Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Archive for March 2019

The perversity of offers in B2C commerce

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Portions of my recent (and past) problems with eCommerce (cf. e.g. [1], [2], [3]) were worsened by a fundamental flaw in the typical* legal view of how a (B2C) purchase takes place: What should be viewed as an offer to sell a product is just an “invitation to treat”, leading up to the prospective**buyer making an offer to the seller, which the latter can then accept or reject at will.

*I have not researched the global situation, but this is the case in both Germany and the U.S. (and likely most or all other “common law” countries, because they naturally tend towards the same legal principles).

**A word that I will leave out in the remainder of the text, for brevity, irrespective of whether a purchase actually takes place.

The absurdity of this is proved by how the price and other conditions are usually unilaterally determined by the seller: Go to a grocery store, grab something priced at 9.99, go up to the cashier—and offer to buy it for 7.50. Not only will the offer be rejected out of hand almost everywhere*, but chances are that the cashier will even lack the comprehension that this type of offer should be possible. Indeed, she would likely neither be legally authorized by the store to negotiate the price, nor technically able to accept a different price**—even should it be a higher one. Effectively, “we invite you to extend an offer towards us with these exact conditions—and if you do not like said conditions, don’t waste our time”.. To consider that an invitation, not an offer, is absurd.

*One potential exception is a mom-and-pop store when the owner actually happens to be at the cash register.

**At least without causing a discrepancy between the electronic transaction logs and the contents of the cash drawer, which the cashier might be forced to cover with own funds.

Looking at e.g. eCommerce, this legal approach causes problems like a seller being able to refuse purchases even on the flimsiest grounds, no matter what efforts the buyer has gone through, and even after the buyer’s “offer” might appear to have been accepted. For instance, in my interactions with Cyberport (cf. parts of [2]), the web interface appeared to accept my “offer”, a confirmation email was sent, and my offer then rejected* some 15 (!) hours later. More generally, such transactions (at least in Germany) tend to have an attached disclaimer that “a legal contract only results with our confirmation” (or similar). Cyberport takes it to an extreme “Im Übrigen** kommt ein Vertrag mit Zusendung der Versandbestätigungs-E-Mail zustande.” (“In other cases**, a contract results with the confirmation-of-shipping email.”), which effectively implies that Cyberport can reject any “offer” until the product is actually sent on its way.***

*Cyberport still wanted my business, but refused the “offered” payment per invoice. Legally, this amounts to a rejection.

**A previous sentence specifies other rules for the special cases of prepayment and cash-on-delivery.

***Even afterwards, actually, through simply suppressing said email, but this would almost always be to Cyberport’s own disadvantage.

In other areas, problems like undue discrimination can arise, say with a (physical) store refusing customers due to a too dark skin tone, a Jewish nose, or a pro-Trump hat.

The advantages of altering this legal view include greater safety and fewer complications for the buyers, e.g. in that situations like mine will occur far more rarely, that selling items online without being certain that they can be procured will backfire,* and that bait-and-switch schemes will be harder. To boot, the situation will be more logical—cf. above or note how even the typical language of the sellers tend to place the offer on their side.**

*This practice is apparently somewhat common: A store offers a product at a certain price and a buyer places an order (makes an “offer”). If the store manages to procure the product at a price that allows it a profit, it eventually accepts; if it cannot, it rejects. This is particularly problematic when there is a non-trivial delay in time, because the buyer will have to wait that much longer before he goes to the competition. Indeed, chances are that he would never have gone through the effort to place an order, had he known in advance that delivery was not next to guaranteed. (Of course, the point of the scheme is to keep customers from going to the competition, even when it would be in their best interest.) I once read an article (likely in C’t) about a computer dealer who systematically tried to delay delivery so long, weeks or months, that it could profit from changes in the price level for its products. (Along the lines of promising a brand new Apple product for five percent below the typical retail price—but not actually delivering until the retail price had dropped by six percent. This leaves a percentage point extra profit and a number of customers who would have gone elsewhere without the misleading price claim.)

**As in “today’s offers”, “we offer”, etc. Vice versa, the word “offer” is typically not used for what the customer does—instead words like “order” and “application” dominate.

Now, making the actual offer (by the seller) an offer in the legal sense, raises a few complications, but none that cannot be handled. For instance, if the price of a product is considerably lower than normal by accident, a reservation for “obvious errors” would give the seller protection—that a car normally in the 20,000-Euro price range does not sell for 20.00 Euro or 2,000 Euro is almost a given.* Running out of product is not much of an issue in a physical store, because the offer through a sign/label/whatnot is obviously directed at the products in front of the buyer—you can buy one of these cartons of milk for 50 cent. If no cartons are present, then no offer takes place. Online, the stores would be forced to keep their listings up-to-date to reduce the risk, but that is relatively easy and increases customer friendliness.** Should later problems ensue, e.g. that the store does not receive expected deliveries, it is only fair that the store keeps the customers unharmed and settles its own problems without disadvantaging them.*** Issues like credit worthiness are largely beside the point, because if a seller has a reasonable fear that the buyer will not fulfill his part of the bargain, he cannot be obliged to stand by his offer.**** If worst comes to worst, there is always the option to make an offer conditional—with a condition that must then be explicitly stated in advance and is, correspondingly, fairer towards the buyers than the current arbitrariness.

*But with lesser errors, the store might well have to sell at the stated price—and that would be good in my eyes. (Exactly where to draw the lines is beyond the current scope, and might well depend on both product and audience.) Indeed, this is often what would happen today anyway: If the bar code is associated with the wrong price, the cashier is unlikely to even notice—and, cf. above, might not be able to do anything about it, even if she did.

**Or to implement better order management, or similar, with an improvement for both the buyers and the store.

***Note e.g. that what product sources the store uses, and what risks are associated, is a decision made by the store—not the customers of the store. Correspondingly, the store should carry the consequences of these decisions.

****However, the seller might see restrictions in the great arbitrariness that currently applies, where “unreasonable fear” is quite common. That too would be good.

Excursion on different types of deals:
Regular store sales, e.g., are by their nature offers—not invitations. However, this does not apply to all other conceivable deals. For instance, the sale of a single house or a single painting is by its nature an invitation to negotiate—all involved parties expect a negotiation and understand that only one buyer will actually get the house/painting. For instance, auctions are by their nature invitations to bid.

Excursion on advertising:
In contrast to the above, advertising might be an area where “invitation to treat” is a reasonable concept, e.g. because it is impossible to change the contents of a prospect after its been sent in the mail, even should the circumstance change or an error be detected. Explicit reservations for errors or the supply running out might be helpful substitutes (and I have seen them relatively often even as is), but might come with the danger of raising red flags to the customer, who could suspect e.g. a bait-and-switch scheme or a “lure” product that is offered at a fantastic price (but in extremely low numbers) solely to get people into the store.

Excursion on the historical situation:
In earlier days, the situation might not have been as absurd as it is today, giving some explanation to how the legal view arose. (But the more likely explanation is the convenience of the sellers.) For instance, price haggling was far more common and often outright expected in the past, amounting to a series of offers and counter-offers.* For instance, mail-order catalogs are much harder to update than websites, and there was a lot of room for misprints with older technology. (Then again, mail-order catalogs might be better viewed as advertising or otherwise be exempt, with an eye on inflation, price fluctuations, VAT changes, and similar, which can make it impossible to guarantee the same price over many months.)

*Incidentally, yet another argument why the seller’s offer should be the offer from a legal point of view: When haggling is reduced to a single statement of the seller’s price wish, this amounts to only the seller’s final offer remaining, making it absurd to interpret it as a “invitation to treat”. Negotiations did not usually go like “A: If you were to offer me ten shillings, I would sell. B: No, I couldn’t do that—but if you were to offer to sell for seven shillings, I would be on board.” (where the formulations are intended to be interpreted literally, not as round-about formulations of offers).

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Written by michaeleriksson

March 30, 2019 at 9:11 am

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Follow-up: Some more experiences with eCommerce and poor web-design II

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I recently wrote of my negative experiences with Bauhaus [1] and eCommerce, including the inexplicable payment problems.

I have now received an email answer from Bauhaus to my request for a solution to enable the purchase despite the technical problems caused by Bauhaus. This answer is depressing and shows a complete disregard for customer interests, leaving me with a grand-total of possible two hours* of time wasted with nothing to show for it—and, yes, I was too optimistic in ascribing the behavior to an unintended technical problem.

*Including the phase two weeks ago described in [1], but not including the time spent writing texts. The single order that failed might have taken around an hour, including browsing the catalog and working with the abysmally slow website.

I will certainly never use Bauhaus again, not even the physical stores, unless it backs down from this customer-hostile stance. Factoring in the extreme slowness of the website, I can only encourage others to avoid it. I note that Bauhaus’ website has by now cost it the chance at orders over thousands of Euro of products and services (most of it relating to events in [1] prior to the current order). The issue is the more annoying, because I basically had already decided against using Bauhaus for any of the intended orders (cf. [1])—I made the mistake of still ordering the shelves from Bauhaus and was immediately burnt.

To quote pertinent parts*:

*A few minor manual corrections were necessary after copy-and-paste, since Bauhaus appears to have used non-standard characters or encoding. Reservations for undetected problems caused by this.

Bei jeder Bestellung erfolgt eine automatisierte handelsübliche Prüfung der Adress-und Bestelldaten, auf die wir keinen Einfluss haben.

Die angebotene Zahlart ist abhängig von verschiedenen Faktoren.

Abhängig von Warenwert, Größe und Gewicht der Artikel sowie der Kategorie der Artikel stellt Ihnen der Online-Shop eine Auswahl an Zahlarten zur Verfügung.

Wir behalten uns nach dieser Prüfung vor, bestimmte Zahlungsarten im Rahmen des Bestellvorgangs auszuschließen.

Translation (with reservation for the correctness of terms of trade):

For every order, an automatic customary-in-the-trade (“handelsübliche”) check of address-and [hyphen present in original] order data is made, on which we have no influence

The offered payment methods depend on different factors.

Depending on the value of the goods, size and weight of the article and the category of the article, the online-shop gives you a selection of payment types.

We reserve the right to, after this check, remove specific payment types from the order transaction (“Bestellvorgang”).

This might have been acceptable in principle, had the payment options not already been offered. Filtering out the options before the user makes a choice could be OK, but doing so after he has already started choosing, and then choosing based on faulty premises, is inexcusable. To boot, there was no prior information that this might take place and no obvious means to make a preliminary check—to avoid spending all that time waiting on and searching on the uselessly slow website.

Further, either I was filtered out based on flawed criteria* or a very large proportion of the users will meet similar problems. I note that while some type of credit or similar check is not unusual, it is usually very explicit** and to speak of “customary” (“[handels]üblich”) for whatever checks Bauhaus used is extremely dubious.

*My credit rating should be flawless and not an obstacle. I also do not recall having given an authorization to perform a credit check, implying that this would boil down to me living in the wrong place (“address”)—if so, intolerable. The order value was small (possibly, around a 150 Euro) and would not be a legitimate cause for concern. The size and weight might have been well above average, but there is no obvious legitimate reason as to why this should have affected the payment methods. Further, both the value and size/weight were known before showing payments methods, and (for what should be a strictly internal check) it cannot be justified to not make the corresponding check in advance.

**E.g. in the form of a request to do a credit check or, for invoicing, a request to send data to a separate service, e.g. Klarna. I note that doing such a check without my consent would involve an illegal use of my data.

Also note that there was no indication of any connection to a check made in the messages displayed, including no mention of credit rating, size, weight, whatnot having had an impact. On the contrary, the impression of a Bauhaus wide restriction for everyone is created. This gross miscommunication is a further time waster.

As for the Cyberport issue discussed in the same text: Cyberport had per email requested that I state my preferred other payment options. I did so on the 27th (same day) and requested further instructions, due to the vagueness of the request. I am still waiting on a reaction from Cyberport. (But note that a lack of reaction within, at the time of writing, 46 hours need not indicate a major problem. It still compounds the delay, however. Even if Cyberport eventually honors my order, it will arrive at least three times later than originally indicated.)

Written by michaeleriksson

March 29, 2019 at 7:16 pm

Older discussion of DN / Follow-up: The problem of too shallow knowledge / experiences in Sweden

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In a recent text, I discussed the decline of the Swedish news-paper DN (among other things).

In a much earlier text, dated 2009-11-03, I had already brought up some points relating to its decline, notably a severe attitude problem. This in form on comments on an online-chat* with the then editor-in-chief, who made a number of statements that are interesting both in general and in retrospect. It truly is no wonder that DN has failed as a news source.

*Except that it was no true chat at all, but just her answering pre-filtered questions in one sitting, as discussed in the linked-to text.

One question was “Where will DN be in ten years?”*, which is almost the time passed. The answer began “DN will still be Sweden’s most important paper.”*, which has not panned out at all in my eyes. (Discounting the question whether DN was the most important paper back then, which is dubious.) On the contrary, DN has made it self so useless that its importance in a weightier sense is very low. If it is important, the importance is increasingly more akin to that of the Kardashians than that of Benjamin Franklin. The answer continues “The number of readers is even larger through the online edition, and therefore our journalism has an even greater impact.”*, which is a hard claim to check. However: According to a graph on page 5 of a report (PDF, in Swedish), DN dropped from an estimated 905 thousand “print” readers** in 2009 to 570 thousand in the first quarter of 2018 (with a further decline until now likely). The “overall” (“total”) numbers beginning in 2017 confuse the issue and could be (mis-)construed to imply an increase, which I discuss in an excursion. Looking at some graphs for other papers, I suspect that DN has also lost ground relatively speaking (but I have not dug into the details and might well be wrong).

*In my translation from a Swedish original.

**Strictly speaking, if I interpret the very unclear source correctly, these numbers likely refer to the potential readers counted for e.g. advertising purposes. See an excursion on readers.

With great reservations for interpretation, my conclusion would then be that DN has lost readers both absolutely and relatively despite the online edition. However, in all fairness, the 2009 online edition was likely free, implying that the prediction was made under radically different circumstances.

Excursion on potential vs true readers:
The report speaks of “räckvidd” (“reach”), which likely includes e.g. all members of a subscribing household (or all in a certain age bracket), even if only one actually reads the paper. (Disclaimer: I might be off in the details, but the principle is correct.) These numbers are then likely inflated considerably above the true number of readers. The general trend should remain the same, however. If anything, I would speculate on the trend being understated, because of generational differences and different habits among the young “now” and “then”. (In other words, the children living at home were more likely to read the paper in the past than they are today.)

Excursion on numbers and types of editions:
There are potentially three types of editions (and DN uses all three): Paper, digital-but-not-web (e.g. as a PDF file), and web. It is not obvious how what is counted where, and this could distort the discussion. (Especially, if the treatment is different for different papers.)

The graph contains several measures. The line called “Total”, in my best guess, includes all readers of all three editions. The “Print” line likely originally was the paper readers, but after 2016 include “e-tidningsläsande” (“e-paper reading”), which I suspect is digital-but-not-web. The “Digital” line is very unclear, but might refer to the web edition, which would work well in conjuncture with “Total”, if we allow for a discount of readers who belong to both “Print” and “Digital” (leaving the “Total” number smaller than the sum of “Print” and “Digital”).*

*I suspect that the closeness of “Digital” to “Print” is just a coincidence, because the corresponding entries for e.g. Aftonbladet are quite far apart. If not, some closer connection might have been present and forced a different interpretation. The much larger “Digital” value for Aftonbladet is also well compatible with an interpretation as a web edition, because Aftonbladet’s web edition is free of charge.

If we work under this assumption, the “Total” number for 2018 is a highly misleading comparison for the “Print” number for 2009: There was a great number of web readers even in 2009. Indeed, there might* well have been considerably more of them than today, because the current version is “pay-walled”, while the 2009 edition was not. Also note that “Digital” has fallen throughout its few years of display, and that this trend might have been present earlier too. Correspondingly, I suspect that the drop** in “Total” had been even larger than in “Print”, had the number been available. Under no circumstance is it reasonable to imagine an increase of 166 (1071 – 905) thousand from 2009 to 2018. (This even assuming that the editions are roughly comparable. If not, the addition is even more misleading.)

*This boils down to a fight between the trend towards greater online activities and the loss of visitors through the pay-wall. Seeing that Sweden had a very large Internet penetration very early on, my money is on the latter.

**At least in absolute numbers. It might have fared better in relative numbers.

To boot, I suspect that the difference between potential readers (as reported) and true readers (more interesting) will be larger for the web edition. This partly because it is more convenient and more natural to share a physical paper than online access, especially if different computers or computer accounts come into play; partly because the lower price makes it less wasteful to have a subscription that only one person uses.

However, even if we were to look at “paying customers”, the calculation would be misleading. Yes, the number of these might actually have increased. However, this must be seen in light of a much lower* price for the web edition, with less money actually flowing in.

*Compared not just to the paper edition, but to the digital-but-not-web edition. The former difference might have been offset by printing and distribution costs, the latter is not.

Disclaimer:
I suffered a computer crash during late-stage editing. Some changes might have been lost.

Written by michaeleriksson

March 28, 2019 at 9:00 am

Some more experiences with eCommerce and poor web-design II

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Sometimes, I feel like tearing my hair out—fortunately, what little is left is cut too short to get a good grip…

Prior to and after writing the previous installment ([1]), I tried to use the German Bauhaus for some major purchases for and/or some works on my apartment, having made good experiences as a minor customer in the physical stores. This included replacing my (awful) current kitchen.

For this purpose, about two weeks ago, I brought home a 1500-page catalog, which I assumed would be extremely helpful in preliminary planning, both with regard to what I wanted to do/buy and whether Bauhaus was a suitable partner for the task. This turned out not to be the case, because (a) large parts of my interests were not covered sufficiently (including that much of the kitchen products that they do have were not present), (b) almost all products that I checked (and actually found…) lacked a price. Instead of a price, there was a lowest-price guarantee—if I found the same product cheaper somewhere else, Bauhaus would give me an even better price. But what help is that when planing?!? When it comes to areas like furniture, house-hold appliance, and whatnots, prices between products in the same category can easily vary by a factor of ten, with a much smaller variation in quality. For my purposes, a current-price-with-reservations-for-changes would have been much more helpful than a lowest-price guarantee. I suspect that the same applies to most other customers, who will not decide on a certain product (“it’s just diviiine”) and then compare prices.* Instead they will look at products of a certain type and compare them—with price, it self, being one of the most important criteria.

*There might be some few that do decide before knowing the price, e.g. because they are very rich or lack price consciousness. But: Are those very likely to compare prices or look for lowest-price guarantees? They might not care about the missing price, but they have little benefit from the price guarantee either.

I tried to compensate for this by also looking at the associated website—slow as molasses, dependent on JavaScript, and guilty of the filter-change-causes-reload issue discussed in [1]. It was so horrible that I gave up and decided to use Bauhaus only as a fallback for the major buys/works, in case the many competitors did not work out.

Early this morning, I spent some time browsing the catalog, just in case, and decided that I could at least use Bauhaus to order some shelves (prices were usually present…), and I went to the website to look in detail at what was present and what matched my intended measurements. Here the many search criteria (including dimensions and material) really came in handy. The speed remained agonizing low, however, mostly due to the filter-change-causes-reload issue,* and interesting products often turned out not to be currently available or not available in the online store… I was sorely tempted to just give up; but decided to push through, seeing that I had postponed the shelves for close to a year already.

*Cf. [1] where this was less serious due to the very limited number of criteria. Here a greater number of criteria were present, I wanted to apply several of them and had to wait again and again: Max width—reload. Min width—reload. Min height—reload. Max price—reload. More specific product type—reload. Reduce to a certain brand—reload. Try another brand—reload twice. (Once to deselect the first brand; once to select the next.) Etc. Note that the great number of products made the alternative to filtering an even slower manual check of hundreds of items.

I made my choices, entered all my data, proceeded to pay, and … payment turned out to be impossible! I first tried my credit card, ran straight into 3D-Secure* hell, and opted to go back to try something else. Lastschrift* was offered, I clicked on the corresponding button, and was immediately met with a message to the effect that “we cannot offer this payment method at this particular time”. Odd: Two seconds ago, you claimed that you could! Next attempt: Invoice. I clicked on the button—and was met by the same absurd message! I tried to go back for something else, but found nothing that was usable. (I do not recall the exact options, but one was “gift card”, which is useless for someone who does not already have a gift card**…)

*See below discussion for more information on some payment methods.

**To which can be added that gift cards make lousy gifts: Never buy them, never use them as gifts. (I know that I have written something on this before, but I cannot find it on short notice. The gist: Gift cards lock money up to the advantage of the merchant. The customer is better of with regular money.)

To boot, these messages are hard to explain technically: There might be some odd case where a payment with Lastschrift is not possible, because a service provider somewhere has a technical issue; however, this should be very rare and would require a more reasonable error message. For invoice*, on the other hand, there is no excuse that could reasonably apply, short of an internal problem that made more-or-less any purchase impossible—which should then be explained well in advance.

*Yes, there are some sites that use an external provider to check the credit-worthiness of the customer before allowing invoice purchases. No, this is not a valid excuse—if this had been the case, Bauhaus should have accepted the (small) extra risk, rather than refusing the customer. To boot, most setups would likely have this check and Lastschrift independent of each other, which reduces the risk of a simultaneous error considerably.

This evening, I came home to find that Cyberport (cf. [1]) had refused to accept “invoice” as means of payment—after the fact and without voicing any type of complaint at the time of my original order.

To boot there was no good information on how to proceed, just a list of alternate payment methods, most of which are problematic or out of the question entirely (and which well illustrate the problems with online payments):

  1. Nachnahme (roughly, cash on delivery): Comes with a 6.90 Euro surcharge*. This is payable by the recipient of the package, although the sender is the beneficiary. The sole benefit for the customer is that he can be assured to have received his package at the time of payment, but, unlike e.g. invoice/credit-card/Lastschrift (cf. below) he has no additional recourse if the contents of the package are faulty.

    *If using DHL at the time of writing, according to official information. Other providers might have different fees; and fees change over time.

    To boot, this applies per package and is outside the control of the recipient: If the sender decides to split an order into more than one package, the recipient has to pay this fee multiple times.

    As an aside, there are legal restrictions to the degree a merchant can enforce fees on means of payment towards the customer. Whether these apply to Nachnahme is, unfortunately and in my understanding, untested—and without a legal block, the customer is still stuck with paying the fee that by rights should be paid by the merchant.

  2. Credit card: This used to be a wonderful means of payment. Today, there is a considerable risk that 3D-Secure* (or a similar mechanism) is used, which leads to a very high error rate and/or requires additional technology (e.g. a smart-phone), and increases effort considerably to boot. (See parts of [2] for why 3D-Secure is a negative for the customer and brings benefits only to other parties.)

    *I am still waiting for feedback as to whether Cyberport uses 3D-Secure.

  3. PayPal: Apart from the extra effort to create an account and whatever might apply, I have heard so many* stories of abysmal customer treatment or even outright fraud** from PayPal that I would not even consider opening an account there.

    *I used to work for a competitor of PayPal’s. During this time, I read a fair bit about the competition and heard quite a few “trade” stories. There are entire websites dedicated to this topic.

    **In the characterization by the customer. I have not investigated the actual intent behind the events, but the mere fact that customers are lead to such characterizations point to business methods that are, at best, negligent of the customer’s rights and interests.

    (I am uncertain what rights the customer has when having paid for undelivered or faulty merchandise. If these rights are weak, this is an additional issue.)

  4. Sofortüberweisung: An idiotic, unethical, and by rights illegal* “service”, which forces the customer to hand log-in information to his online banking to a third party**—in gross violation of both common sense and the typical terms and conditions* of the bank. I would never, ever, resort to this absurdity.

    *In my understanding, a very regrettable law change has made this type of approach legal and required banks to change their terms and conditions to allow it. The motivation (IIRC) was something along the line of allowing competition—the rights of the customer were not mentioned with one word. Much better would have been to crack down heavily on such abuse and to make clear that an account (be it bank, computer, service, …) holder must never be forced to give out such information.

    **Who then logs in to his banking, transfers money, and tells the merchant that the transfer was successful.

    (I am uncertain what rights the customer has when having paid for undelivered or faulty merchandise. If these rights are weak, this is an additional issue.)

  5. Vorauskasse (advance payment): Because the customer pays in advance, he has no protection against fraud and he is left to the whims of the merchant in case of problems.

    I have used it myself and got burnt by Beyer. I would only use it again if I trusted the merchant—never for a first buy, as with Cyberport.

  6. Giropay: A means of payment provided by the banks that provides a similar functionality to Sofortüberweisung, but does so in a manner that respects the users rights, does not drastically reduce security, and is compatible with the interests of the bank. (In fairness, there have been some concerns about sharing of non-login data, e.g. addresses, with the service provider in a non-transparent manner.)

    A decent protection of the customer is (IIRC) present in the case of undelivered or faulty merchandise, but I am vague on the details.

    I would be willing to use this, but have so far never had the opportunity, and I cannot vouch that it usually works technically.

What is not on the list is what non-negotiably should be present—the German gold-standard of payments: Lastschrift.*

*This allows the merchant to transfer the amount in question directly from the customers bank account, while the customer has the right to cancel incorrect transfers after the fact. The result is quite close to a credit card without having to have a credit card. (But without an actual credit, obviously.) While it might sound dangerous at first glance, it actually works quite well.

Written by michaeleriksson

March 27, 2019 at 11:49 pm

Follow-up III: WordPress and more post-by-email distortions

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I have repeatedly written about WordPress and how it distorts texts posted by email in a user hostile and unethical manner (e.g. in [1], [2], [3]).

Now, I have to add another complaint:

In a text from earlier today, I referenced several web-sites. I deliberately did so without linking and mentioning just the name, e.g. “www.conrad.de”—no link or “http(s):” present. (Should you see one, it is a distortion by WordPress; however, in the past, things within quotes have been left alone.)

Nevertheless the published version appears with full links, including a spurious “http:” at the beginning of the display text of every single instance.

In addition to the general issues already discussed, I note that (a) it is not a given that “http” is a safe choice and “https” would be better in the clear majority of cases;* (b) it must be possible to discuss server (or domain) names without actually linking to them; (c) not everything that looks like a server (or domain) name actually is one and not all servers are necessarily present on the web, which could lead to grossly misleading linking; (d) not linking can be a deliberate choice that is nullified by this idiocy. Notably, considering the odd court decisions that have taken place over the years, a situation could conceivably even occur, where this added link to an address makes someone legally liable in a different manner from merely mentioning the website. Other reasons not to actually link can be related to e.g. search-engine rankings.

*But not always, implying that there is no good choice, and giving a further argument to leave them alone.

Written by michaeleriksson

March 26, 2019 at 10:01 pm

Some more experiences with eCommerce and poor web-design

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Since I have spent (and intend to continue to spend) a lot less time traveling, I have just ordered a desktop computer to get more comfort over my laptop.

This provided several good illustrations of how poorly thought-through many web-shops are.

For instance,* during the actual order stage, I found that copying my VAT-identification into the corresponding field led to an unspecified error—allegedly, something was wrong, but no word was given as to what. A bit of experimentation revealed that because I had not typed the VAT, the field did not recognize that an entry was present… This is idiotic on at least three counts: Firstly, this is the type of information that should be copied as a matter of course, to reduce the risk of accidental errors (and work needed). Secondly, a good developer would not have let himself be fooled by something like that.** Thirdly, a reasonable error message should have been given, e.g. that a mandatory field was empty. This would have made the error search much faster and would have avoided red herrings like a syntax error or an accidental copying of the wrong value (or an incomplete copying of the correct value). The error message displayed also showed the design error of appearing (only) at the top of the page, instead of next to the field. This was especially bad because the top of the page was not visible without scrolling when the field was visible… (However, at least the field was actually marked red, so that the user knew to search for an error message—I have seen even this be left out on some other sites.)

*At http://www.cyberport.de

**Most likely, a heuristic was used that “if the user has typed something, the field is not empty”. This is highly naive and the (easy) check whether the field actually was empty would be much better.

Similarly, there was one of those idiotic* “please re-type your email address” fields. Of course, I just grabbed the original entry and pasted it—and nothing happened. Apparently, instead of realizing that this type of field is an idiocy, the designer had decided to block copy actions to force a re-type. To boot, this was done without any discernible error or warning message.

*Email addresses, too, are best copied from a fix source—not typed. If it is copied, there is no risk of a mistype and the “re-type” field is a pointless time-waster. Most non-copiers will likely rely on auto-complete, which will almost always either give the correct result or the wrong result twice. Again the “re-type” field is a pointless time-waster. For those who do type, the clear majority can be expected to either type and double-check sufficiently carefully that the address is correct in the first field, while those who do commit an error will usually do so due to a memory error, which will usually be repeated in the “re-type” field… Again, this field is a pointless time-waster. (A better approach could be to e.g. put a warning text next to the first field, to indicate the communication problems that could ensue if the address is mistyped and “please double-check it”.

Earlier, I had visited a number of category pages from one of Germany’s most popular physical electronic stores.* This with an eye on looking for other things that might be interesting, the store(s) having a very wide selection of products, be it on- or off-line. Not only did I have to jump through hoops to get to these pages,** but once there, they were all empty… Whether this was due to an internal error or an unprofessional reliance on e.g. Google***, I do not know. What I do know is that I wasted a fair amount of time, bought nothing, and definitely will not return in a hurry.

*Conrad resp. http://www.conrad.de

**There were usually several clicks and a lot of scrolling needed (instead of the one click that should have been needed), because the original links did not lead to the category pages—but to information pages that contained a link to the real category page somewhere towards the bottom.

***Google (and a few other companies) provide extensive APIs that can facilitate web-development. For an online store, it should be a given that these are installed locally. However, some developers fail to do so, and instead rely on versions running on Google’s (or whoever’s) servers. This brings problems both with reliability and user privacy, and I have blocked some of these servers to protect myself from privacy violations.

The search criteria in several stores were abysmal*, missing even basics like the ability to filter computers based on e.g. OS (specifically, no** OS), amount of RAM, and similar. Typical sets of criteria were brand (rarely interesting***) and price (interesting, but not enough) and possible something else of lesser import (e.g. whether shipping could take place now or only in two days time). This resulted in result lists of dozens to hundreds of entries that had to be manually filtered. (With the effect that I looked through the first one or two pages, foregoing the many entries on later pages entirely…)

*Including http://www.cyberport.de

**As a Linux user, I do not want to pay extra for a Windows installation that I am just going to remove later. Of course, even among those content with a pre-installed OS, the question of which OS is often quite important. As an aside, the proportion of computers that still come with a pre-installed Windows is depressing—the year is 2019, not 1999, and it should be a given that a Windows installation is optional.

***While some might have a brand preference, it is usually far more important what characteristics the computer has, and in those rare cases where someone is justified in looking at the brand first, he would be better of going directly to the manufacturer website (for research, if not for the actual purchase; of course, after research, he could just search by product number and would never need the brand). A possible exception is a means to exclude some brand; however, this was never present. (Except by selecting all brands, and then de-selecting the one—with possibly disastrous time waste as the result. Cf. immediately below.)

A particular annoyance was the slowness that came through attempts to be interactive—confirming my observation that the more interactive and “helpful” a website tries to be, the slower and less helpful it tends to become. Notably, changing any filter setting leads to an automatic re-load, which implies a re-search or re-filtering server-side, which implies a considerable delay until the page is available again. However, it is rarely the case that the user only wants to change one filter setting,* and it would usually** be better to have him toggle the reload manually after making all changes. Consider e.g. prices on http://www.cyberport.de: Per default, they ranged from a few tens of Euros*** to many thousands. Naturally, I wanted to trim both values to, respectively, ensure that I got something actually usable and did not pay a fortune for something I did not need. However, to trim the range to e.g. 200–500 Euro, I had to change two filter settings. Both caused a reload with a significant loss of time.****

*Unless, obviously, the number of settings is too limited to begin with…

**One exception is when the one choice alters what other choices are available. This was not the case on these websites, however. (And when it is, it is usually better to pre-load such alterations in a manner that allows a client-side change of filter options without reloading the actual results from the server.)

***Presumably, either non-computers misleadingly put in the computer category or extreme mini-computers (Raspberry PIs or similar).

****To boot, the settings were not even input fields, but some type of weird bar, where the user had to move the ends of the bar until approximately the intended values appeared.

Excursion on email:
While a bit off topic, I note that Cyberport provided yet another example of the grossly unethical practice of not having a means to provide an email address without also consenting to spam, insteading forcing the user to revoke consent at a later time. (Of course, not providing an email address at all is not an option.)

Written by michaeleriksson

March 26, 2019 at 9:37 pm

The problem of too shallow knowledge / experiences in Sweden

with 3 comments

During my recent travels in Sweden, I encountered other information sources than I usually do, including Swedish news-papers and Swedish TV. As a result, I saw quite a few examples of how common a too shallow or outright incorrect knowledge is, how this can lead to an incorrect understanding of e.g. a situation, and how important it is to gain a deeper understanding before forming strong opinions or demanding action.* This especially when it comes to topics like public policy, whom to vote for, what cause is worthy of support, …

*I have discussed similar topics, although often less generally, on a great number of occasions, e.g. in [1], [2], [3], [4], [5].

A discussion I had with my father over a cartoon of yogurt provides both a good example and an analogy for the larger problems—the difference between the advertisy claims on the cartoon and the truth revealed by the “nutrition facts label”:

The front of the cartoon proudly proclaimed 0.5 % fat*—the more extensive declaration on the back, in fine print, noted sufficiently much added sugar to ruin the energy savings from the reduced fat content, when compared to “traditional” yogurt. Indeed, since sugar is likely worse than fat, this might amount to a health**-downgrade… In the same way that many just note the front of the cartoon and do not bother to read the true information, so many rely on superficial, incomplete, deliberately angled, or otherwise flawed information in other contexts—even when better information is not that hard to find and gives a very different view. (Of course, many even better examples exist, including sugary candies advertised as “0 % fat”…)

*I might misremember the exact number, but the value was of this order.

**Here and elsewhere I use “health” (and variations) in a manner similar to the usual discourse. However, I caution that I consider this use simplistic, sometimes even misleading. Phrases like “healthy food” could even be seen as illogical, because an excess of virtually any food is unhealthy—just like a too great lack of variation.

Among the many other examples:

  1. We ate the yogurt with müsli—another food stuff traditionally considered healthy. Said müsli contained a considerable amount of candied fruits…

    My father happened to know* what he was eating, but many others do not. They know that müsli (and yogurt) is supposed to be a healthy food, go by reputation, fail to look at the specifics of the product at hand, and find themselves eating unhealthily* while believing that they are doing the opposite. The food business, I suspect, even deliberately plays on this, adding sugar and whatnot to make a product taste better** than the competition’s alternative—hoping that the customers will notice the taste difference, not the health difference.

    *Note that there is not necessarily anything wrong with picking a less healthy alternative when it is an informed decision. (Indeed, I often go by taste or convenience myself. Moreover, I suspect that fanaticism with healthy food can lead to unhealthy eating too.) The issue here is how often the decision is uninformed—or even misinformed.

    Here we have a good example of a special case: Focusing too much on the name, reputation, appearance, whatnot of the thing rather than on its true nature. This especially through changes over time (e.g. in what an ideological label implies or what goals a party has), appropriation of names/reputations/whatnot by others (e.g. any number of brands and marketing gimmicks), and confusing the characteristics of one group member with those of another (e.g. by assuming that two party members agree on a certain question, or that “corresponding” parties from different countries have the same ideology and policy in detail).

    *It is conceivable that the yogurt and müsli at hand were still better than many of the alternatives—and certainly better than chocolate milk and whatever passes for breakfast cereal among sugar-addicted children. However, more traditional versions would have been better, and the problem is not limited to these. Indeed, many even sabotage reasonably healthy foods by own manipulation, e.g. by drenching a salad in mayonnaise. A notable complication is that müsli is very high in energy to begin with, making additional sugar the worse an idea.

  2. The culture section of Dagens Nyheter* (DN) usually contained about as many articles on topics like society, politics, economics, …, as it did on culture. Those that I bothered to read invariably were written from a very limited understanding of the issue at hand and very often with a one-sided perspective or an unnuanced black-and-white world view. As a result the texts were uninformative, poorly reasoned, and often** off in their conclusions. To boot, they often had an ideological tilt.

    *A major Swedish daily news-paper, to which my father subscribes. Also see excursion below.

    **It is possible to be right for a poor reason…

    Broadly speaking: Some culture expert, “cultural intellectual”*, or similar** develops a strong opinion based on an understanding and intelligence that is not or not much better than the average, and is allowed to write about it for an audience of hundreds of thousands of paying readers. Those among the readers who are not themselves well informed and/or good critical thinkers stand a fair risk of being worse off for reading these articles.

    *For want of a better phrase and too differ from those who have a broader intellectual background.

    **I have not investigated the authors in detail and, in all fairness, it is possible that some of them have another background (e.g. as regular news-journalists, who simple happen to express their opinions in the culture section). However, because similar topics are covered in the main section too, and often in an editorial or opinionating manner, I suspect that the culture section is the playground of a subset of the staff. (This in contrast to e.g. to a system where some types of content appear in the culture section as a matter of course, with the word “culture” remaining merely for historical reasons.) Either way, the problems with the contents remain unchanged and worse than in the rest of the paper.

    (I cannot give specific examples, because these readings took place during my first visit. During my second, where my specific recollections are fresher, I either merely leafed through this section or did not bother to open it at all… Indeed, even during my first visit, the low quality usually lead me to stop reading before the half-way mark of the article at hand.)

  3. I encountered a great number of articles (by no means restricted to DN or, within DN, the culture section) based on or propagating weird misconceptions and misrepresentations of “gender issues”, including claims that rape would not be taken sufficiently seriously in Sweden or how too few reports lead to convictions,* that women earn much less than men,** that there are too few women in tech/politics/whatnot,*** and so on. As long as people do not have the depth of knowledge and the ability to think critically to see through such misinformation, the impact on politics, public policy, business, education, …, will be considerable.**** Sweden provides a nightmare example of this, but the problem is present in large portions of the rest of the world too.

    *A ridiculous claim considering how strong feminism is in Sweden, how laws on consents have been altered in an insane manner, how rape is presented in media, etc. With an eye on conviction rates, I point to portions of an earlier discussion of rape statistics.

    **See e.g. [1]. This topic should be stone-dead by now. It has been debunked again and again and again by so many people over such a long time span, but I see it dozens of times per year, including several mentions last week alone.

    ***Questions like suitability, interest, willingness to sacrifice for a career, whatnot, are almost invariably ignored—worse, it is often considered sexist to even bring them up as possibilities. (Note that this unscientific and misological attitude would be a very bad thing even if there were no differences between the sexes. Of course, science tells of considerable differences when looking at groups, and evolution more-or-less necessitates them.) Instead, there is a blanket assumption that any difference is explained either by (a) some version of “discrimination” or “oppression” (I am often left with the impression that there must be some secret club of cigar-smoking men deliberately plotting to keep women down…), (b) “structures”, societal indoctrination, whatnot (i.e. it simply is not possible that their might be some biological difference in e.g. male and female career preferences—differences in behaviors and preferences must have an external cause).

    ****A particularly blatant example of such an impact, if only for one day: DN reported that (probably) Berlin’s public transport would give women a 21 % rebate to “compensate” for the difference in income—without understanding that there is no unfairness involved in the original difference, which makes the rebate unfair. To boot, this might be one of the many cases where it would be more relevant to look at house-hold income, which is often to a significant part shared, sometimes even mostly under the control of the woman—an aspect which I have never heard mentioned in main-stream media and politics.

    That was on regular days. During my second visit, the International Women’s Day reared its ugly head again. Nine years ago (cf. [6]), I already wrote a very negative piece on this. This year it appeared to be worse.

  4. Luring out school-children to demonstrate for the environment (or any other major issue) despite the clear majority knowing and understanding little more than what they have been told. Most adults do not have a sufficiently solid understanding of these issues that a measure like a demonstration* would make sense—for a young student this applies even more strongly. Worse: In many cases, this is likely to be more of an excuse to get out of school… To take such actions without having a reasonable** understanding is irresponsible and should be condemned—not lauded.

    *There are very few cases where a demonstration is legitimate and effective at all, but here, for the sake of argument, I work on the premise that demonstrations are a reasonable idea in principle.

    **Such an understanding is not reached by reading news-papers and listening to teachers, but requires going to deeper sources one-self, to look at both sides of an issue, and to actually think. This is not to say, however, that the understanding must be perfect and the opinion unchanging—such criteria would bring everything to a stand-still. Certainly, a weaker dedication/action/statement/whatnot requires less prior effort than a stronger one.

    While not a topic I encountered during my visits, I am also reminded of the malpractice of parents dragging even small children to demonstrations to protest issues that the parents do not understand sufficiently, e.g. nuclear power.

  5. There appears to be an extreme aversion towards flying, including some member of the “Green Party” demanding a ban on intra-country flights. In earlier times, I have repeatedly seen news-paper articles complain that too few would “klimatkompensera” (“climate compensate”) when flying, which amounts to making a “voluntary” monetary donation to, in some sense, offset the environmental impact of the flight*—on top of already existing taxes and whatnot.

    *Which, obviously, does not work very well: In the short-term, the environmental impact is entirely unchanged; in the long-term, it is dubious that charities handle money effectively and efficiently. Indeed, I cannot quell the suspicion that there is some aspect of scam to this, aimed less at saving the environment and more at getting money to keep charities running and their leaders well payed. (But I have not looked into this.) Note how a similar scheme for cars would make more sense, but would also be harder to guilt people into for practical reasons—they use their cars everyday, but fly far less often.

    This shows a great lack of thinking:

    Firstly, the main problem related to flying is not the means of travel (i.e. airplane) but the distance traveled. Questions like “Is it a good idea to travel long distances during vacations?” should take precedence over “Is it a good idea to fly during vacations?”.

    Secondly, problems through air travel are dwarfed by problems through cars. If current air travel was kept constant and car travel was removed (in favor of e.g. train travel, walking, or non-travel; or reduced through car-pooling; or made more environmental through non-fossil fuels), the effect would be much larger. Indeed, many in e.g. Germany spend one to two hours per work-day just with a car commute—to which various other trips must be added. (And then there is trucking of goods and whatnot.)

    Thirdly, it is a myth that air travel is unusually “dirty”. It does compare poorly with e.g. train travel, but looking at the cost (in some sense) per kilometer compared to regular car travel, it is often superior.* Note e.g. that planes are reasonably energy efficient once cruising (but not when taking-off), that the environmental impact of construction is larger for cars on a per-seat basis, and that airplanes are much lesser contributors to localized concentrations of emissions in cities (which are quite hazardous both for the local environment and the people in the area).

    *Beware that comparisons are often made unfairly, e.g. through assuming a car with four passengers, when many (most?) real car journeys are made by a solitary driver.

    More generally, climate debate in Sweden invariably forgets that what the Swedes do matters far less than what e.g. the Chinese do. I am not saying that Swedes should ignore the environmental impact of their own behavior based on this; however, for a comparatively small group of people to endlessly optimize* its own environmental impact is not the most productive of strategies from a global perspective, with an eye on other groups and on the issue of diminishing returns. This repeats the airplane-vs-car error of not putting in the effort where it has the largest impact.

    *As another example: During my first visit, DN had an article on eating “klimatsmart” (“climate smart”) almost every day. Apparently, the most import thing Swedes can do for the environment is to cut down on meat and whatnots… Here a detail is optimized even when there are targets much more worthy of optimization, e.g. the Swedish use of cars or the Chinese eating habits. In addition, the very phrase is idiotic, using “smart” (undoubtedly for rhetorical purposes) where e.g. “friendly” would have been appropriate, and speaking of “climate” where the more general term (and priority!) “environment” would be better.

    Looking specifically at the suggested ban on intra-country flights: It is true that air travel is often sub-optimal for shorter distances, which will include most intra-country travel in at least European* countries. Still, going from Malmö to Kiruna by car might not be ideal… For shorter distances, we have to ask why people chose to fly: Either they have some reasonable advantage over other means of travel or they should be informed about the benefits of these other means. (Of course, if they do have reasonable advantages, an additional approach could be to improve other means of travel, e.g. by a faster train that removes a time advantage.) A ban simply makes little sense. Indeed, a part of the reasoning for banning flights was that there would be no point in travel by plane between Göteborg and Stockholm, because there would be no time saved.** But: If there is no point, why do people fly?!? Either there is a point or they need to be informed better.

    *Which tend to be small area-wise compared to the rest of the world.

    **In a twist, while my father was reading the article and I had only seen the headline, I argued that there was unlikely to be much of a time gain between exactly Göteborg and Stockholm, implying that there was unlikely to be a major reason to fly, implying that a ban on that route would be pointless. Then I read the article myself, and noted the perverted turned-on-its-head reasoning by the “Greens”… (Note that the time for air travel also includes travel to-and-from airports, time for check-in and security checks, and similar. When I had a weekend commute between Düsseldorf and Munich, I soon switched to trains for this exact reason—the time needed was about the same, but travel by train was less of a hassle and more comfortable.)

  6. A U.S. admissions scandal found its way into even Swedish news-papers: Some few rich and famous had bribed colleges into admitting their children.

    What went without mention is how fundamentally flawed and arbitrary the U.S. admissions tend to be: Without these flaws, this scandal would not have happened (or, at least, not as easily)—and there are far worse consequences. An article dealing with these problems would have been a much worthier undertaking, but the journalists were likely clueless. (And such and article might have had less entertainment appeal to the broad masses…)

    For instance, consider that Asian* applicants regularly need hundreds of points more on the SATs than Black applicants (and/or a corresponding difference in GPA). For instance, consider that many “jocks” that are not college material not only get into college, but actually get scholarships—taking places from some “nerds” that are college material.** For instance, consider that having the right connections, notably alumni parents, can be a greater benefit than scholastic aptitude.

    *Whites are often suffering a similar disadvantage, but (a) it tends to be smaller, (b) the focus on Asians is justified through demonstrating that e.g. belonging to a minority is secondary to something else.

    **A sometime suggested justification is that college sports help with paying for colleges. So far, I am not convinced by this line of reasoning, considering factors like the immense profits of many U.S. colleges, the costs incurred by sports programs that reduce the profit from the same sports programs, and the possibility that even sports competitions involving non-bought talents would also earn money. (Nevertheless, this is an area that could need investigation.) In addition, even if we assume that the gains would be sufficient to ensure that the “jocks” do not steal places from others, we have to consider issues like the devaluation of academic standards and the value of a diploma.

    (To detail a solution would be beyond the scope of this text, but I would tend towards looking only at proved (e.g. through GPA) and projected (e.g. through SATs) academic ability, and using other criteria only as a tie-breaker. An essay is out entirely, as too arbitrary; an interview should be an exception, seeing that it brings little value, that many college applicants simply are too young to interview well, and that interview success is unusually coachable.)

  7. A more everyday example is given by a brief conversation about crêpes vs. pancakes, where someone mentioned that “crêpes Suzette” might or might not have been invented or named by the Swedish Prince Bertil. I took the trouble to check—and its “not”: According to Swedish Wikipedia, which mentions the claim, the dish existed by that name no later than 1903, which predates the Prince’s birth.

    Now, I do not check every claim that comes my way, nor do I investigate everything mentioned as a possibility, but I do have an investigative attitude and I do check many things and read up more in depth on others—or, as when visiting my father, I ask questions when I believe that someone has more knowledge in a certain area.* Above all, I realize that my opinions cannot be set in stone—when I encounter no information, when old information is revised, when new arguments are presented, …, then I must be willing to re-evaluate my opinions. Most other people, including typical journalists and politicians, do not do this to the necessary degree (if at all). From day to day, the impact might be small—but accumulated over a life-time it is enormous.

    *And I do not claim that every text I write is researched and thought-through to the last detail—especially, because I often use the process of writing as a means of learning and as a stepping stone to a better future understanding. Nevertheless, I do better than the typical journalists, and I only rarely write something that I would consider an outright blunder afterwards. (An example would be assuming that Linnaeus did not use Greek.) More often, the research or thinking brought on by the writing has led me to forego a text entirely or to write a different text on the topic than I originally had intended.

Excursion on DN (and other news-papers):
When I grew up, DN was one of the two “big” morning news-papers (Svenska Dagbladet/SvD being the other), considered to be of very high quality and vastly superior to various local and evening news-papers. My father subscribed as far back as the 1980s, and I must have read hundreds of them during my many visits. (During my first year in college, my student dorm subscribed to both DN and SvD, and I read both each day.) Compared to the local news-paper that my mother subscribed to there was a world of difference, be it in depth of coverage, quality, or number of pages.

Now, it is possible that I would be less enthusiastic about the “old” DN, had I encountered it today—a part of my different evaluation is almost certainly rooted in my own development. However, there is objectively much less text today than back then, which tells in terms of depth and breadth of coverage. Worse, the current* incarnation of that local news-paper that I encountered when visiting my step-father was often superior—something unthinkable twenty or thirty years ago. And, no, while the local news-paper might (or might not) have improved, the main explanation is the drop by DN.

*In my youth, this was a separate paper, “Bergslagsposten”, which merely cooperated with and had the same owner as “Nerikes Allehanda”. By now, the former has been integrated into the latter. (While I only very rarely read the latter in my youth, it was of a similar quality level as the former.)

More generally, there are many news-papers that have grown worse over the years, and considering the low competence levels typical among journalists, the populist take, and problems like an ideological slant and the natural limits of the format*, I see little reason to bother: My advice is to get a brief overview of the events of the day from some online source, to dig deeper in other (typically also online) sources when something is of interest, and to focus more on building a solid knowledge of various topics than on news when reading. This has been my own approach for years.

*For instance, that individual articles cannot cover all angles in depth without growing too large and that there are often time constraints involved.

A detailed analysis of the problems with modern news-papers is beyond the current scope, but I note poor writings skills, a lack of critical thinking, poor knowledge, and an attitude aimed more at getting attention and entertaining than at informing. I note especially the idiocy of weaving together several logically distinct articles regarding a larger theme into one, e.g. through having one logical article dealing with facts and arguments, one logical article dealing with human interest and emotions (often even a sob story), and then throwing them together into a chaotic mixture—which is poor writing caused by a wish to entertain. An interesting example of attention getting is DN’s common idiocy of using a number (!) as the headline of a shorter news item. For instance, five lines dealing with recent statistics on X might be head-lined (!) by “35” (or whatever the number associated with X was). Another is the inclusion of images of the journalists themselves…

Written by michaeleriksson

March 20, 2019 at 5:08 am