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Because I used to work for/with companies whose business model was mostly free access covered by ads. Costs of keeping those sites running were substantial and proportional to amount of visitors.


Perhaps true in lesswrong's case (is it still under active development then?). You'll have to suffer me moving the goalposts again, because what I was getting at was websites that serve fairly static content. If lesswrong is actively developed and has taken a lot of effort to build, then take a random wordpress page instead.

No the aliens don't pay for developer time, for the same reason they don't pay the journalists.


This assumes users are well informed as to the cost/benefit of seeing ads. Whatever you think about ads, that assumption has proven false I believe. We can dive into how to prove that if you want to contest it. With that assumption gone, however, your position has to be reevaluated.


Thanks for the link to your earlier post, it makes your position a little more clear. I think we make different predictions, probably because (A) we are biased and (B) ads and the internet are so entangled by now that it is hard to make a predication like that. Any prediction will need to take into account a multitude of factors.

The line on aliens paying your salary was added because I wanted to preempt the response 'well if ads are no longer the payment model I'd need to find another job'. But you're right to ask that question you did, it is still a weird hypothetical. What I meant to do with it is have all the external costs covered, i.e. hosting fees. What if ads only 'had' to cover the costs of hiring those journalists? Ads could be constrained to a more commercial domain, and websites such as wouldn't have to exist by grace of donations only. I think one thing I do not like about ads is how any webpage that gets big enough will add ads out of necessity just to cover their sudden spike in costs. Take that factor away and perhaps ads can be added as a precision tool rather than a blunt instrument: allow them only where they make sense / add value (if you believe in that) ?


better ads than paywalls

Having worked in advertising for 4 years, I am not convinced. Citation is needed. It also implies these are the only two options, but consider the very webpage you are on currently: no ads, no paywall! What's going on?!

Which is only to say that there are other options to explore. That those two models are the most prevalent does not mean they are the only viable options (think of how easy it is to go with an ad-model if users have been trained to accept it as the status-quo, which is self-enforcing, and how viable some other models might be if we all magically agreed that ads=unacceptable).

I started writing this comment with hesitation because I did not want it to just say 'This whole post reads like a rationalisation and I disagree with it', so let me try and come up with a question instead (actually just deleted a large rant on perverse incentives, which I think other commenters have done better). There was an earlier question posted by Alexei, mine are in the same vein:

  • if advertising was not an option (eg banned and enforceably so), what would the internet look like?

  • if there was a better payment model for the internet (say, magical space-aliens commit to funding it entirely, as a joke), what would advertising as a business look like in that case? How does that change your position on advertising as a whole, if it all? Would you still want to work in advertising? (The aliens allow you to keep your current salary. They have a weird sense of humour)


That is correct, which is a crying shame. There's some videos to be found of people who were invited to visit at some point, but yeah there's very little to be found :(


Hi, there's two things I can recommend.

  • this essay on how to explore a concept/problem from multiple angles, focusing on how neglected visuals are in that process
  • this poster which summarizes his ongoing research in this area. I think its a powerful vision. Google Dynamicland if you want to find more of his recent work

I am not sure what you are arguing here. First of all, I will completely agree with you that 'innovation' is not an explanation, and so we should be wary of it being used as such. I don't actually think the bucket analogy has much explanatory power (though I find the concept interesting and worthy of further exploration). Using the term 'unavoidable innovation' was my attempt to clarify the analogy in order to be able to point out where in my opinion it fails.

The model in fact attempts to explain why innovation happens, not use innovation as an explanation for progress (since as you point out, that seems merely tautological or at least devoid of new information).

The rest of your comment I find harder to follow. I hope you agree that disasters from natural causes such as floods or meteor storms qualify as real disasters. Game of Thrones is not a realistic depiction of human morality, being focused on the grim and dark. It is especially not a realistic depiction of history. The Malthus-trap point is hopefully irrelevant once we agree that innovation should indeed not be used as explanation, but rather explored as a consequence. Otherwise I really did not understand it (but please do clarify!).


The narrow/wide bucket analogy is neat; it is a good thinking tool. That said, I am by no means a historian, and do not know how good of a model it actually is. Some scattered thoughts:

  • The metaphorical bucket overflowing means unavoidable innovation, not system collapse per se. It seems to me like the narrow bucket can overflow many times, and each time it does it gets wider. That completely changes the model: no longer does it explain this 'shift towards the north'.

  • As for Rome, it had long exhausted the surrounding lands before it collapsed. Its bucket overflowed many many times. One of the innovations they made is to cultivate grain in distant lands and ship it to Rome in huge quantities (Im sure they weren't the first to do this but the scale is massive). Your bucket-theory is tightly coupled to people exploiting their surroundings only, and this breaks the model completely in my opinion.

  • A good source for reading in this vein is this blog, in case you haven't seen it yet. This specific article is about land exploitation from a city point-of-view, but I think it's very much related.


Cheers for the encouragement! I share your intuition, it is what prompted me to post here. A quick sitewide search showed that Bret Victor's name has come up before in discussion on LW, but not as much as I would expect. Anyway I had totally missed Matuschak out of that list, so on the growing list of references he goes :)

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