The slow demise of information at the hands of content

When I was a kid the internet was blue. The only pictures to be found on it were ASCII art. It’s gotten a lot better since then. It’s definitely prettier. With the advent of HTML came images and sounds. Mostly annoying sounds but still. There were scores of almanacs, statistics, research, and other data to be found. Though often times you needed to know where something was already in order to find it. Most pages contained links to other pages that you might find useful if you liked the one you were on. It was a web of information and crawling it required a little practice and at times luck.

Then came the search engine which helped a little but was wrong or missing information as often as it was useful. At the least though it could point you toward a site that might link to a site you could use. At this time many businesses started catching on about this internet thing and made pages listing their contact information and sometimes their products as well. As the web continued to get prettier they even made online catalogs though paper ones were still the norm.

Then the web got prettier again. And the search engines got better too. Not good but better. All of the info was still there but now there were entertainment sites galore too. And most of it was just a search away. You could find game codes, sports info, phone numbers, whatever. If you had a passion someone out there shared it and had a site about it. Businesses saw an opportunity here and started asking the largest sites if they could put links to their pages on sites that pertained to their goods. It was a win. At least at first. In theory it’s a great idea but linking to both the company paying to be linked to and another one which you simply like didn’t always sit well with either the site owners or the paying businesses. Sometimes site owners asked companies to pay and when they declined the site owner removed the link to their company in favor of the one that was paying them. Sometimes businesses threatened to move to other sites if they had to compete with a company whom wasn’t even paying for the privilege of getting their visotors business. In this way site ownership began to change from something one spent money on in order to share knowledge or an interest to something that could be done to generate a steady, if small, stream of income.

And then there was Google. Google was easily the best search engine. It returned more relevant results on a wider range of queries than any search engine that came before it. It grew to dominance and then ubiquity.

Google used spiders to crawl the web and find pages that people might be searching for and ranked those pages based on several factors. In modern times, one of those factors is the number of inbound vs. outbound links found on a site. A site which has many links to it can be considered a primary source. A site which links to many other sites is more likely to be a directory with little information of it’s own that points searchers onward to more useful sites. At the time of Google’s invention this was the norm.

But Google became ubiquitous. Site owners began to design their sites with Google page rank in mind. And as site ownership had moved from a hobbyist pursuit to a business, so to did delivering information move from a primary goal to being one of many lures to generate traffic and thereby income. Businesses now marketed their own products directly as well as via ads and increased prevalence of internet usage and consumer trust saw online shopping rise dramatically. More and more, site ownership was viewed as a business venture instead of a hobbyist’s expenditure. Even sites providing information or “content” as it had come to be known, did so only in ways which would yield the most traffic and the highest number of clicks. It is for this reason that two pages worth of content may often be spread across ten separate pages which must be clicked through. Each page can load a new set of ads that increases the site owners revenue without the need to generate more content.

And so we arrive at the modern day. In modern times site owners, now businesses themselves have come to realize that creating content is not necessary to draw in users, only the promise of content. Modern design practices incentivize loading what appears to be content with as many keywords as possible in order to increase page rank. This will lead more people to click on it. Whether those people find the information they sought is inconsequential. Modern design favors meta text descriptions which sound like they provide useful information while providing nothing at all, restating information from another source, or simply listing information completely irrelevant to the query but ensuring that it contains the requisite keywords. In this way the internet has grown far larger and yet somehow the amount of content therein continues to shrink.

Providing a site with lots of useful information and links to other sites which could also be useful to the reader is now counterproductive as users find sites via search engine. Search engines prioritize those sites with the most traffic, the most keywords, and the fewest number of outbound links. This is a self sustaining loop as the sites which get the most traffic are those that appear first on Google and the pages Google ranks first are those with more traffic. Thus the concept that the internet or information superhighway was built upon: the sharing of information, has now been relegated to an afterthought. As a society we traded our almanacs and encyclopedias in for internet access. It seemed faster and cheaper. Now the internet’s primary function is providing commercials or commercials disguised as information. So where do we turn when we require information now that both information superhighway and encyclopedia are gone? If this were a commercial I’d tell you that the answer to this question as well as the secret to wealth and a full head of hair can be found in my ebook which you can download for only $19.99. But this isn’t a commercial, and I don’t have an answer.

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