Why do content blockers still suck?
[This topic is not directly relevant to doing lots of good, but I suspect many readers on this forum are interested in the question.]
I am very confused about this. Content blockers are popular and widely heralded as an important step to curb the addictiveness of internet technology, enabling users to focus more on what matters to them.
What I am confused about is why they are still so primitive compared to what I actually want, and many others seem to want.
The troubles are endless: many do not offer operating on a schedule or a limit on visits on websites. Some only work on websites, but not apps. Many only block specific websites, but not the whole internet. They usually do not synchronize across devices. Most do not have a whitelist function. From a security perspective, they often seem really sketchy. Some of my content blockers just stop working occasionally for seemingly no reason. Often they have loopholes.
I could go on, but you get the idea. But even this list is only about their obvious failures, and does not even discuss the huge potential good content blockers would have.
Just imagine the possibilities: a system in which content is blocked by default. You actually have to specify what you want to be working on which unblocks specific content required for this set of tasks for a set period of time. If you want to, the system can force you to specify this a day in advance. But there could be jokers, in case you actually have forgotten about this one paper you still need. The jokers could even be source specific: you get to look up three papers, but just one wikipedia article. Or a softer approach—you would get a popup if you are visiting websites which do not seem related to the task you set yourself in your calendar.
What might be particularly great if the blocker would actually block content you do not want to see, not specific websites or apps. You would not be able to look at specific content which upsets you, unless you specify you actually want this a set amount of time in advance. I will admit this options carries some risks.
I am sure others can come up with many more options which might be better suited to their needs, these are just the features I would fancy the most.
The current state of affairs also makes me worried that we will not be able to deal with worse impacts from technological change in the future in a timely fashion.
Maybe making good content blockers is technologically much, much harder than I think it is. But then I do not understand why some seemingly simple features are not implemented, a content blocker which can do all the things a patchwork of blockers is already able to do would already be a big improvement. Possibly getting your blockers to interact with every system is just really tricky. But I would gladly buy a new laptop and a new phone with a new OS just for this purpose. Or maybe there is actually an arms race between big tech companies and content blockers that I do not see. But I have never heard of that as an issue. Maybe there is actually much less demand than I think there is for something better. But Freedom has a million users. Maybe this is just a dramatic market failure.
I have been reading Paul Graham’s essays recently. Something he writes about is how Google actually had lots of competition when it entered the market of search engines. How search engines were considered ‘solved’ by many companies. This was despite being awful at searching compared to what Google later did. I wonder whether we are in the same situation with content blockers now. They are a thing, yes. But they seem terrible.
I am confused.