Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Online shunpiking

Our current abode (the nifty computerized Batcave) sits snugly by WA-520, a state highway that leads directly into Seattle. Time was, if I wanted to drive into the city for several hours of goofing off in Pike Place Market or going to the zoo or poking around outlet stores in SoDo, it took me (assuming no traffic backup) between 15 and 20 minutes to reach any destination. And since it was fast and cheap to visit Seattle, I'd go at the drop of a hat.

But times have changed. Although 520 is still the most direct route into the city from my place, it's no longer the cheapest. In 2010, the Washington State Powers That Be signed a law turning 520's formerly-free Evergreen Point floating bridge into a toll route (ostensibly to stir up funds to fix the aging bridge, a process which grows ever more embroiled as bridge contractors make stupid mistakes wasting millions of tax dollars). There's no toll booth; instead, pricey hardware on the bridge automatically takes a picture of your license plate, timestamps the photo and activates a system that sends you a bill in the mail. You're charged both coming and going. The actual cost of the toll varies depending on the time of day you cross the bridge, whether or not you've bought a prepaid toll pass, the current win-loss ratio of the Seattle Seahawks, the price of tea in Bangladesh and the airspeed velocity of an unladen European swallow.

At least that's how I hear it works, because personally? I've never used the system. Since the switchover from free to toll, I've ceased using the Evergreen Point bridge -- I won't even chance it in the gloom of night when it's impossible for the system to collect tolls. Yep, I'm a shunpiker.

Image credit: WSDOT

I mean, really, what's the point of using an expensive, decrepit toll bridge when only a few miles away there's a free, newer multi-lane bridge into the city? Taking the I-90 rather than the 520 adds another 10+ minutes to my driving time, depending on destination and traffic, but it's usually worth it. And on occasions when it isn't -- when I consider the extra effort it'll take to get into the U District, and sigh inwardly -- I don't gird up my loins and pay the toll, or hop on a bus and take FOR-EV-ER to get there; I choose not to go into the city at all. Seattle is amazing, but in the last few years it's become markedly more expensive -- assuming, I suppose, that entranced visitors will simply pay whatever fees the city sees fit to charge them. As for me, rather than pay through the nose for the privilege of visiting (bridge toll, parking fees, no validation, restaurant taxes, bag tax, etc.), I'd rather do the financially smart thing and shop somewhere else.

And that brings us to the current shenanigans at Facebook.

As the sidebar indicates, Confessions of a Laundry Faerie has a Facebook page. But you shouldn't depend on it for updates, because it's been archived. A few people still find their way to this blog through Facebook, so I haven't deleted the page altogether, but in mid-December I stopped posting regular updates. (Call it an early New Year's resolution.) Why? Because Facebook has done to its users what Washington State did to drivers who use the 520 -- it's trying to force people to pay for something that used to be free. Facebook recently altered its news feed algorithm so that unless you pay the site for the privilege, no one will see your page posts -- not even your most loyal readers. As the owner of a small site with a very modest readership, I saw the effects of this change immediately. Hits generated by Facebook dropped from the 20-30 range per post to an average of 5 hits per post, every one of them generated by a Facebook bot. (Come on, guys; I've got stats.)

This blog is a labor of love. I make no money from advertising, and as of this writing the "buy me an Apple Beer Five" link in the sidebar has garnered exactly one donation (for which, don't get me wrong, I am very grateful, but nobody lives on an income of $2/year). Facebook assumes that, as the biggest social media bruiser on the block, it can put up a toll booth between me and potential readers and coerce me into paying for what used to be free, but I simply don't have the funds or the patience for that kind of stupidity. So I've chosen, as many other small businesses and blog owners have chosen, to shunpike Facebook. I post updates to my personal Facebook account so that family and friends are aware of my blog updates, I recommend the use of Atom readers for die-hard blog fans, and I use other free social media (primarily Twitter) to reach out to everyone else. And if Twitter becomes infected with the same vacuity, I'll move on to other sites where I can advertise free of charge.

In a way it's sad to see what Facebook has become, but I don't have time to worry about it. Soon enough some other social media startup will come along and knock Facebook on its can, just as Facebook did to MySpace. Churn tends to make everything cheaper. And while the masters of social media slug it out for dominance, I'd rather spend my time writing.

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