Thursday, July 27, 2017

What The Hell Happened To Snopes?

Snopes has morphed over time into something different and more trendy.

In the news today, a plea from Snopes online for money to keep the doors open.   Seems the Mikkelsons got divorced and Barbara sold her half of the company to some folks who run some sort of media company.    You can read all the dirt about it here.   But that's not what I'm talking about.

I find myself visiting a lot less and less these days.  The site has changed formats and changed content.   It seems today every new item is a click-bait question, such as "Is This Image of John Lennon and Che Guevara Real?"  If you are familiar with Betteridge's law of headlines, you know the answer is "NO".

It seems Snopes is resorting to click-bait titles more and more - as well as celebrity gossip and headline news. Less and less of the site is devoted to urban legends and debunking myths and conspiracy theories.  It is also painfully slow to load, as well, and you have to click through several pages to read about the latest internet rumors - no doubt by design, to get people to click more and linger longer - both of which result in higher ad revenues due to greater "engagement" by the viewer.

And maybe in part this is because myth and conspiracy theories are now mainstream news and what people today want is titillation, not truth.

Some say the company that Barbara sold out to is trying to gin up the revenue by making the site prettier and trendier - so they can sell out to a major media conglomerate.   Perhaps Fox News?   After all, they're fair and balanced, right?

However Snopes sorts out its money woes and discontent among the ranks (and from the looks of it, David Mikkelson has enough shares and votes to prevail) it seems the site has been permanently altered for the long-haul.

Like I said, I stopped checking it regularly, about a year ago.  It just seemed so much of what was on the site was stuff I had already seen debunked elsewhere days ago.   It used to be that stuff appeared on Snopes long before it appeared anywhere else.    Today, that is no more.  Plus, some of the ads on their site are a little, well, over-the-top.  It also appears that one of Barbara's last postings (it appears) wasn't so much an attempt to debunk an internet rumor, but to air personal grievances against GEICOThe posting has since been removed and even excluded from the Internet "Wayback Machine" as well.

The problem with "fact-checking" and rumor debunking is that indeed, everyone approaches these things with a certain prejudicial point of view.   Snopes has some mild bias in many of its postings.  Other sites that attempt to "fact-check" also tip their hands with their analysis.  It is very, very hard to be impartial and develop a reputation for fairness.  When you use your fact-checking website as a platform to air your dirty laundry with the insurance company, well, all bets are off.

Websites have a half-life of maybe 5-10 years, tops.   They become popular for a while, then people tire of them and move on.   This is the nightmare Zuckerberg has every night.   Sure, they have hundreds of millions of users (No, I don't believe the "Billions" part - so many accounts are dormant or fake, and they count those, of course).   But people have shown to drift away from even the most popular sites, channels, and programs.

And that is all these things are - websites. Whether it is my blog here, or Facebook, or even - they are all just websites on the Internet - easy to copy, mimic, and replicate, or improve upon.   They have a fan base, peak in usage, and then slowly decline until they reach that point of "Hey, remember when we all used to go on Gawker or Geocities?   What ever happened to those?"

Of course, people don't leave a site until they have somewhere else to go.  So eventually, something will come along that maybe will supplant Snopes.   Something with a better layout, fewer clickbait "question" titles, less celebrity gossip, and maybe an easier format to load - and of course, fewer ads.

And if that site has a reputation for impartiality, maybe people will morph towards that. Who knows?   Every site has its heyday.  So far in the history of the Internet, there have only been a few popular sites that have remained popular for more than a decade.   But even eBay has morphed over time.   Less and less a garage sale and more and more of a merchant platform.  Amazon went from used book seller to online merchant, and today to a tech company selling proprietary technology.

But more about that, later.