Design ethics in tech

“When we think about design ethics, especially in tech, it’s about slowing down and being more conscientious and intentional about what we are creating and what we’re putting out into the world.”

What We Talk About When We Talk About Design Ethics (99u)

My not-so-hot take: ethics in technology will be a dominant topic for the next decade.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen (@mor10) is ahead of the curve. He’s an instructor with LinkedIn Learning and has a course coming out on the subject.

Pulling from a recent-ish post on his blog:

“Part of the problem is the term “ethics” is often equated with statements like “do no harm” or practices to avoid legal issues. In reality, ethics refers to the principles and practices we agree upon as a society to judge the goodness and rightness of acts.”

ASPIRE: An acronym for better web practice (MOR10)

Give the whole thing a read.

IMO, up until now, ethics in tech felt like an afterthought. Important? Sure, in a we’ll-get-around-to-it-eventually sort of way.

Accessibility and inclusive design. Data privacy. Information security. Fake news. Harassment. Moderation. Censorship. The list goes on and on.

We rolled into the 2010’s high on rapid growth. Now, ten years later, we’re reeling from it. Ethics matter more than ever.

Consumers search online, buy offline

What most marketers still don’t fully appreciate is that most online research results in an offline purchase. This is the dominant use case now for non-informational searches: a user on a smartphone looking for a product or service, where the transaction or fulfillment is offline.”

Google Maps the dominant local search tool (Search Engine Land)

This is absolutely how I shop. For example: I’m doing a lot of housework this week, so I keep checking the Home Depot and Canadian Tire sites to browse their inventory.

If I see something I need, I’ll add it to my shopping list, and then pop up to the shops to buy everything in one go.

If I’m looking for a new local store to buy from, I’ll check Google Maps for business-level information: where they’re located, what their hours are, the reviews, and if they have it, a link to their site. Ditto for restaurants.

Professional writer = professional reader

Being a professional writer now means I can be a professional reader. Montaigne said he made bouquets out of other men’s flowers, but he was the one who provided the string to tie them together. I like that image, except bouquets eventually die, and the great thing about books is that they are paper bouquets that never die: they can be torn to their pieces and rearranged indefinitely.”

An intercourse with the world (Austin Kleon)

I’m a voracious reader. I think my blog proves that. I used to feel guilty for all my reading — I felt like I wasn’t producing enough, or doing enough — but not so much anymore. All these inputs are the raw material, and when the time comes, when I need to, I can remix what I’ve learned to create something new.

Invest in success every single day

“It’s easy to overestimate the importance of luck on success and underestimate the importance of investing in success every single day.”

The Surprising Power of the Long Game (Farnam Street)

This goes hand-in-hand with another FS post I shared last week: repetition is a better way to learn. Together, both embrace a sort of maintenance-first approach.

Increasingly, I’m thinking of life in a set of “buckets”:

  • My home — house > neighbourhood > town > province > country
  • My career — my work at GoDaddy, but more broadly as well
  • My health — physical and mental
  • My relationships — family and friends
  • My hobbies — art, reading, writing, tinkering with tech

And every week I try — albeit not always successfully — to move things forward in each bucket. That might be doing stuff around the house, hitting the gym a few times, meeting with friends, chomping through some new books, studying something new.

My hope is that all of that adds up to a successful life.

Sorry, Google doesn’t want to send search traffic to you.

“Broadly, I believe the narrative for web marketers is clear. The largest source of traffic on the web — free and paid — is becoming a walled garden, intent on not only keeping people on its own properties, but competing directly with those that helped it become a dominant, monopoly power.

If you’re a marketer or a business that relies on Google, there’s still tons of opportunity left (at least in most sectors; sorry Expedia, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and anyone trying to compete against YouTube). But to stay ahead, you need plans for how to diversify your traffic sources, how to grow branded demand outside of search, and how to earn value from zero-click searches. Like global warming, it’s the inevitable future whether we like it or not.”

Google in 2020 (SparkToro)

Google’s been making these moves for a while but it’s more blatant than ever.

I’m not angry at Google about any of this. They have a right to do what they want with their platform. And I’m sure it really does create a better experience for average Google users.

So, as marketers, we need to adjust accordingly.

Free traffic from Google was never going to last. They’re the 21st century equivalent of a 20th century broadcaster or publisher. They own the attention. Advertisers pay to get a small piece of it.

This is another one of the reasons that I’m bullish on community, newsletters, original content, et al. Brands need to start producing things worth subscribing to, joining, and sharing with others.

Wear out your beginner gear

“Wearing out your beginner gear is like graduating. You know that you’ve stuck with the sport long enough that you aren’t truly a beginner anymore. You may have managed to save up some cash for the next step. And you can buy the nicer gear now, knowing exactly what you want and need.”

Buy the cheap thing first (Kottke)

+ Beginner gear isn’t the same thing as cheap gear. A decent entry-level bicycle from your local bike shop (shoutout Northern Cycle!) will almost always be more expensive than buying a Supercycle from Canadian Tire.

Scammy “online entrepreneurs” and their collateral damage

Assuming because someone makes a living online that they’re frauds or scammers is ridiculous. Of course there are some, but there are also some amazing folks who do stellar work and provide real value for a price. Selling isn’t spamming. We’re not evil simply because we’re trying to make a living online if we take into consideration our customers and audiences. Most huge companies never do this. Most huge companies don’t have the human touch smaller businesses do, and yet we still seem to be getting punished.”

The enemy (Paul Jarvis)

I feel for Paul. His work is thoughtful and mindful. He’s so far removed from the online entrepreneur hustler archetype it’s hard to imagine someone lumping him in with that crowd.

But that crowd is big. And noisy. And filling your Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube with endless ads. You know the ones — about how they’ve made so much money with their easy-to-follow blueprint and, if you sign up now, for only $99/$199/$499, you too can make tons of money by following their same blueprint.

I’m just here in my garage marketing to marketers about selling marketing to marketers to make more money…

And it goes on and on and on. It’s a damn shame. Entrepreneurship is legitimate. But scammers and posers ruin it. To the point that “make money online” is almost a punchline, despite it being the dominant industry of our time. (Facebook? Amazon? Netflix? Google? Microsoft? That’s some sweet, sweet internet money, y’all.)

So, to quote Paul once again: Selling isn’t spamming. It’s not evil to try and make a living online, if you take into consideration your customers and audiences.

Online community predates the web

“While working at CERN, Berners-Lee had put together all of the elements of the World Wide Web, and it was even starting to get some use internally. But he had yet to announce the project publicly. The message above was his first time doing so. The venue he chose was the most familiar to him. In a Usenet post, unceremoniously tucked away inside another thread.”

The Importance of Being on Usenet (The History of the Web)

Online community predates the web: BBSes, Usenet, email mailing lists, IRC.

What’s nice about these early platforms — and even the software that followed on the web, like internet forums (message boards) — was that they were decentralized. They were protocols or software that anyone could use to create a new place of their own.

But that’s not where we are today. We’re firmly in Web 2.0, relying on centralized service providers like Facebook, Twitter, Slack, et al.

There’s obvious upside to using these services. They handle the maintenance, the development, the support. But they also have total control. They decide how the service runs and how they’ll use your data.

Thankfully, though, there are alternatives.

Mastodon, Friendica, and Diaspora are all decentralized alternatives to Twitter and Facebook. Mattermost and Rocket.Chat are decentralized, open alternatives to Slack. PeerTube is an open alternative to YouTube. And forum software like Discourse, Flarum, and Vanilla are all open alternatives to Facebook Groups.

You can emulate some of this on WordPress, too. BuddyPress adds social media capabilities to WordPress. bbPress adds a forum. Not to mention plugins like Memberful and MemberPress that can add a paid membership component.

TL;DR = Online community predates the web. It was built on open protocols and platforms of the early internet. That spirit lived on in Web 1.0. We lost some of that with Web 2.0 and centralized service providers, but we’re not beyond redemption.

Chaos is a feature of the online world

This chaos — this cubism, this unleashing of our multiple selves — is a feature, not a bug, of the online world. It’s arguably its defining characteristic for those who grew up there. You could attribute all the jump cuts, all the endlessly iterating memes, to a destroyed attention span. But it’s also evidence of something deeper, a mind-set people are just trying to name.”

“Arguably it is the dominant postapocalyptic vision of our digital times, the internet’s McLuhan moment, brought to us by teenagers who, as such, spend their days feeling like 10 different people at once and believe they can, and should, express them all. We all contain multitudes. The kids seem to know that’s all right.”

What Do Teens Learn Online Today? (NY Times Magazine)

When I look at the fluidity of the next generation and how they behave online, I feel a pang of nostalgia for the years I spent lurking on message boards during the early 00’s.

It’s a different landscape now. The linear discussion threads I grew up with have given way to ephemeral video with superimposed text and memes and emojis (memojis? ?)

But having a multitude of aliases and different personas to morph in and out of? Heh. That’s old news. It’s been part of the online experience since Usenet. We’re just witnessing Gen Z manifest it in a new way.