Promise Theory: the ethics of algorithmic news feeds and chronological timelines

When I click on the Subscribe button —

  1. I am agreeing to receive ALL of the Updates from the Source.
  2. I am agreeing to allow you to include all of the Updates from this Source in chronological order in a Reader.
  1. Physical requirement: You need to physically deliver the newspaper to my front door.
  2. Non-atomic information delivery: The smallest, atomic piece of information that makes sense to read is an article, but the smallest that makes sense to deliver to you is an entire newspaper. It would be nonsense to show up at your door 15 times a day with tiny slivers of paper each time a story was published!
  3. Delivery time: The earliest I can get updates is once every 24 hours. And due to the process of creating, editing, and processing the newspaper, information may be several days old before I receive it.

I will consider this promise broken if —

  1. Updates are not delivered in a timely fashion. I expect delivery of information to happen in minutes, not hours. (so from the point of view of the Publisher, eventual consistency is OK)
  2. Updates from a different Source are delivered.
  3. Updates are not delivered in chronological order.
  4. Updates are transformed, broken, or incomplete.
  5. Updates are stopped without my consent (without clicking an “Unsubscribe” button).
  6. I am not allowed to unsubscribe from updates.
  7. The update channel changes without my consent.

If the Publisher owns the Reader —

  1. The Publisher can change the terms of the original subscribe promise, even if the promise was made in the past without consequences.
  2. The Publisher can decide to not keep the promise and force the Reader to accept behavior not originally intended.
  3. The Reader can be changed in a way where it’s indistinguishable from the Publisher.
h3h3 enumerates the history of problems with YouTube changing the meaning of the Subscribe button.

Your Thoughts Become Your Destiny

User Interface as Information Freedom (or Mind Control)

YouTube Homepage

YouTube Subscriptions

This video from LegacyKillaHD is mis-tagged as a Rocket League video, when it should be Star Wars Battlefront II. YouTube automatically adds the game’s front cover artwork and release year, and adds a “Explore in YouTube Gaming” link.

RSS + YouTube = ❤

Reddit (Redesign, May 30 2018)

Reddit (Old Design May 30 2018)




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David Echo

David Echo

Software Engineer | Video Producer | Twitch Streamer