I often find myself annoyed trying to learn something new on the web. My notion was that I might not be able to cope with that huge amount of information web has to offer.
Just recently I have realised that I run into ever repeating pattern that makes my use of web inefficient. As I am always looking for alternative views or even opposing ideas, I would go to Google to search for a topic of my interest, read first of the best matches found. Sometimes I may follow some related content on the same website. But
when I want to learn more I have to go back to search, read next article, then go back to search, read next, etc. …
I remember that I was used to times when information on the web were sparse and authors were valuing their existence, so they would link any other related information on their page, and even the opposing views. I cannot see such efforts nowadays. Is it just me or
what happened to the web I have known?
The world wide web vision and design was to interlink various information across various web pages. This powerful principle is giving authors ability to interlinking various resources. The power to make the Internet plural and free medium. All information were meant to be equal. All links were meant to form a homogenous “net”. The hyperlinks are meant to navigate our way through the Internet, they are the way to show new views, facts, to broaden our opinions. If some link or site would go offline it create insignificant gap in the net.
As Internet grew I was watching search engines coming. Astalavista. Excite. And finally Google. And I was hailing the power these engines were bringing to their users. It was clear progress in navigating the wast and ever growing ocean of the Internet. They became the safe ports for everyone who would set to sail this ocean.
Finally the search even found its way into your address bars and replaced the universal power of hyperlinks.
We started to be convinced that when we can find anything and we do not have to use the links and provide them. The perceived value of hyperlinks started to drop. While the links had their great second coming in the time blogs, when they hold together all blogosphere — the net of blogs. But links lost again, as the social networks have emerged and started to centralise content and all the discussion in single proprietary sites — vividly described Hossein Derakhshan in his lament about the
The value of hyperlinks is gone and the online resources are less and less interlinked across the web. Hyperlinks are becoming merely the means of turning pages. In many cases their value is the ability to break content into numerous pages and so generate many page views and in fact ads impressions.
Hyperlinks’ old power has weakened, so they are not sufficient to navigate the ocean of the Internet. As the users cannot any longer depend on them and as are suddenly becoming lost in this ocean, so they seek the refuge in the ports of search engines or social networks.
As sailors like their ports, we like our Google, Yahoo, Facebook or others. We prefer to feel safe. They give us the options to stay close to the port. We can leave them just for a short trip and then return again as we feel uneasy. They do not make us to sail the deep ocean. We are safe there. We like our ports and they love to see us again and again. They can easily learn about us, our likes and our habits, so they can easily advertise to us, when we set on our next trip. As good businesses the ports strive to provide the best service, they want us to feel safe and as in home, so we would return back again.
These ports are becoming better and better in creating illusions of safety, in keeping us feeling home. They personalise our search results. They learn what we like and next time we search they match ours needs and likes. They would not let us to set a foot on unknown results.
It also means that they as result limit what we would find next time, as Eli Pariser nicely explains in his TED speech about “filter bubbles”. He also stresses out that as result
“[we won’t]… get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview.”
We trust the search engines since they know us, since they find for us what we seek. We follow the directions set by these hubs, even if they let us to see just few directions. We are safe. We open, read and use the results provided. And we barely set foot aside the site suggested by the search engine. We can follow supporting views cited, but we are barely able to navigate to alternative views or even opposing ones.
The pages we read want us to stay with their content: alternative is a competition, opposing view is a threat. They want us to consume their ads as well as their content, so they can pay their bills. And it would be common that bills will include SEO optimisation or ads at the hubs to direct us to their site. That is understandable.
The result is we stay locked on “single” site, or few sites we follow — these would go out as spokes of the hub. They are strongly interconnected by SEO done and by ads paid. There is only way to get elsewhere, to find alternative, to get more detail. It is to return back to the hub, to follow next search result, or to search again. The true alternative may be buried somewhere on one of the many pages of search results.
So we have our hubs we start with. We have discrete spokes of information and almost no hyperlinks to connect them into the intricate net. The net that was the world wide web supposed to be seems to be breaking apart.
The structure becomes weak as it is not supported by links across the spokes. It naturally excludes resources laying outside the spokes. Most of the hubs and spokes are managed by business of technological companies and publishing houses. They are in control of the structure of the web and they are happy to keep you caught inside the hierarchy of their net.
Can we recreate the web as we have known? Stronger and more resilient, as it would not depend on large hubs or spokes, and as it will based on the natural interlinked nature. If we understand the World Wide Web better,
we would also care more how it is build and how it serves us.