It is fascinating how the internet is both unbelievably enormous and yet simultaneously tiny. As wide as an ocean and as deep as a kiddy pool. According to Wikipedia, the indexed internet is around 14.5 billion web pages (as of 2015, even more now). This is a fraction of the total web pages on the internet. With the deep web accounting for 400 to 600 times more than that.
And yet, with this almost completely impossible to grasp amount of content the vast majority of people have been funneled into a handful of websites. ahrefs.com has a handy collection of the most searched websites of 2019. Major banks, major retailers, and a few google services make up the majority of the entries. Alongside this we see a focus on health and social networks.
I’d argue those go hand in hand, since your health is probably poor if you frequent social networks. But I have nothing but my own distaste of SM to defend that belief with.
Hundreds of billions of websites but most of them are unvisited by the vast majority of human beings. They live and die without anyone ever knowing and I find that fascinating. When I was little and the internet was budding I would visit different websites almost every day. I would scour the internet for the perfect Dragon Ball Z gifs to add to my collection. It was this wild world where each day promised new discoveries.
This was intentional.
That’s what I find most fascinating about the modern internet. The murder of this exploration format was done intentionally. As reported by The Vulture and at this point a billion other places (that you’ll never visit), Facebook and other SNs falsified their click-through rates. This caused advertisers to leave other services and flood SNs.
What results is all the competition dies out for lack of funds and all you are left with is a small handful of (arguably) garbage websites. Where once you might suggest that the free market could handle problems and self cultivate that opportunity is now gone.
At a certain point services become so big that they become the defacto option. Wealth and power both have a gravitational pull, once you’ve reached a singularity for either the capacity for anyone to escape it is physically zero.
This likely isn’t good.
I can’t quantify this easily. But I do think that this is a very bad situation for the internet to be in. This wild consolidation of viewership and communities will result in mostly negative outcomes. My logic is as follows.
When eyes are spread across dozens, or thousands, of forums, websites, and other services, this makes any coordinated attack to manipulate people costly and difficult. Once you consolidate everyone to a single, or small handful, of locations you can then consolidate your attack vectors as well.
This means that faking political, religious, or cultural views of a destructive nature becomes trivial. It is inexpensive and almost curates itself. Once you plant the seed it spreads like a disease. And since we’ve gathered everyone into densely packed herds online those diseases spread with wild efficiency.
This is probably permanent.
The problem with the situation is that the internet is largely seen as a free service. The majority of services that you enjoy are ad driven and this means that they must appeal to advertisers first, and you second. This also means that whoever has the largest population also has the largest draw for advertisers.
It creates an ouroboros style situation. Everything cycles in upon itself and the gorging continues endlessly.
The only possible way that I can see this ever improving is if paid services become more appealing to people. I’m not recommending people pay for YouTube but I’m going to use it as an example.
Most of the negative changes to YouTube have been because it is ad driven. In order to appeal to advertisers they have collected heavy amounts of data on all of their users and they’ve also had a heavy hand in moderating the content on the website.
This first point is what recently got them into enormous legal trouble. They were collecting tons of data on children. Now, if the majority of their revenue came from YouTube Red there would be no real incentive to collect data on users. Giving it away to third parties would create competitors for their information market. And if they don’t need advertisers to stay profitable it also eliminates the need to be heavy handed with moderation.
Users will watch what they enjoy, part of the revenue from their subscription will go to those people, and anyone not being watched will not be making money.
This is just one example, and not even a very good one if I’m being honest. YouTube and Google at large have likely been just as complicit in manipulating their actual efficacy as any other service. You don’t get as large as Google without doing some fairly awful things.
So that’s my little rant for the day. The internet as an ad driven service has, in my opinion, died. Everything is consolidated into a small handful of places, almost all advertising revenue is transferring through a small handful of companies, and at this point it is something of an auto-piloting downward spiral.