind view, sometimes tied up in personal dislike for being pressured to produce something other than plain text content…