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Dumb people: the new audience

When the reader change so much, how far should you go to adapt?

     
4:11 pm on Jul 10, 2019 (gmt 0)

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This is related to writing content and SEO, it's seems the new challenge on writing for people (not algorithms) who are becoming increasingly dumb. Websites needed to adapt to new technologies so responsive (adaptive) websites were created for that exact reasons, captchas were created to filter bots, robots filing your forms or web-form-attacks, now it seems we need captchas for people, to filter the quality or specific characteristics of our audience.

- This is part I - describing how from creating content and I also moved to filtering visitors, making a bit difficult the experience of contacting me, making it difficult to make questions, making it difficult to engage. Sounds contradicting, it's not. This is more of an intro, given that many are already aware of this you can jump to the next post where the core of the topic is.


- - - - - - - - -


We might loose traffic, or we might be getting more traffic but the wrong one. It's no secret: people in general are becoming increasingly dumb.

The content some of my websites worked really well in general writing, from the general to the specifics, introducing people to a well defined concept. At times I wrote pieces going straight to the specifics, I experienced diff results for that, it worked, and I understand it was due to diff public and also diff situations. I was creating content adapted to a general public and also offering very specific articles in those websites.

At some point the rules changed, the traffic, the comments and questions for readers. I no longer had to work on good content (the kind you find on good books, sort of speaking) and noticed I had to put effort on a writing style that would be difficult to misinterpret things. Suddenly I wasn't writing content for reading only, I was creating content to avoid confusions. Confusions? I couldn't even understand why people were getting confused. Something as simple as a message to filter buyers on some website stating "please don't ask, we don't sell X services" didn't work, that's when I couldn't deny something else was going on. Suddenly I found myself trying to emulate the mind of someone who had poor reading skills.

After some experiments I decided to just ignore such changes, I refused to adapt the writing and style for dumb people. Did this affect my traffic? a bit. Did this affect my position on search engine results? yes. And I noticed competitors climbing positions but their content was pure garbage. I made some tests and shared some content with diff people, they were very attracted to the pictures yet many of them weren't reading the content, on the other hand my website had good pictures and good content, but the density was different. The general difference is competitors were posting articles based on the "10 best places to..." and that's all. I had a difficult moment, but despite the metrics (likes on the articles) they were not really buying anything.

Those websites did something different than what I was doing: I don't post the messages sent by readers, they do. The messages were kind of similar. Some article (of the competitor) could be talking about some concert on December, and this was posted on the title, intro and content, yet people were asking on the comments "what's the date? when?" if that's not being stupid, then I don't know what it is. So I refused to change my content to new writing styles, you can do that to increase your positions regardless of the algos on search engines making no sense, but you shouldn't sell to dumb people.

"You shouldn't sell to dumb people", wait, isn't all money... green?, yes and no. Creating content and sells for that kind of people means trouble. If they have a hard time buying hard disks when the sign says "hard disks US$1 each" and still ask for the price, imagine when one hard disk fails what kind of user experience and customer service they expect? it's like talking to monkeys. So in many areas this is not good business.

- End of part I -

You might agree or disagree, you might see it or not, perhaps you get the idea that I'm just expanding an essay, I'm not. Perhaps you are part of the problem and expect the best 10 tips for money making websites.
5:15 pm on July 10, 2019 (gmt 0)

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- Part II -

The fall of a giant. I worked for a long time on the largest media company of my country and the region (a set of 5 countries), it was big, huge, covering TV, magazines, newspaper, websites, even books on special editions, etc. They had money to burn. The first one to fall was the newspaper (and still struggling). While most printed newspapers on the world are having a hard time, this is an specific separate topic related to content.

And so, people became increasingly dumb, the company had an specific department for "reading investment products" because the goal was not just sale, it was about securing the future sales, well the company tried to measure the audience changes, and both their attempts to do so and also the sales number confirmed it, most people were becoming dumb.

Here is the twist: there were several newspapers over the years but X became the official giant. Over decades new companies tried to compete only to fail, in specific the reach of X in terms of readers and efficient advertising was huge. So finally competitors stabilized and there were 2 other major newspapers (and also trying to become media companies). They could never reach X level's.

Someone inside X decided to experiment and created "the newspaper for dumb people". The content was garbage, the articles were terrible. It wasn't about "Two killed in explosion at the gas station" this turned into headlines like "Head explodes, body never found", and oh boy the experiment sold out. X wasn't happy with the experiment but happy with the numbers, then that someone who created the experiment decided to leave the company, now the garbage newspaper was the main competitor to it's mother company (now ex mother company). The experiment was everywhere and most people agree it was garbage, it is, but even being garbage people bought it. The tricky part of the content was big pictures, less text and terrible headlines, terrible content but it sold out. It made it so big, one of the older competitors (S) decided to create their own version and it also sold out. The writing was alike a whatsapp chat: very short sentences and the use of very simple language. You will never find words like "underestimated" or "misunderstood".

Then M, an international player walked in and created a mix between an average newspaper and garbage-newspaper. It was everywhere. Now we have 2 garbage (terrible) newspapers and 1 half garbage. I can't write here the word we used to refer to those newspapers. Remember, this is prior the fall of the paper, the fall of newspapers.

X, the large media company decided to invest on research, the results were't pretty. People on research groups trow all sort of negatives towards the content: elitist, white, rich people, oppressive, etc. So, using the right words meant misunderstanding and people rejected this, they preferred words like "the end is near", "killer tire rips his head off", it was terrible. The magazines got their dose too and so the writing style changed on some products. Did it work? yes, people loved it, but it was difficult to sell something there. Now some products had more readers, subscriptions and online traffic, but you can't make a monkey buy a car. They traded the few readers for more numbers but less quality audience. Many people who were in business (subscriptions) called to cancel their subscriptions because they didn't like garbage, so the market share became smaller.

After getting new readers there was another study for one magazine and the results were: low intelligence, dumb readers, unable to understand beyond "n", and showed it was more about people interested on social struggle "the poor vs the rich". It sucked, it sucked big time. The conclusion was "you are writing for stupid people", sure it hurts to pay someone and come with those answers.

Now several magazines were about fashion (and it worked), critical issues (polemic content) and the online version of the newspaper sucks, all sort of garbage and insults in the comments.

¿My favorite chapter? you reader, bring one copy of the January magazine and the first 20 to come to the main building will receive a ticket, then a trip to Brasil will be given to the winner picked by -someone-. Clear huh? well you got 75 people in line with magazines from January, March, December, etc (couldn't understand the instructions?) and then were complaining because they didn't receive one of the 20 free trips to Brasil. Is that stupid enough? change the prize and repeat, this happened over and over.


-End of Part II -

I sure have seen similar effects on my regional traffic (websites), but I refuse to adapt and create content for dumb people. I sure know business is business but while every dollar is green, it's not that easy to take one dollar from a monkey.
5:40 pm on July 10, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Greatly said.
5:45 pm on July 10, 2019 (gmt 0)

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In providing support by email I have learnt to read their email 3 times before replying. But I wish that respondent could read my reply at least once.
5:53 pm on July 10, 2019 (gmt 0)

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In providing support by email I have learnt to read their email 3 times before replying. But I wish that respondent could read my reply at least once.

:)
6:09 pm on July 10, 2019 (gmt 0)

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as we have discussed in a previous thread (good to have this a seperate conversation though) I have noticed the same over the years that people are just 'seem' to be getting dumber due to the reasons you mention like asking for the price of something from a page where it is clearly displayed, along with other very clearly answered questions. My favorite example of this was a customers email us and asking "how much is the 135usd$ widget option?" literally answering their own dumb question within the question. Very common also is for people to ask for the price, be given it in the form "XXX usd per person" and then they ask how much is it for 2 people.
So whilst I do think that the number of dumb people we have to deal with has increased Im hesitant to conclude that people overall are getting dumber. There are a number of things to consider and I think the following are some possible causes.

In the last decade the number of people with internet access and becoming regular internet users has exploded due to smartphones, tablets, cheaper laptops, cheaper and more internet coverage. This inevitably means that the general user base is less dominated by techy types, young people and people from developed countries. The user base is now for the most part everyone from kids through to pensioners in their 80s, living in New York or a small village in rural Peru. This of course means the range of education, cultural norms,technical confidence etc is much wider.

So mathematically speaking it follows that there will be more 'dumb' people than before but also many of the users simply arent adept at using web sites but that doesnt equate to them being dumb as such - a retired 78 year biology professor isnt dumb but might be a complete technophobe and struggle to use the internet well, or the 18 rural kid that didnt go to school because had to provide for the family might be very intelligent but lack experience and education. Some cultures also might simply have habits to ask what the price is as the advertised price is never the final one - i.e a culture where bargaining is the norm. I think all these things have some degree of influence but also know it is not the case for many of the 'dumb' cases as I have had the stupid questions the full range range of ages, cultures, countries etc.

So the next influence I see is also due to changing habits of internet usage , rise of social media and the fact that people now have an extremely limited attention span. Basically people do not 'read' anymore, they scan. They search for something , click, scan but even whilst they are scanning their mind is already onto the next thing - the notification that popped up or some other idea that was triggered by a word or something and start to try to move away from what they were doing at that moment. So rather than read and find the answers they wanted they think they can save seconds of time by emailing the site to ask for the exact info (even though it is there in front of them).

The reaction to this is for sites to write in 'scannable' short lines to try to catch the brief moment of attention of visitors. Less writing for monkeys and more writing for goldfish.

So yes, all of this has resulted in garbage content in the traditional sense and also brings more problems. If you dont write like this then google punishes your site, if you do you might get the attention and some sales but the after effect is more problems from customers that feel they didnt have all the info they 'needed' and this results in complaints. This is also now even worse as the power is with the consumer due to internet reviews (although that power seems to be waning as people are beginning to see reviews are mostly fake) so they are extremely entitled, demanding and rude. Various times I have received complaints that are about things that are clearly explained in the product description as not included that threaten to post negative reviews all over the internet unless they get a refund.

So im unsure if people are actually getting dumber but it certainly seems that way if you have been running an online business for time. I am certain though that you have to deal with many more dumb questions and situations, many more demanding unreasonable people and working in any kind of customer service role nowadays surely erodes your faith in humanity.
7:10 pm on July 10, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Note: If you've worked in B&M retail you will have encountered similar idiocies and questions asked when the answers are right in front of them. I believe it comes down to a matter of literacy, in particular to functional literacy. Or simply being oblivious, a category I am prone to inhabit. :)
Note: yes, functional literacy rates have been falling in many/most countries.

Wish I'd seen this thread before I posted this in the other... so cross posting...

I've commented on this 'can't they read?' phenomenon numerous times over the years. What it most often comes down to is that many/most people no longer read they scan and that imperfectly. They look but they don't see is the visual counterpart of they listen but they don't hear. There is a growing cognitive imperfection, a rampant inability to focus, underscored by 30 second sound bites and the immediacy of text messaging underscoring contemporary life. Short hits of impact items impulsively shared without thought, with minimal comment, and without background or context.

Sometime go take a look a industrialised countries' literacy/illiteracy rates and then compare to their functional literacy/illiteracy rates.
Note: statistics based on PIAAC (Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies) of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

Canada: literacy rate, 99%; functionalliteracy rate, 52%.
Note: native born Canadians functional literacy rate is ~60%, immigrants: ~40%.
Note: the Canadian functional literacy rate fell from 58% to 52% between 2003 and 2012.
Note: Canada rates a 'C' grade nationally, at a provincial level it's 'C' for the western provinces and PEI and 'D' for Ontario east (except for PEI) .

Note: nationally only Japan rates an 'A'.
Note: in descending order Finland, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Norway rate a 'B'.
Note: in descending order Belgium, Canada, UK, Denmark rate a 'C'.
Note: in descending order USA, Germany, Austria, Ireland (and N.I), France rate a 'D'.
Note: US literacy rate is a low (comparatively) 86%.

When I designed my content format I decided on the 'newspaper' inverted pyramid method:
* a title/hed (eye grabbing)
* with a subhed/dek (catchy description)
* followed by a differentiated lede (aka lead paragraph)
* followed by a page summary
*followed by the main detailed content.

The title/hed and subhed/dek and lede are written for skim readers, the summary for scan readers, the main content for in-depth readers. Intra-linking is critical to help shift skimmers to scanners to readers.
Note: the summary is written to a North American grade 4 or 5 level, the content is written to a minimum grade 7 maximum grade 12 level depending, largely, on level of technical information included.
Note: unique captioned images, slideshows, and videos also help draw skimmers and scanners deeper into main content and perhaps assist those with lower literacy gain the knowledge they are seeking.

Trying to meet everyone's needs/wants/desires when each person visiting has unique difficulties and preferences is improbable, however the above format is the most workable method of requirements fulfilment I've discovered. Even after all these years.
8:36 pm on July 10, 2019 (gmt 0)

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It is not necessarily people being dumb as it is being lazy, IMHO.
9:03 pm on July 10, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Since the invention of written language the "sentence" has become shorter evey few generations ... Medieval sentences might run over 110 words EACH, today's sentences barely make 10. Radio and TV increase this phenomenon exponentially ... the soundbyte is designed to "reveal all there is to know" and is USUALLY targeted at emotions rather than critical reasoning.

No wonder the web is a literary mess these days! (sigh)

That said,sometimes complex things can be offered in very short verbiage:

"I wave my hand"

"I waive my rights"

And if the reader is not equipped with critical reasoning skills might be sorely confused.

Write content that is usable to the greatest number ... have patience for those not equipped, and ignore the smarties who nay say such "childish" writing.
9:54 pm on July 10, 2019 (gmt 0)

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It is not necessarily people being dumb as it is being lazy, IMHO.

Yes, this is what I was thinking too, ... at the beginning, but I wonder if it still falls into laziness when someone emails @Milchan "how much is the 135usd$ widget option?" I already had similar experience :)

The thing is, lot of people, are scanning pages, instead of really reading them, I attribute it to their inability to focus the attention longer than a couple of seconds. And it's getting worse with the Millennials :)

edit: I do not pretend to be better, but I am trying :)
11:10 pm on July 10, 2019 (gmt 0)

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@Milchan, nice explanation. I do believe this is also the case, suddenly a lot of people who have no technological culture suddenly have access to the web and some things are taken out of context, also, some people with very low education and IQ suddenly get access to the web. Some other people are just out of context (in technology) but words are words and communication just like human to human should work, in fact written communication should work better.

Scanning and millennials, true. Yet reading is reading, words are words like "the ocean is blue", simple as that. Many mistakes happen outside quick reading or jumping lines, it's a manifestation of poor reading skills and poor comprehension. There is a link between this and being dumb (or stupid), reading goes beyond words we look at, it affects the way we structure our ideas and critical thinking in many ways (can't remember the exact quote on the document I read a few weeks ago about educational psychology). Some adults read exactly as bad as they read when they were 12 year old.

Besides talking about millennials, I read some study about how impossible it is for them to buy a house despite their income (something way different for past generations). I no longer have the link. The thing is, a lot of people have opinions regarding our content, but very few will buy, or better said: only few are the clients we should go after. That's my opinion, I talked about this on other threads regarding clients and how I let go several business opportunities because selling the product was the easy part, dealing with the dumb client was the expensive part you can't always charge.

We are missing something: there is also space for the mentally ill. Wait. Yes. I'm not talking about crazy people in institutions, but people who suffer some level in the great range of autism (quite a big universe) and then what the read it's not perceived as it was meant to. We also have lots of people who happen to be schizophrenics accessing the web (and telling you how wrong you are on everything). Psychology and human behavior have been a hobby interest for me so I also hang around some forums where such things are discussed. The amount of people with really ugly mental issues today, accessing the web and also getting married is amazing. The stories are difficult to believe unless you have direct contact with them. The trick is... they seem so normal, and they can go under the radar in terms of demographics.

@Marshall: As for people being lazy more than dumb, there is a lot of space for people falling into one or the other category, and also the combination of both. What I have experienced both with readers AND CLIENTS sometimes makes me loose hope in humanity :facepalm: some people are not doing what they do based on pure laziness... such stupidity requires efforts. Amazing.
11:21 pm on July 10, 2019 (gmt 0)

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@Iamlost: nice and detailed.

Working on a newspaper and a media company I also grew familiar with the approach you describe. It works. There are a few diff styles but what you explain is one of the most effective ones. My favorite was (and still is) the old school of when, how, who, where (covering those specifics). Then I grew familiar with that style (news report) projected to TV. TV time is expensive and you need to engage fast. I also read lots of things regarding hooks on each paragraph, where you cover the more important facts and information without introductions, straight to the point at the beginning of each paragraph. It works, and helps people to read in scanning mode. Yet, there is no magical solution for dumb people.

Spans of attention are a separate topic, makes sense but there are limits, now content creators and film producers must adapt to people who can't hold a thought for more than 8 seconds? sure, they dictate reality huh?

Trying to meet everyone's needs/wants/desires when each person visiting has unique difficulties and preferences is improbable, however the above format is the most workable method of requirements fulfilment I've discovered. Even after all these years.

Exactly. Traffic, numbers are numbers, we must at the end of the day, focus and choose a target and hopefully a good one and if we are lucky we will engage.

A lot of people out there in terms of traffic are just as valid as bots.
11:28 pm on July 10, 2019 (gmt 0)

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We also face the results of education systems that hand everything (just the answers, please!) over rather than requiring the student to actually LEARN how to think for themselves. My educators gave me instruction on HOW TO LEARN and that is quite different from "This question has this answer and will be on the test." Essay work is rarely required, and oral testing is almost never done.

We live in interesting times.
12:30 am on July 11, 2019 (gmt 0)

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in regards education there is a new battle in that the current young generation don't see the need to learn many thing. I.e why bother learning facts by rote when you have the internet in your pocket and can find out anything in seconds. This surely must be effecting the way new generations think and learn - that isnt to say they aren't thinking and learning anything, but what and how must surely have changed dramatically. Will be interesting to see what the effects are. I actually think it gives big opportunities to any young people that choose to really focus and learn things as they will likely stand out from their peers alot easier.
1:40 am on July 11, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Ha ha! If it is on the internet it must be true! :)
3:37 am on July 11, 2019 (gmt 0)

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There are reports/studies I have read (but can't find at the moment) which suggest that the internet and available of INFORMATION at the touch of a screen/phone has reduced MEMORY in humans ... as there's no "need" to internalize the data ... when you all you need is the ability to punch in a query to find the answer.

Might be the reason why folks are asking "how much is the $135 widget"?
6:10 am on July 11, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I knew I read it somewhere :)


Humans have shorter attention span than goldfish, thanks to smartphones
[telegraph.co.uk...]
12:02 pm on July 11, 2019 (gmt 0)

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2019, my attention is span is quite short, I'm a millenial: the world will write shorter text, insert larger images, songs must have shorter lyrics, music must have cycles of 8 seconds ideally, make everything free, BTW the $135 widget is $135, remember yolo!, lol xoxo and you can be whatever you want if you really want to!. You are special...

My attention span is quite short, back in the day: you dumb chimp, useless waste of time, do your home work, learn to read like an adult, get a job. You are defective, the world is not a nice place even when you pay attention. Good luck.
12:55 pm on July 11, 2019 (gmt 0)

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get a job.

They do, they make Youtube videos, they take photos of themselves,... (and some are millionaires from this :))
1:01 pm on July 11, 2019 (gmt 0)

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There are reports/studies I have read (but can't find at the moment) which suggest that the internet and available of INFORMATION at the touch of a screen/phone has reduced MEMORY in humans ... as there's no "need" to internalize the data ... when you all you need is the ability to punch in a query to find the answer.


I read the article you posted and have seen similar statements in plenty of books, ted talks and other articles also. Makes perfect sense as memory and learned skills are just neural pathways that have been developed by repeat use. You dont use it you lose it.
I also personally feel it myself - I rely on onenote, gadgets etc to remember so many things. I am currently though going through a process of trying to break out of technology addiction routines which I feel is going ok. I have a normal alarm clock in my bedroom now and leave my phone downstairs, have a morning routine that doesn't involve using tech etc. I would like to have a cut off point earlier in the evenings than I do but work makes that hard currently but I am planning on changing that. I am also reading books about improving learning strategies, memory etc to try to regain some of what I feel I have lost.

I do think we need to be conscious of what modern day tech is doing to our brains and try to mitigate the bad parts whilst still taking advantage of the good but in order to do that each individual needs to recognize how it effects them.
3:40 pm on July 11, 2019 (gmt 0)

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@Dimitri:
They do, they make Youtube videos, they take photos of themselves,... (and some are millionaires from this :))
Don't believe everything people say, specially when they show clear signs that they just can't read :)

There are successful people of diff kinds, some are jerks. What I mean is there is a lot of people who make it, regardless of their demographics, we can't say "only X webmasters make money" but the thing here is millenials are struggling, some few make noise, but noise doesn't mean success. I'm pretty sure some are successful but there is no clear relation between self-created-noise-and-hype and success, not all the barking dogs have a place to sleep at night.

On another very long chapter related to the first two posts in this thread, the story of how millenials (freelancers) and owning companies tried to sell that media company their products and services, and only failed making things worse, a lot of money was wasted there. Sure they all talked about their fame, likes, shares, but as I have said on other threads and this one: conversions, that's what matters. Someday I will tell some of those stories.
4:08 pm on July 11, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I meant millionaires in followers and likes, the new virtual money, more valuable than bitcoins :P

(which is a joke, but at the same time, it's true that advertisers are paying some social networks personalities based on their number of followers :))
4:46 pm on July 11, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I'm not sure I completely agree with the chosen title and the use of the word "dumb" in the context.
However, the truth of the matter is that audiences have changed over the years and many now inhabit regions of the Net that require much shorter attention spans.
I'd see it this as an opportunity to market shorter, concise content.
Give users what they want, after all , they are to audience. if individual publishers choose not to serve that audience, that's fine.
5:30 pm on July 11, 2019 (gmt 0)

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@Dimitri, thanks for expanding.
8:25 pm on July 11, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Kids today. Couldn’t bring down a mastodon to save their lives. Hmph.
11:09 pm on July 11, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Maybe everything should be written just using emojis. :)
11:18 pm on July 11, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Maybe try installing a combination IQ and reading comprehension test that pops up on any entry attempt.

Don't pass the test, auto exit and perma-ban.

(If WW had that "feature" I probably couldn't have posted this)
8:45 am on July 12, 2019 (gmt 0)

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@ken_b ... Shssssh! Some suggestions should not be voiced in public!
8:54 am on July 12, 2019 (gmt 0)

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In all events, in a near future, people will just ask Smart Objects and AI to do things for them, and later, Smart Object & AI will do things without people having to say anything, because the AI knows better :)
9:10 am on July 12, 2019 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member tangor is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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@Dimitri ... and then we will be toast. Make mine lightly brown, not burned. Please.
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