Blog - Artur Tagisow
10 Feb 2022

Sanitizing Internet use

The more time you spend on an app, the more ad money you make for it. “Similar videos to this one”, “trending videos right now”, “auto-playing the next video in 5s” etc. Because of this time stealing, I’ve been trying to sanitize my Internet use—here are the extensions I ended up with:

1. Clickbait Remover for YouTube

Before & after

Instead of allowing the video author to pick the video thumbnail (usually contains typical clickbait elements: shocked face, red font, pointing arrows), this extension resets the thumbnail to a random frame from the video. It turns video titles all lowercase aswell.

2. Unhook: Remove YouTube Recommended Videos Comments

Available options

My YouTube homepage is completely blank (spare the sidebar). The home feed with recommended videos and “Trending” button is gone.

I don’t even have the search bar at the top. I’ve created a search shortcut in Firefox — typing “yt cat videos” in the address bar takes me to the regular YouTube (albeit clickbait free, thanks to Clickbait Remover) search results for term.

I also don’t use a Google account for YouTube, so I have zero channels subscribed to. This’d be a dealbreaker for many, but I get my fix from the TV YouTube app (no subs either, just relying on recommended videos). That’s cheesy, as that way the distraction is just moved somewhere else, but at least it moves it away from the room where I work.

3. LeechBlock NG

LeechBlock is a browser-extension based website blocker. It can block a site forever, or just allow you to browse up to a few minutes everyday. It’s just an extension, so naturally you can disable it, which I’ve done for years, but I kept eventually re-enabling it until my brain just gave up and got used to the fact it has to stay on (…most of the time). LeechBlock is good because it’s generalist—you may be wasting time on sites too small to have their own distraction-removing browser extension.

Blocking can be flawed—an alternative frontend for a site could exist. The popular among programmers HackerNews (news.ycombinator.com) has an alternative frontend at hackernews.pro. Reddit has tens of libreddit instances, such as https://libreddit.silkky.cloud. As long as you block the one(s) you use most often you’ll be fine. Just don’t be surprised when you accidentally find out about a new one and waste 2 hours in an opioid rush.

3.1. Overdoing blocking

Naively hard-blocking every timewaster site may fail you—some of them are “unblockable”. Say—when preparing for a certification exam you’d like to hear someone’s thoughts on preparing for it — chances are you’ll end up on Reddit or YouTube. Those sites aren’t inherently bad for your brain, they just have parts that are.

I LeechBlock Reddit 24/7, but allow using the “Override” feature to unlock it for 60s. Overriding takes work — a few clicks and redirects to finally get where I wanted to be. This helps me stay “intentional” — I’ll conciously go through the hoops to override only if I need the information. Overriding for some meh stumbled-upon article is too much work.

4. Honorable mentions

4.1. Highlight or Hide Search Engine Results

I use it to grey out search results from Reddit so I’m forced to check out other results first. I also highlight results from StackOverflow and outright hide hits from HackerNews with it. Sadly doesn’t work on https://lite.duckduckgo.com

4.2. Privacy Redirect

Redirects you from the main frontend of a website to a tracking-free one (visiting reddit.com auto-redirects you to the libreddit version of that link). Those alternative frontends are often slower and less feature-complete, making you less likely to spend too much time using them.

4.3. Tweak New Twitter

Removes algorithmic content from Twitter.

4.4. Android - blocking in /etc/hosts

Smartphones are tricky because even if you block a website in your local DNS (in your router or pihole), it’s possible to bypass that by switch to the mobile network—it uses a different DNS.

A workaround if you have a rooted phone is to just adb shell into it and edit the /etc/hosts file with nano, adding entries like 127.0.0.1 m.reddit.com

5. “You’re a child with no self control”

If you see me where I shouldn’t be — like near a dedicated GPU — whack me with a blunt object.

Years ago I’ve done some sales-focused A/B testing and conversion rate optimization gigs. A/B testing entails:

  1. creating several versions of a website with some minor details tweaked
  2. evenly routing the site’s visitors between these versions
  3. seeing which version generated made the most money

That and industry knowledge about what makes people’s brain click makes an unfair fight. You don’t have a conversion rate optimization team working at getting YouTube to go away as hard as the same team at Google is trying to get you to watch a few more ads.
Besides, you have more important things to spend your daily willpower budget on than fighting websites.