The Web Hostess: Online manners, memes and must-see video

May 30, 2012

A weekly chat about the best ways to kill time online. Our Web Hostess, Monica Hesse, sifts the Internet so you don't have to, searching for meaning, manners and the next great meme.

Afternoon, everyone, and thanks for stopping by.

This week on screens near you: Television networks have filed a lawsuit against Dish, trying to stop the production of a DVR that would make it easier to skip over commercials. Here's a recap of the sitch on Public Knowledge.


Do you think that television viewers should be required to watch commercials as part of their television experience? Obviously, this would be impossible to enforce, since everyone can get up for a snack during the ad break -- but philosophically, could you see an argument for it?

2) What do you think of Web sites (news or otherwise) charging for their content?

It would be lovely if you could answer both; I'm interested to see how your thoughts dovetail.

We'll get started at 2.


And our next topic:

Many of you have probably read about Marina Keegan, a Yale senior who tragically died on Saturday. Her editor at the Yale Daily News opted to posthumously run her final column, which you can read here.


What is your reaction to this column?

Do you find it moving?

If so, how would you react differently to the column if you didn't know that the author had just passed away?

The larger question I'm getting at, obviously, is how much the context of art should impact our appreciation of the art.

They should just do advertising during shows with product placement. Gleeks would all flock to the store to buy soy jerky and jazzalicious sparkling passionfruit plum water after seeing their favorite characters with the products. Then there would be no need for commercials. Plus, the chances of viewers being brainwashed into buying the advertised products would be much higher because everyone knows nobody watches commercials anymore. As for paying for a website? Nope. Not interested. I'll find somewhere else to waste my time. Then again, I would pay for the WaPo. But that's it. The LA Times started charging for their website so I said sayonara local news.

Thank you. I wonder if we're headed in this direction -- product placement within shows. There are arguments that it disrupts the integrity of the production, but it seems the logical next stop in a lot of ways.

In all fairness, Ms. Keegan had graduated the Monday before her death, so she should be termed "a Yale graduate." In any case, a tragic loss of a young talent.

Thanks for the astute correction.

I found the Yale column very moving--but mostly because I remember feeling exactly those feelings about college. I'm sad that this young woman didn't get a chance to explore life, but it's a good piece without any context. She was a good writer.

There are some lovely turns of phrase in that piece. "The opposite of loneliness" is such a better descriptor than just saying, "togetherness," or choosing another existing word.

I have a degree in advertising, and I absolutely don't think viewers should be required to watch commercials. I think lots of television shows incorporate advertisements, and that isn't going away any time soon, so that's all the advertising I need. If a commercial catches my eye, or if I am watching something live, sometimes I catch them. That's the purpose in doing good marketing. Catch my attention. Make me remember you. As for paying for web content, in some cases, I would rather pay for content than sit through ads or have lots of slow-loading ads on the page. But I would be irritated if I paid for a site, but still had to sit through the ads before a video loads, or have the page take three minutes to load because of the ads, or have the ads on the page with the weird pop-up animation that I can't close.

Of course, "Catch my attention" is something that becomes virtually impossible to with TiVo, or other devices that allow us to skip commercials. I have no idea if some ads would catch my attention or not -- they're simply not on my radar screen, as I've elected to zip right past them.

If I'm PAYING for something, I don't want to see ads. I don't think it's right to force people to watch ads if they are already willing to pay the actual cost of the service. If they are, then ads are just the company trying to suck in more cash. If they can honestly say, "Well, it would cost $thismuchmore without ads", that's a different. Like newspapers and magazines, I know they rely on ads to pay the bills because subscriptions and purchases aren't enough. As much I hate watching the same dumb ads over and over and over on Hulu, I'm not going to whine about them because I'm not paying for Hulu. :) I don't like ads on websites either, but can I really complain since I'm enjoying, at no cost to me, something someone else created with their own time and money? My personal opinion with my own website was always that I wouldn't use ads unless it began costing me more than I could easily afford. I hate ads, but I'm not going to go bankrupt giving people stuff for free.

This is an important distinction. I think you've articulated why I got so annoyed when movie theaters started making you sit through Coke or Lexus commercials before the previews. Was the $12 ticket and the $10 popcorn not enough of an investment? Did I not shell out that money partially so I could have a different (commercial-free) viewing experience than the one I'd get at home?

I am under no obligation to make any ad-based system work: I do not have to look at billboards, I am fine with fast forwarding through DVR'd programs or getting up to do tasks during commercial breaks. I use ad-block and custom .host files to block web ads. I do not expect free content, and would likely pay for content if I had to (I subscribe to a newspaper, pay to watch movies on Apple TV), but I refuse to look at ads, and refuse to purposely expose myself to ads out of some silly duty to support free content on the web.

I wonder if sites could do this: "You may choose: Pay the subscription fee, or be subjected to these ads. You can have either, but you must choose one."

It would be interesting to see how many people opted to pay rather than sit through ads.

I think that the appreciation of the piece comes almost solely from the fact that she passed away and its poignancy - notably the lines "We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time.". The thoughts expressed in it are similar to the valedictorian's speech in "Say Anything". It's not that she's covering new ground, it's that she made a speech about the future potential and how we shouldn't squander it a few days before she died.

The discussion of future is almost certainly more poignant when expressed by someone whose own future we now know was cut short.

I happen to agree with your assessment. The writer was a much better writer than most recent college graduates, but a great deal of the meaning comes from the context.

Uh, we're here. Snapple in 30 Rock? Sprint phones and certain cars in Fringe? I love these shows and will put up with some product placement, but would much rather have real commercials than these horribly squeezed in adverts inside the show. (Although they do keep my low-rated favorites on the air, so I don't complain too much!)

Oh, I know this is already happening -- I just meant that perhaps it would happen to the exclusion of traditional ad breaks.

What they need to do is come up with commercials that only make sense when played via fast forward. Like a flip book.

This is truly the most brilliant idea I have heard in a long time. Genius.

I'm conflicted. I went and read the article earlier this week because someone said "I got the same feeling I got reading Anne Frank's diary" but I was a tiny bit let down. It was a good essay but not as overwhelmingly spectacular as I expected, I felt like there was too much hype over it because she had just died. I'll contrast this with my Mitch Hedberg experiencee. Me and my brother stumbled across him online, and spent hours watching his videos, fell in love with his stand-up comedy and lists of hilarious one-liners, and thought he was the greatest thing we'd ever come across. THEN, later on, we found out he was already dead. That really sucked.

Thanks for ringing in honestly. It -was- a good essay. Very good, especially considering its genre. However, the genre she was working in -- saying goodbye to college -- is something explored every year at every university in every college newspaper. It might be hard to achieve new meaning in such a staid format.


Except, of course, to the soon-to-be college grads she was writing for. If this is the year you are graduating, columns like this probably have much more meaning for you than they do to others.

Lots of sites do this. Salon and The Escapist (video game site) both have "premium" memberships that involve escaping ads.

Of course. I knew this.

I recall reading somewhere recently that about 1/3 of the Class of 1913 at Oxford or Cambridge (can't remember which) died during WW I. Also, some brilliant young poets, whose names I can't recall off-hand but whose work I read in Freshman English in college.

What a tragic, horrible statistic for Oxford or Cambridge.

I assume you read Hax and so saw the advice she gave to the LW who complained that all her facebook friends were bragging about their lives. Hax accepted the underlying assumption that posting about gifts, compliementing SOs, and uploading vacation photos constitutes "bragging." Most user comments, however, disagreed, noting that this was just sharing stuff about your life, which is the purpose of facebook, and most seemed to like hearing about the details their friend's lives because they would not know these things otherwise. What says cupcake? FWIW, I'm with the commentators.

I think there's a difference between sharing and bragging, but it's subtle, and sometimes -- like pornography -- you only know it when you see it. That's why it's hard to come down on either side without specific examples. 


But this would be a great chat topic. Let's do it next week. I'll post hypothetical status updates, and we can decide whether we think they constitute bragging or sharing.


If you have specific examples you would like the class to address (fictional or real), please email them to Or send them now and I'll cut and paste them into a file.  

1) You can't have your cake and eat it. 2) I'd pay for you.

I take this compliment in the spirit I assume its intended, which is non-prostitute-y.

The Mute button is my friend.

Everyone needs a few minute to go rummage through the fridge.

I thought it was lovely. I didn't know the writer, but I'm glad that she apparently was conscious of life and it's beauty and risk and possibility. If she was a friend or loved one, I would be comforted by the column. It also reminded me of how unfair the world is. She had so much potential and died so young, yet horrible people like Pol Pot and Pinochet live to be old men. Makes no sense....

I believe that her parents have come out and said that they were, in fact, comforted by the column.

Having been surfing the Internet for nearly 20 years (yes folks, since 1995), I hate hate HATE paywalls. I'm sorry, but if you started out offering things completely free, you have given up your right to charge for said information down the road. Case in point: Pandora tried this, when they tried to impose a monthly limit on listeners; it took them a year to figure out it wasn't working they way they had wanted (or possibly expected), and removed the monthly listening limit. Having said that, I don't mind TV commercials or online ads.

And thus, you describe the conundrum that the news industry currently finds itself in regarding content it currently provides for free.

(Guys. You need to stop sending in examples of shows that successfully do product placement in-show. I believe you, and it's all fascinating, but it's clogging up the queue and I can't scroll or read fast enough to get through it all.)

Never. As long as a free alternative exists (see, iPhone Game Apps) I can't justify any reason to spend even a buck or two just to see something that I know is out there for free. On that same note, it still astonishes me that pay-porn still exists on the web -- how can anyone spend good money for stuff that's only a single free google search away? Madness, I tells ya.


Reading The Opposite of Loneliness made me cry. I felt like I knew her as I read her thoughts. She seemed really special and it's devastating that she won't get to embrace the life she thought she would have. Wow, I don't know why it's getting to me so much...Life is fleeting.

It's getting to a lot of people -- her column has gone completely viral. It marries one of the most joyful beginnings we have in modern society -- the college graduation, the beginning of adulthood -- with the most tragic ending.

Oh my gosh, don't even start on WWI. The more I read about that, the more upset I get. The numbers of men who died, the complete incompetence of the military leadership, the pointlessness of the whole, so terrible. I just read a book about WWI and the early Everest expeditions. Pretty much all of those explorers had fought in the war and a lot couldn't handle going back to England.

Do not mock me, but this is similar to the premise on which the Brad Pitt movie Seven Years In Tibet is based, and I love that movie.

As in "ooooooh my boyfriend is so sweet to make me dinner!" isn't bragging. It's annoying. And pretty danged funny!

Yes. Like this. Everyone: please send me more examples like this so that I can include them in our poll next week.

Has anyone else noticed that ads on Hulu are sometimes MUCH LOUDER than the volume of the shows in which they appear? I've lost track of the number of times I've literally jumped or flinched involuntarily because an ad blasted out so loud.

This isn't just Hulu -- happens on television as well. Except, I seem to remember, Congress was trying to pass a bill that would make the drastic volume change illegal. Did this happen or did I dream it?

I do not have such a degree, and I absolutely agree. This is why we rarely watch anything live. We TiVO or record, and fast-forward past the commercials. If something catches our eye, like a movie trailer, we might rewind & watch it, but other than that, we're those people who, when you start a sentence with "have you seen that commercial -- " interrupt with "No."

Do you pay for your television? Any sort of payment, including basic cable? Or do you rely solely on what comes through the bunny ears (or digital equivalent therein)?

"I hate hate HATE paywalls. I'm sorry, but if you started out offering things completely free, you have given up your right to charge for said information down the road." Really? And what if the company can't continue making enough money to survive by offering free stuff? Does this person think they should just roll over and die off?

I don't know. Previous chatter?

Our $10 tickets and $12 popcorn don't cover the cost, which is exactly why there are ads. Just like in magazines-- our $3 doesn't cover their costs, so half of the magazines are ads. The alternative is paying *more* for these things, something that the companies have decided isn't wise-- $25 movie tickets, anyone?

In London I went to a movie theater where the ticket cost $30. The ticket had an assigned seat, just like in a Broadway theater. Except instead of "Rent," we all filed in and watched "Source Code."

Before you judge: I was there on assignment and very lonely.

"I'm sorry, but if you started out offering things completely free, you have given up your right to charge for said information down the road." Sorry, not buying it, and I've been surfing since 1994 (Netscape Mosaic FTW!). Underlying assumptions change, pay models change. People used to get their music free from the internet (by, um, pirating it). The prosecution of people didn't seem to change habits - Apple just made it easy to finally buy music, and, more importantly, easier to find it (so you weren't searching for a file that may give your computer a virus and/or may be actually a midi version of it). People have shown a willigness to pay for content online - someone now needs to make people to want to do it.


Absolutely. Did anyone (at least who was sane) ever go to their grave saying, "I wish I'd watched more TV"?

If you paid for a cable subscription, and then elected to indignantly never watch commercials, I could philosophically understand it your complete aversion and entitledness. But the horse you're sitting on seems very high (You -interrupt- people when they dare to ask if you've seen a commercial?) for a person who gets something for free.



I understand James Bond will now be drinking Heineken, ugh. I don't mind product placement when done in a subtle manner but something that alters one of the character's distinguishing features is beyond the pale and straight up selling out.

True -- but let's be honest. The version of James Bond that Daniel Craig has been playing seems much more like a beer drinker than a shaken-not-stirred kind of guy.

1. Part of the television experience is not commercials. Partial rant - smarter brands are working to create viral ads that get passed around via YouTube and other means - actually making people want to see them. TV companies have also ceded the bottom tenth of the screen to ads, so you're seeing ads for the upcoming "Laff-a-thon" during the key emotional scene of Mad Men whether or not you decide to skip the commercials. 2. I'm OK with paying for content on the web as another information delivery means, but it has to be valuable for me, not difficult, and segmentable (in other words, if I just want to watch The Greatest American Hero on Hulu, I should be able to pay for that instead of paying $50 for everything on the site). Disclosure - I've paid for Stratfor in the past and found it valuable. Partial rant - since some print papers have provided free content (City Paper, Red Eye, Express), I've always tended to believe that the loss of classifieds due to Craigslist has always been more important than subscription fees in hurting newspapers.

I am posting this for the sheer joy of your multiple "Partial rants," which appear to add up to a whole rant.

"And what if the company can't continue making enough money to survive...?" If you're good and smart enough, you'll figure out how to not just survive, but succeed and excel. Call it techno-Darwinism. I will never support any website that charges for supposedly "premium" content (which is a euphemism for "pay us so you won't see any ads"). Not even online dating is worth the $$$ that sites charge for. Information should be free and freely available.


Although I will quibble: Information is not free. It might be free to you, the viewer, but it is not free to my employer, who pays me a decent wage to report and write stories, and who lets me hang out with you all every week here.

Was it the Odeon on Leicester Square? I paid ~$30ish to watch Harry Potter. Kind of worth it just for the experience alone.

It was something in Leicester Square -- that's where several theaters are clustered.

OK, I exaggerated for effect there. I interrupt very gently to say, "actually, we don't watch commercials" and then execute a deprecating shrug. I just don't want them to waste their time.

This is better.

Huh? I don't know ANYONE who's asked me if I've seen a commercial since... (thinking, thinking)... well, maybe those animated Hamm's Beer commercials with the bear, of my youth (can you tell that I'm probably older than Father Cupcake?).

Really? Not even the day after the Superbowl? Seems like there are at least a few commercials every year that lots of people end up discussing en masse.

Exactly. Remember when James Bond was witty & subtle? Not silly, like some of the later Roger Moore ones, but a guy who went through life with one raised eyebrow. DC is quite the actor, but whoever's writing his JB movies needs to call them something else.

Bames Jond.

The problem with paywalls and the like is that people want to share the cool things they found online. Nobody likes the idea of paying to read an article and then they can't easily share it with friends. There are some things that people are willing to pay for online, but exclusivity is a problem. You should try asking what people pay for online, exactly. I've bought some online classes here and there, but overall I don't pay for site memberships because of the lack of sharing thing.

This is an interesting point -- the fact that we want our surfing to be a communal experience, and that's compromised if you can only share with other people who live in your paywall bubble.

As hard as it is sometimes, I try to judge art by its own merits, and not by the merits/circumstances of the artist. In other words, 'good people' can make crappy art, while complete &%^*#@s can sometimes make really beautiful art---Morrissey kept leaping to mind as an example of the latter...

Thanks. Someone brought up The Diary of Anne Frank a little while ago, and I think that was a worthy comparison. I would offer that, though her death was a tragedy, her diary was a masterpiece, and would have been such even if she had lived. Her work stands on its own, apart from context.

I often wonder what kind of job people that think like this have.

Oh, I don't think it's an uncommon view to have. I think its a view that comes with the best of intentions. It's just complicated to implement in the real world, as I'm sure everyone on this chat realizes.

That statement, while sounds nice, has no grounding in reality. Every form of information requires work, and that work deserves to be rewarded, especially in our money-based economy. Now, when we've solved that problem and are just exploring space for the fun of it a la Star Trek, fine. But until then, I deserve to get paid for my work, and yes, those who consume it should pay for it.


Again, I see where the argument comes from. Would we say that someone who cannot afford a newspaper subscription should be deprived of news and information? I certainly wouldn't. I want information to be free. I also want to, you know, be able to pay my own rent.

Of course this is wrong - because the TV airwaves are private not public. If they were public, like they are in the UK, then they can require a license fee to watch TV. But it's offensive to think we should have to watch commercials on channels owned by private companies. I'm not even sure why there should be commercials on cable TV since I'm paying a subscription.

Putting this up, as I don't think we've touched on public/private considerations yet.

Exactly. I pay for my magazine subscription, and I xerox articles from it to give to my family & friends who might be interested. How is that different from clipping & posting?

This is something that the e-book is struggling with right now. I own a Kindle, for example, and my mom's on a Nook. Before we bought our respective gadgets, we'd save up piles of books to drop off with each other on visits. We can't do that electronically.

Perhaps we elders don't, but you young 'uns do.

I prefer the term "whippersnapper," please.

You're not arguing that Thomas Kinkade was a good person? (OK, I"m kidding)

And actually didn't we learn that he was a troubled person with, ah, questionable art?

Note that two of the best products on the internet, Apache code for servers and wikipedia, are both free.


But I'll also note that Wikipedia, while produced by volunteers, is based entirely on citing the original research that others have done before. Wikipedia could not exist unless someone (Most often paid someones) had done the work on which Wikipedia is built.

Um, people who patronize public libraries?

Here will be my obligatory shout-out to libraries and librarians, the heroes of the universe.

Even libraries aren't free. You pay taxes so the government can buy the resources and pays the librarians. Reliable resources cost money. If you want "free" take your chances with Yahoo Answers for medical advice.

And look -- it's like you guys are having a whole discussion and I don't even need to be here!

The TV companies have chosen an ad-based business model. They can find other ways to make money but choose to rely on advertisers. It's like requiring people to buy popcorn when they go to the movie theaters - as they make most their money on concessions. You can't force the public to support a private business.

Maybe the television industry can start requiring people to eat popcorn while watching TV.

Finally, something we can all get behind.

Comparing web sites charing fees for content is not akin to requiring people to watch ads. It's akin to a pay TV service like HBO. Nothing wrong with that.

Yeah, I know it's not a one-to-one comparison. I was just curious to know whether there would be any correlation in what people found to be acceptable.

But the difference is that the amount one pays isn't based on usage, but rather some other taxation criterion.

I hereby implement the Cupcake tax, which will be dispersed throughout the land, not only to chatters.

Lines have to be drawn of course, but this is why the government should play a role. It's why we have libraries and public television. Perhaps we need to figure out a way to have "public access internet sites"?


If all credible information providers decided to start charging for online content, do you think people would then start paying because they have no free, credible information OR would people be satisfied with the free not credible (shady) online information? Are people too cheap to value the quality of society?

I'm guessing option B. Not for everyone, of course. But for a broad swath of the public, I'd guess B.

But what about all those movie trailers you've always had to watch before the movie? That's not new and those are the same things - ads for a product they want us to buy which is not the product we purchased. Otherwise the coming attractions would come after the movie.

But the movie previews are like the warmup act to the main concert.

The Lexus ads are just like the irritating sign spinner blocking the entrance on the way into the stadium.

All this "free" stuff that people so blithely use without the first thought as to its actual origin cost. Anything good on Wikipedia came from paid research, and there's plenty of dross on Wikipedia. Have we become so entitled as a culture that we truly don't know where the things we use every day came from?

We know -- I truly believe we know. We just don't have cause to think about it much.

Why don't they just require people to purchase the products in the ads?


I came here for videos and memes. I don't want well thought out intellectual discussions. Stop it!!


We'll do our best to get back to business next week. In the meantime, remember me to email me your suggestions for our game: "Sharing? Or Bragging?!" email them to, or Tweet them to @MonicaHesse so we can get the discussion going online.

That's all for today.  See you next Wednesday. GSTQ.

In This Chat
Monica Hesse
Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.

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