Paywall Labelling June 5, 2020 10:01 AM   Subscribe

I would really like it if all post links that led to sites with a paywall were so marked with an icon or parenthetical like ($) or something. I don't care so much about comment links but if the link parser was automated then that could be a trivial addition thing. If the catalogue of pay sites was database driven it could be updated in real time. In any case, until there's an automated system, I would really appreciate manual/etiquette related efforts to make it clear which links do and do not go to the open web. Thanks for your consideration.
posted by seanmpuckett to Etiquette/Policy at 10:01 AM (48 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

I feel like we keep discussing this at Metatalk, and it never really goes away.

We have a way to block tags, right? Could folks using a paywalled site include a "paywall" tag so I can just block those from the get-go?
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:46 AM on June 5 [3 favorites]


I, too, wish for a pony of this shape and size.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:28 PM on June 5 [11 favorites]


I would so ride this pony if it were available to me.
posted by Lynsey at 12:33 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Auto-labeling is nice, but people interact with paywalls in different ways. Some sites offer limited views per month, so it's not a full paywall. Some people pay for access view-limited sites, or have ways to automatically or manually work around the blocks (including access through libraries). Some are in academia or have access to scholarly articles.

Striking a balance, we could have a master list of paywalled sites could generate domain text, like is (or was?) done on Slashdot. For example, here's a link [nytimes.com]. The bracketed text would be automatically added for a select set of sites that aren't fully open to the public.

It would be more work to develop, but the end result would be more informative and useful than a general "paywalled" tag, in my opinion.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:15 PM on June 5 [24 favorites]


Agree with flt that identifying the link target is a better approach. I try to label the link source in my comments and posts.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:39 PM on June 5 [7 favorites]


I really care about knowing the link target if I get a limited number of site views per month and I have to ration my reading. That's why it's good for me to know if something goes to NYT or New Yorker, whereas I care less about a rationed site that I don't normally visit anyway. F.L.T.'s suggestion is better for my use of MeFi.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 3:34 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


This browser extension is available for anyone frustrated by paywalls:

https://github.com/iamadamdev/bypass-paywalls-chrome

I still think any of the solutions above are great, since not everyone has a browser that supports extensions, and it's better in the long run to have a solution that drives traffic and public support to open information sources.
posted by value of information at 3:49 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Speaking as one of those privileged people who can be spendy when I want, and will always pay first among spending choices for information, WHAT A GREAT PONY. This would be super helpful. I am phobic about forgetting the paywall when I link/post. I don't want to make people burn their limited access per month, nor absent mindedly put up something that isn't accessible.
posted by bearwife at 5:39 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


marked with an icon or parenthetical like ($) or something

This feels like a user script.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:49 PM on June 5


I agree with this as a matter of etiquette, though I also prefer filthy light thief's version of including the specific site name.

This seems like a somewhat complex thing to automate but maybe not that big of a deal to moderate. Mod team, is this something than can just easily be edited in posts on request? Is flagging posts to request links to paywalled sites be affixed with labels as easy for you guys as it sounds, or are there unseen complications to that?
posted by biogeo at 6:03 PM on June 5


This browser extension is available for anyone frustrated by paywalls:

https://github.com/iamadamdev/bypass-paywalls-chrome


Okay, this is as good a place as any, I suppose - I have no idea how to use github, which is frustrating because so many extensions that people mention in here are things I want to use, but I don't know the practical logistics of how to access them.

So I'm finally asking to be edumacated. What exactly IS github? How would I apply the github thingamahoozies to my Chrome browser? Does it cost anything?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:15 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Github is a site for people to post their open source software (among other things). In general you don't need an account to download software from Github, and the instructions for how to apply Github thingamahoozies to your browser may vary with the software you're downloading. Downloading the software is free and can be done by clicking the green "Clone or download" button on the right side of the screen. Generally this just downloads the source code, which is some cases is actually all you need, but sometimes you'll need to download a precompiled binary. The project's main page shows a readme file that will usually tell you how to get that.

Most of the time you'll find instructions for how to install the software at the main page for a software project, in its readme. In this particular case it looks like the "Bypass Paywalls" project has a step-by-step guide for installation for Chrome, so if you download the software, extract the ZIP file somewhere on your computer, and then follow the steps on the Github main page, it should in theory work. I haven't tried it myself for this project but it does look well documented.

Every project on Github is distinct so exactly what you need to do will vary case-by-case, but a good project should be well enough documented for you to follow a few steps to get started.
posted by biogeo at 6:41 PM on June 5 [4 favorites]


people interact with paywalls in different ways

This isn't wrong, but it also kinda elides the fact that we know with fair certainty that all paywalls block many users. I have said before: we should stop linking the NYT. I don't care if they think they are the paper of record. A huge number of users cannot reliably access it. It is bad for MeFi.

The same is true of any highly paywalled site. I honestly do not care if a bunch of users are able to reach it, sometimes, by jumping through some hoops. The fact that many users reliably cannot makes it an awful fit for a site where we actually want people to read the links before commenting.
posted by tocts at 6:54 PM on June 5 [7 favorites]


I support this pony request. Please automatically label links to the NY Times, The Atlantic, the Washington Post and the New Yorker, so I don't blunder in there and inadvertantly squander one of the few free articles they let me see each month.
posted by Rash at 7:30 PM on June 5 [7 favorites]


I do prefer knowing where links lead, although since I am primarily on MetaFilter from a desktop, I tend to mouse-over links and look at what they are. I understand this is much more difficult on mobile, and so it would be most useful for mobile users, and I think we have quite a few of those.
posted by hippybear at 7:31 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


I support the marking pony. Ideally in my wildest dreams it would also hit the target site, making it appear as if their paywall turned away a potential reader. Just in case they track that. Too much?
posted by ctmf at 8:43 PM on June 5


For those of you with the monthly article limit concerns, for many of those sites (like The Atlantic) you can just open a private (Safari) or incognito (Chrome) window to get a fresh batch of “free articles”. Cookies and other trackers don’t carry over from your normal browser to the private window. so the site thinks you are a new user browsing for the first time that month

Not trying to minimize the problem or the responses - but thought that may be helpful - and as a bonus doesn’t require installing any more software to update/worry about. Quick and dirty work-around when you need it. It doesn’t solve for the sites that are hard paywalls (no free articles).
posted by inflatablekiwi at 10:36 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


The paywall pony Express.
🐎🐎⬛
🐴🐴🐴🦄📲
posted by clavdivs at 10:45 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Running into paywalls or article number limits when I'm on my phone is my primary concern here - wasting a click because I can't access the same kind of information about a link before clicking through on my phone as compared to on my laptop. AFAIK, on an iPhone, there is no way to use extensions or userscripts to generate that kind of labeling on the client side rather than having it generated on the server side. In addition, when I'm logged in, I don't always encounter paywalls, so I forget about their existence for that site. Third, especially with links to walled gardens like Facebook on my phone, sometimes clicking on those links gets me stuck on a login that never takes me back to the actual link.

Given these limitations, I like filthy light thief's implementation suggestion, but I would also suggest including the most popular social media sites in that list, along with the most common "single link" sites Mefites link to (SLNYT, SLYT, etc).
posted by Pandora Kouti at 12:26 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


I agree with tocts. I'd rather have a half-assed paywall flag that can be implemented in a couple of weeks than a deluxe paywall flag that is still being talked about three years from now.
posted by um at 4:23 AM on June 6 [6 favorites]


A nontrivial part of this issue is that more and more online publications are moving to metered or paywalled models, frequently without much warning.

For example, in the last three months, I can think of at least six resources that used to be unlimited that have moved to a metered model.

When you combine that with the other factors listed by other users in this thread, this starts to look like one of those deceptively simple-sounding questions that winds up being hideously complex to implement.

To be clear: I am not advocating doing nothing. I kind of like the “get something in place now and perfect it over time” model. I just wanted to point out that this might be a hell of a lot more complicated than it looks on the surface.
posted by scrump at 7:16 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


I don't see why this can't just be done by the poster rather than trying to make it some kind of automated thing. The community here could just decide to start putting the source of the link in parentheses or brackets after the link. And if it's left out, it could be put in the comment thread. Keep that up and eventually it will be come automatic for people.

This could be the case for any link whether it's paywalled or not. So people know where they're going if they click. People seem to be picky about that these days, so why not move toward a bit more personal effort toward transparency for fellow MeFites?
posted by hippybear at 7:23 AM on June 6 [9 favorites]


This is one of the most beautiful ponies in the field. It is my favorite to win the derby.

My thoughts before coffee:

1. This is already in place a little bit? If you are logged in and something links to youtube it shows an icon? Not knowing the code, I don't know how easy it would be to add a $ icon for other sites.

2. Having a list of sites that generally have paywall issues is pretty easy. I wouldn't imagine it would be much harder to create than a hosts file. The problem would be maintaining it. And the maintenance of such a list would probably take a significant amount of time away from other more important mod duties.

3. So, maybe just append each link with the root domain? That could get super hard to read and super annoying.

4. I forgot the etiquette part, which is funny. At least one suggestion was made that the commenter do the appending. It is way to easy to forget that people cannot access something the same way you can. Especially, say, if you have been subscribed to a newspaper for decades and have full access.

5. Specific workarounds such as "just use incognito" don't work generally. As an example, WaPo loads fine on my Linux machine running Ghostery. On my work Win10 1909 enterprise version using same browser and nothing client side blocking stuff (unaware of what net security is filtering), it flat out won't load the page, saying I am ad blocking, even though ads load for every other damn site in the world.

And, again, this ignores those who access solely or primarily through something where the hover option does not exist or is hard to use.

Having now typed this out (before coffee), I would go for a list of the worst offenders of paywall shenanigans and maybe add it to the same script that appends the play arrow to youtube posts, but instead add a $ as OP suggested? It would be better than nothing and better than slamming the mods with more work then they can handle.

I'm going to get coffee now.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 7:28 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


For those of you with the monthly article limit concerns, for many of those sites (like The Atlantic) you can just open a private (Safari) or incognito (Chrome) window to get a fresh batch of “free articles”.

This stopped generally being true quite a long while ago. Please stop repeating it, because it is completely false.

These sites have gone to unbelievably extreme lengths to both track you via non-cookie methods (fingerprinting, etc) and also to detect if you're in an incognito mode and block you. Every time that briefly a method is found around it, they improve the detection. The idea that the average user can just open an incognito window and be fine has been false for an amount of time measured in years, at this point.
posted by tocts at 9:04 AM on June 6 [15 favorites]


I don't see why this can't just be done by the poster rather than trying to make it some kind of automated thing.

We know that only a fraction of MeFi users spend time in MeTa, so already the majority of posters wouldn't be aware of this. Of the people who spend time in MeTa, only a portion will have seen this post and paid attention. Of the ones who see it and pay attention, only some will actually remember to make the requested change.

Expecting this to be an individual, voluntarily-done thing means that for the most part it won't happen.
posted by Lexica at 9:17 AM on June 6 [4 favorites]


I think automating it would be tricky. But I don't see any reason why it shouldn't become a convention. We used to have much more SLNYT marking, and things like that. That's not intuitive, but I think that an emoji like 💰, 💵 or 💲 would be intuitive to everyone, and I think in general, it's much more accessible and easy to add emojis to posts, and to read them, than it has been previously.

Of course, that doesn't nicely accurately describe sites which have limited free access, but I think that given the presence of a 💰 will give people the chance to hover, when they can make their own decision. If this does become a convention, I think that it'll be very easy to learn and likely that commenters will be pretty good at enforcing it.

So I'm pretty strongly for this 🐴.
posted by ambrosen at 10:51 AM on June 6


It is a pony of wonder and awe.

Also, the Github extension has a painless extension/add-on install for Firefox on the same page.
posted by jadepearl at 2:59 AM on June 7


When I first joined, I deduced that "SLYT" was "Single Link YouTube" but I thought "SLNYT" was "Single Link Not YouTube". If I could post emojis on MeFi I'd post the facepalm.

🤦‍♂️🤦‍♀️
posted by matthewr at 6:21 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]


So, checking in on this real quick this morning (I've been following along with the discussion bit by bit in the background since it went up), I'll give a quick take on where my thoughts are:

1. I think folks have done a good job of unpacking and reiterating both the scope of possible approaches (from "do nothing" to "ban paywalled links" and more to the point all the options in between) and the challenges and roadblocks involved, so I won't rehash my own thoughts in detail other than to say I think it's complicated mostly by the intersection of good journalism coming out of highly visible/ubiquitous major news orgs who have frustrating but not absolute paywalls. So when I look at fixes for it it's always navigating that tricky territory in particular.

2. I think it's good to continue to encourage folks to make an informal convention of (a) taking care where possible to include alternate sources and/or mirrors or archives of paywall-affected primary links and (b) noting if a link is likely to produce a paywall issue for some folks. But I recognize and agree that as an informal convention that's inconsistent and not everyone will be aware of it to begin with.

3. The system-side action I can see taking on it, though I'm not sure about the details and so don't want to commit to it right here, is something like what a non mouse, a cow herd got around to above:
Having now typed this out (before coffee), I would go for a list of the worst offenders of paywall shenanigans and maybe add it to the same script that appends the play arrow to youtube posts, but instead add a $ as OP suggested? It would be better than nothing and better than slamming the mods with more work then they can handle.
Assembling a short list of the heavy hitters for this problem (currently NYT and WaPo in particular, New Yorker as more of a b-list player because they don't disseminate as much daily news, who else?) and doing some automated guidance/signaling based on that would be workable in a way that manual moderator intervention wouldn't. We'd also need to factor in periodically maintaining that list when/if a major link source's paywall practices change, but that doesn't seem like something that'd happen too often so again not a major pile of manual work.

I don't know whether I'd want that to mean appending an optional symbol (just like the youtube one is a preference option) to posts after one of the major tricky domains, or providing some automated prompting during the posting process to make the poster aware of potential issues there, or both.

But anyway that's where my head's at on the moment. It's an ongoing point of confusion and frustration and worth us looking again at options for.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:32 AM on June 7 [4 favorites]


who else?

The Atlantic
posted by Rash at 9:26 AM on June 7


You could also just delete the damn cookies. Works every time.
posted by pee tape at 3:34 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]


I think adding the domain to a link along with a symbol would be more useful than the symbol alone. Those with subscriptions will know it's okay to click.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 3:41 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


You could also just delete the damn cookies. Works every time.

Um, no. That is factually incorrect.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 4:01 PM on June 7 [6 favorites]


This feels a little like the mystery meat debate we had a little while ago.
a neat community web blog isn't that much different to a neat community web blog (metafilter.com) and means that people know what they are getting before they click/tap.

I feel like back when bandwidth was precious (either mobile browsing caps or before that on dialup) it was polite to point out video links so people could conserve a limited resource. Paywalled articles, whether you get 5 free or whatever, fit in this same category.

More information available means you can make an informed choice.

Is it too clunky to have link to thing (potential paywall) as the style?
posted by freethefeet at 4:08 PM on June 7 [6 favorites]


FWIW, the GitHub add-on has a list of supported sites, so that's a good list to reference for paywalled and view-limited sites, with the bonus of being an international list. No need to recreate that list, but it may be something to expand, if we want our own reference list. This could be for manual FPP making, or automated text adding.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:26 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


> When I first joined, I deduced that "SLYT" was "Single Link YouTube" but I thought "SLNYT" was "Single Link Not YouTube".

"SL[website or acronym]" has always been a bad, annoyingly cutesy in-joke that's completely unhelpful to newcomers to the site. It's annoyed me for years. The sooner that practice dies the better. When labeling links, spell out the domain name clearly and leave it at that.
posted by ardgedee at 5:56 AM on June 8 [4 favorites]


Expecting this to be an individual, voluntarily-done thing means that for the most part it won't happen.

It can work. There are all sorts of formatting conventions here that basically grew organically. Blockquoting for link quotes, not signing posts, full sentences and words rather than texting shortcuts, even the (apparently controversial) SLYT. Also it's not like we need 100% compliance for the convention to be useful, even 10% of users providing the information would be helpful.

(currently NYT and WaPo in particular, New Yorker as more of a b-list player because they don't disseminate as much daily news, who else?)

I seem to slam into the Forbes paywall all the time.
posted by Mitheral at 9:49 AM on June 8 [1 favorite]


One thing I wonder though is how many post authors are using phones and also comparison to readers. I know I never compose a post on my phone and therefor might not think about the convention when composing a post.
posted by Mitheral at 9:52 AM on June 8


I specifically want to know before I click/tap whether or not I'll be able to read what is linked to without logging in and/or paying a fee. It would also be nice to know in advance if the site is going to ban me based on ad-blocking, which I refuse to disable for safety, privacy and bandwidth reasons.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:01 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]


Agreed. I do almost all my internetting on an iPad, and although there's a way to reveal the target of a link, it's more annoying than mouse-hovering on a desktop.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:23 PM on June 8


I seem to slam into the Forbes paywall all the time.

Bloomberg
Foreign Policy
Wall Street Journal (tho’ it is rarely linked, likely for this reason)
WIRED
posted by Going To Maine at 3:25 PM on June 8


I discovered today (thanks to tech support) that my Firefox paywall bypass extension prevented me from getting into Medium, a site I have actually subscribed to.
posted by lhauser at 7:09 PM on June 8


I seem to slam into the Forbes paywall all the time

Also Business Insider! All the time.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:46 AM on June 10


I don’t think it’s fair to make the OP responsible for the choices of people who want to “ration” their links. I’m fine with an indicator but I think anything else should be considered a courtesy.
posted by girlmightlive at 1:57 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


LA Times is pretty strict with their article count.
posted by hippybear at 3:12 PM on June 14


I continue to wish this pony will win the race, but it's been brought up a lot. I will just nth that the "workarounds" no longer work any more, I cannot subscribe to every website that needs money, which is all of them, and I prefer to know that I have to be selective about whether or not I want to waste the click.

Here's a crazy idea that might vaguely work: when someone hits "New Post," on the front page, there are guidelines about no self-posting and COVID-19. On Ask Metafilter when you click "New Question," there's advice on how to post a question and a guideline to search for the answer yourself before you post. Why can't we have a guideline saying, "If you are posting a link that has meters/paywall, we politely request that you indicate as such by saying "(NYT)" or "(Washington Post") after the link?" Possibly post a list of websites with known paywall issues as a guideline, but I would guess that's even less likely to happen.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:21 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


If this helps anyone else: with Chrome as my browser, I'll hover over a hyperlink in a post or comment. If it's heading to a known free site (in general, or because I subscribe), I right-click and open the link in a new tab.

If I'm still interested in reading the article despite an anticipated paywall, I open a new Google tab, search for the article (publication name, keywords shown in hyperlink, etc.) and use the arrowhead next to the correct search result to view the Google "cached" version. (I've no idea if Google puts a limit on the number of times this dart-around can be performed in any given time frame.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:28 PM on June 17


I will just nth that the "workarounds" no longer work any more, I cannot subscribe to every website that needs money

And there are sites that I don't want to even give the click because I find their reporting so biased! And they still get money for those "free" articles they give us because it gives "ad impressions" since they can load the ads invisibly before the content, so before I even notice where I am and am certain to nope right out, they have gotten some money that I would have never given them.

I won't derail on federated systems that could share the money in some way because that is way beyond the scope of what MeFi could assist in making happen (or, way beyond ethical, moral and legal bounds in a different set up).

But, if a site is going to throw me a couple of free articles a month, I would like to keep as many as possible for things I definitely want to see. I don't consider this rationing. It takes me a long time to trust a site, esp. if I am only getting 5 free articles a month. It takes a while to see what the true editorial tone is.

I don't care about workarounds working. I don't need workarounds. If I am hitting a site often with full knowledge that is where I am ending up and constantly hitting the paywall, then I will pay!

I do with Metafilter monthly and I don't even need to! I can access all of it and all of it's features (as far as I know) with the one-time low cost of 5 bucks.

Which is why way upthread, I suggested the idea of list of domains that would automatically be appended prior to FPP or comment post. I can't speak to the overhead.

I also like jenfullmoon's of a reminder before posting FPPs, etc. For comments, I think it would be ignored really darn fast.

***********************
If this helps anyone else: with Chrome as my browser, I'll hover over a hyperlink in a post or comment. If it's heading to a known free site (in general, or because I subscribe), I right-click and open the link in a new tab.

If I'm still interested in reading the article despite an anticipated paywall, I open a new Google tab, search for the article (publication name, keywords shown in hyperlink, etc.) and use the arrowhead next to the correct search result to view the Google "cached" version. (I've no idea if Google puts a limit on the number of times this dart-around can be performed in any given time frame.)


Iris Gambol thank you for sharing. That is going to be super helpful for a lot of people.

For me:

1. I forget to hover. The conversations here can be awesome! I get swept in the thread and blindly click and... oops.
2. The google cache thing works (and Wayback Archive, I think?) but still keeps money from sites I want to support if I find I start liking their articles.

*****************

For this large aand diverse of a community, no answer is going to please everyone. I am really glad this conversation is occurring and absolutely love the idea that are coming about because of it.

Thank you fellow MeFites!
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 5:21 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]


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