Sunday, January 10, 2021

Another way social media is bad

Social media like Twitter, Facebook, etc., has been in the news this week for obvious reasons due to the political unrest in the United States, where this blog and yours truly are based. For the same obvious reasons I'm not going to discuss that here since I can't moderate such a discussion and there are a million other places to talk about it. Likewise, please don't do so in the comments; I will remove those posts.

But relevant to this blog and this audience is social media's impact on trying to get the most bang for your buck out of your old devices and computers. Full-fat Twitter and Facebook (and others) are computationally expensive: the bells and whistles cost in terms of JavaScript, and there is no shortage of other client-side analytics to feed you the posts to keep you engaged and to monitor your actions to construct ad profiles. A number of our outstanding bugs in TenFourFox are directly due to this, and some can't be fixed without terrible consequences (such as Facebook's asm.js draw code using little-endian floats, which would be a nightmare to constantly byteswap, which is why the reaction icons don't show up), and pretty much none of them are easy to diagnose because all of their code is minified to hell. As they track changes in hardware and the browser base and rely on them, these problems continuously get worse. Most of TenFourFox's development is done by me and me alone and a single developer simply can't keep up with all the Web platform changes anymore.

Moreover, whatever features are available still have to contend with what the hardware is capable of. As our base is overwhelmingly Power Macs, I expect people to realize they are using computers which are no less than 15 years old and often more. We support operating systems with inadequate GPU support and we have to use Carbon APIs, so we will never be 64-bit, even on G5. Built-in basic adblock cuts a lot of fat, and we have a JIT and the fastest JavaScript on any 32-bit PowerPC platform, but it's still not enough. No one at these sites cares about our systems; I've never had any luck with trying to contact developers other than autoreply contact forms and unhelpful support desks which cater to users instead of other devs. Sometimes the sites offer light versions, such as basic Facebook. Some of you use this, some of you won't. However, sometimes the sites offer light versions, but only through mobile-specific apps (like Twitter Lite), so it doesn't help us. Sometimes user agent twiddling can help but many users don't know how or can't be bothered. And their continued availability is always subject to whether the home site wants to continue to supporting them or not because they probably do have impacts in terms of what browsing and activity information they can aggregate.

Many people effectively rate a computer today on how well it can access social media, and a computer that can't is therefore useless. This means you permit these companies to determine when the computer you spent your hard-earned money on should go in the trash. That decision probably won't be made maliciously, but it certainly won't be made to benefit you.

These are private companies and they get to decide how they will spend their money and time. But we, in turn, shouldn't depend on them for anything nor expect anything from them, and we should think about finding ways to extricate ourselves from them and maintain contact with the people we care about in other fashions. On our systems in particular this will only get worse and it doesn't have to. The power they have over our wallets and our public discourse is only — and entirely — because collectively we gave it to them.