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Dropshipping, advertisements and making a less user-hostile internet

Dropshipping, advertisements and making a less user-hostile internet

Being post-Yule like we are, I can’t help but see “Le Tits Now” on these dropship garbage products

When I started this blog I made the decision to not put advertisements or links where I get kickbacks. In part, this was because it’s a lot of work and I would then feel obligated to post on a schedule like it was my job. But this blog isn’t my job, it’s a passion project. It’s also a lot of work to manage SEO and income streams and engage with people all day. Since leaving my job IN social media, I didn’t want to make my hobby my job. I also had seen how the online world was already infringing into my daily life so the goal was to pare back, not lean in.

In the early aughts when livejournal was still a thing but no real social media company had broken through, you would only see banner ads sporadically. I remember when a webcomic I used to follow started offering a banner ad at the top of the daily comic. The ads back then made sense because it was individual companies and artists buying the space. The ads were typically relevant because they were audience-based: a real person had to enjoy the website and pay to advertise with the owner. But google changed all of that and now every site has banners in every corner, above, below & in the middle of the page. Often, sizing becomes a problem because the ads pop-up, close and resize whenever they flip to a new one (don’t get me started on auto-play videos!). It makes reading most websites almost impossible as it’s two sentences, a video, two sentences, an expanding banner etc. Unless you have a robust ad blocker installed and use the reader (provided it hasn’t been disabled) most blogs and websites are so user-hostile that I’ve given up on them completely. Even using an RSS like Feedly has become difficult because often you have to click through.

This is, of course, because I am old and because I was an early adopter of the internet (relatively speaking). When I discovered the online world in 1993 I had so much hope for the future. It was dubbed, “the information superhighway” for a reason and it promised a future of connectedness and free information. We were so hopeful! Granted, I was still technically a teenager but it was such a great place to interact, share opinions and learn new things. I guess we underestimated how pervasive businesses would be at leveraging the open source world and our desire to connect into surveillance capitalism. Now we have become the product and they use myriad shifty psychological tactics to keep our eyeballs online and keep those ad dollars rolling in.

One of the reasons I have been so successful at quitting social media is because it reached a point where the value I was getting out of sites like facebook had tipped over into being too much effort for the time I was putting in. I don’t even bother checking my main feed now: I just go directly to the community groups or pages I want to read. The algorithm’s attempt to only show me my notifications sporadically so that I keep checking back often has caused me to completely check out. There are too many ads and too many repeat showings of the same posts. It is effectively so useless to me that I can go on once a day and not go back until the next day – I used to spend hours on there!

Don’t get me wrong: I am not upset that individual people want to get paid for the time and effort that they put into running a blog or website. It just needs to be balanced with being user-friendly. But let’s also be honest: a lot of websites and blogs now offer courses and consulting and other products that you can buy. While I don’t begrudge people selling their expertise, I wonder how much expertise they really have. I can think of a handful of people I know who sell their services as life or job coaches – one of whom became a job coach after losing their own job when they couldn’t find another! In the world of flexes, that is a blue ribbon contender. Caveat Emptor.

Truth be told: we did it to ourselves. We engaged with the internet with the expectation that everything could be free forever but in reality someone had to pay the bills. We didn’t want to pay a yearly fee to use a blog service or pay for servers so we agreed to give our attention up to advertisers and secretly use ad blockers. So now it’s another layer of complexity as we play a cat-and-mouse game of disabling ad features with updates and updating our ad blockers to disable those features.

I actually love Patreon for this because often you can get basic content for free and then pay for special extras, or if you really like the content, you can subscribe. If you don’t want to sign up, you can also make a small one-time donation. This makes objective sense to me instead of pushing potential readers away with a website that looks like space invaders meets google adsense. I find myself more often signing up for various Patreon newsletters or prioritizing blogs that are more about sharing and engaging than making a quick buck. In fact, I’d say that the more ads on a site, the more useless the information is. Like the experiments done with monkeys doing drawings for rewards: the quality goes down when you get rewarded for quantity over quality.

To be sure, algorithms on social media sites favour quantity over quality and I’ve often seen small businesses complain that their context gets shadowbanned if they don’t, say, produce enough reels for Instagram or get enough likes, saves and shares. It is a ridiculous world we live in when we sign up for content on social media sites but don’t get that content served up to punish creators for not producing enough of, or the “right” content. Social media is addicted to mediocrity as long as enough content is posted, the quality seems to be irrelevant.

But let’s also take a step back and question the quality of the ads we’re also getting on sites and social media. Often, it’s dropshippers who are paying for these ads and as you can see from the images on this post: it’s absolute insanity how many of these garbage businesses there are out there selling the same product as unique to them. Drop shipping has become a get-rich-quick-scheme in recent years promoted as a work-from-anywhere business that appeals to people who want to be Digital Nomads. Unfortunately, most of the money to be made has already been made and the only real cash being made now is from websites offering courses and seminars on how to get into dropshipping. The market clearly is saturated, judging by the images in this post of ads I’ve been served from Instagram this past month.

Sadly, it’s often stolen ideas from actual artists who are selling on websites like Etsy who have their work copied & reproduced without credit or compensation. I have made it a point to never, ever buy anything from an ad that gets served up to me via social media. The reason for this is that I recently had a run-in with a company that looked legit and so I went ahead and bought two products from them as gifts. To make it short and sweet, the following happened:

1 – I was charged more than the invoice stated
2 – I was charged in a different currency than the invoice stated
3 – The name of the company was completely different when it came up in my credit card transactions
4 – I canceled the order within one hour of placing it and within the TOS cancellation guidelines
5 – They replied after I canceled in incredibly broken English and told me to accept the product anyway and if I wanted to return it, I could return it
6 – I did a chargeback on my credit card after they refused to cancel
7 – The product was supposed to ship through the UK but shipped from China via the US
8 – I received the product and it was incredibly low quality (think: dollar store)
9 – Seller refunded my money after the credit card company engaged them

Dropshipping is technically not illegal but copyright theft is. Because the original owners are usually small artists and the products are being mass made in countries with lax copyright laws, it’s like playing a game of whack-a-mole. It doesn’t help that websites like Etsy also don’t give a crap about dropshippers using their platform, either. They get their cut. Just go to Etsy and search for any item you’ve seen in an ad lately on social media and a plethora of results will appear. For example, go to Etsy and search for “6 bird pun coasters” and you will find a bunch of options at varying price points for the images featured in this post. Isn’t Etsy supposed to be for original artists and craftspeople? What gives with all of the duplicates? But this isn’t a surprise to most people who use Etsy. Since replacing the CEO and laying off staff in 2017 the general consensus is that it has also become hostile to the creators and customers it serves.

It feels like everything is a race to the bottom these days. Let’s not forget that even amazon itself is copying products and then rigging the results so that only their brands come up in searches. The way the algorithms on amazon are also obfuscating the fact that search results are indeed paid ads for certain companies has led to consumers losing confidence in the platform. I will shop ANYWHERE but amazon if I can because it’s impossible to determine if a company is really who they say they are. To not pick on Amazon either, many companies from Walmart to Best Buy have allowed 3rd party resellers on their site who sell absolute junk at bargain prices that often isn’t even what was described in the ad. Most of these are dropshippers who hope that the average consumer won’t fight back about a small purchase. Get enough people to do this and you have a pretty profitable business built on people’s unwillingness to fight over a $20 product they have to send back by paying $10 in shipping to return it.

I think I just want to try and carve out my own little niche on the internet the best way I can. I know that I will never be free from online advertising, google’s web crawling and algorithms but I also know that I don’t have to encourage it either. I find I trust information and websites more if they aren’t inundated with ads and things they are trying to sell. I didn’t want my personal blog to turn into I RETIRED AT 43 – ASK ME HOW! Besides, the real answer is: have a really good disability plan at your work and get a motor neuron disease. That may not be the solution people will want to hear if I sold them a course or a consulting session.

Post-pandemic I am really trying to shop at brick and mortar stores or purchase directly from the artists instead of 3rd party websites like Etsy. Sure, you may not be able to divest yourself 100% from these platforms – heck, I had a friend amazon prime me a scooter charger to Puerto Rico! I drove around the island and couldn’t find one but I needed to charge my mobility scooter to get home. I feel absolutely zero shame about making that purchase. But trying to make the world a less hostile, jarring place is never a bad thing. So some day I may put one of those “buy me a coffee” buttons on this site. Maybe not. But I do know that I like the peace of an ad-free website and since I only have control over the one wee corner of the web that I can control, it remains ad free. I hope you enjoy it too.