Sunday, April 08, 2012

Sunday Essay - is the internet drowning in it's own excreta?

Looking back over my emails for the last few months, there has been a rising tide either seeking or offering links. The number of unsolicited email dealing with search engine optimisation is well up, as are emails seeking or offering content.

During this same period, there has been a noticeable decline in links to any of my blogs. Part of the explanation here lies in my failure to maintain current content. However, the pattern still holds even for this blog where I have maintained regular posting.

Over on Twitter, the number of tweets has passed my capacity to absorb them in the time I have. A colleague has actually stopped using Twitter on the grounds that it is no longer possible to find what is interesting within the constant ephemera.

I use search engines all the time. Here I have noticed the same pattern as the constant increase in ephemera makes it harder and harder to find the material I want. There is another problem as well. The constant rise in the use of the internet for transactions purposes, itself something of value, adds to the overall content and indeed confusion.

To my mind, the internet is in danger of suffocating under its own excreta. However, there is more to it than that.

When the internet began, it was rather like shopping in a small town. You knew the street layout, you knew where the stores were. Now the internet has became a mega global city in which no person can even attempt to follow the overall pattern, let alone understand the detailed intricacies.

You shop or eat in that local area directly related to your needs, the things that you are interested in or need to do, putting the rest aside. Even then you have a problem, for the map changes everyday even in your local area. Nothing is stable.

Just as none of us can understand the tax acts in any country or indeed the full scope of the road rules, now we cannot understand the internet.  Then, as always happens with increased systemic complexity, we start to simplify, looking just at the things we most need. In my case, for example, I am going to unfollow certain news outlets on Twitter so that I can better focus on those things, mainly people, that I do wish to follow.

Complexity also increases the demand for training and for professional support.

Globally, demand for html training has exploded because the number of people who need, or think that they need, this skill to manage their own online activities has been growing exponentially. Globally, demand for specific courses from e-publishing to writing in an online environment has also been growing.

Those who make a living from meeting this demand are obviously aware of the broad trends and and responding to them as best they can. And yet, somehow, they are failing.

Take my own case as an example.

In my own small way I actually run an internet business. I normally don't think of it in that way, yet it's true. I have a number of blogs, there are web sites, I write and publish in a variety of fora. I generate a small income stream from ads or donations, receive a variety of what we might think of as in-kind offers. Most of the second I ignore because of time constraints. I have no easy way of assessing them.    

Those who send me unsolicited SEO proposals generally get a dusty response because maximising my search engine position, while potentially useful, is just not high on my priority list. My needs are different.

I actually need assistance in managing what I do. I need assistance in maximising the value of my content. I need assistance in managing and evaluating the offers I do get. I need certain types of technical support. And I need support in areas like e-publishing. I am also severely limited in what I can pay.

Trying to define and clarify all this in the simplest way, I need support that identifies my needs in an integrated way and then defines the best way of meeting them, subject to my own constraints. To the best of my knowledge, that support does not exist.

In one way, I am not a good example because of my cash constraints. In a second way I am, because I am a moderately sophisticated heavy internet user.

I have no doubt that services and supporting infrastructure of the type I need will emerge. And this brings me to my final point.

Both the internet and all the services that support the internet are niching.

This process is still in its early days, but the broad patterns are becoming clear.

People will still use the broad internet, but increasingly they will focus on slices most directly relevant to them. One internet will be replaced by many internets. The internet you know will be different from that I know. The look will be different, the mode of operations different, the language different, the information displayed different.

This fragmentation will come at a cost, including at least the partial unifying element provided by the broad internet. Yet it is, I think, inevitable.        


Evan said...

Joel who calls himself The Blog Tech Guy provides the kind of support you may be looking for - depending on how much you can afford. He does have a free newsletter.

I think the internet will keep niching too. I think this will be the case whilever it is search engine driven. When you put in a search and get 6 kajillion responses then you have to narrow and narrow your search down into smaller niches. I don't think this will alter any time soon.

Rod said...

I think that the internet is mostly now a source of information for those that know what they are already looking for or want reassurance for their world view. Most sites justify their own view with selective use of quotes etc that are just to hard to follow up and do not point toward alternate views so you take what is said as true.

I worry that we are at risk of replacing the 'text book' with information personally developed because they want to push their own views only. Wikipedia is a perfect example of this.

But time and time again I see people who are able to articulate a thoughtful and balanced view of the world. They often point out the possibility that they may be wrong and that shows maturity. Usually those people that point out that they may be wrong are often the ones who prove to be right.

As far as making money goes, I'm glad you get something out of your blogs Jim, they are good and should be supported.

Augustus Winston said...

Hi Jim - A few years ago I was a member of the Chamber of Commerce. I thought it made good commercial sense go to their meetings, network with others and hand out my cards. After a year of going to these meetings I realised that it was a total waste of time. Why?

Because everyone was selling. Nobody was buying. Everyone was pushing their product and much of it was the same. I think the internet is a bit like that. A great place to buy not such a great place to make a living unless you are already established. Its like walking into a CoC meeting and expecting to close deals. It just doesnt happen. Those with successful products are too busy selling them to have time to glad hand and aimlessly network through meetings. In the time (3 years) I went to these meetings I got 2 leads. One of which led to a meeting but no sale.

I did meet some people who were doing quite well but this was the exception rather than the rule. I have never met anyone who has made a decent living out of blogging. Although I have heard stories such as "Martha Stewart of Wyoming made a six figure sum in just two weeks blogging her ...." and so much other rubbish.

Trying to flog intellectual copy is a noble idea but you will starve. (I don't mean you personally) Why? Because there is so much out there. I could write a thesis on almost anything by cut and pasting from existing stuff and using a Spinner program* to avoid copyright infringement.

I think that the exponential growth of the internet has meant a flood of sourcing material that has devalued the written word. I am not saying people should give up but why would I buy a car if two doors down they are giving them away? And so it is with the internet - so many offering so much to so few willing to pay.

Cheers buddy


* A Spinner program takes text and changes it whilst preserving the content. The good ones can be set so that the original text is changed by whatever percent you want. I think a 15-20% change avoids copyright infringement or plageurism.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim

I know you've been a long time user of online resources, and I remember some time ago your throwaway that you regularly checked (or followed) some 200 websites, plus maintaining a Facebook and Twitter presence. I felt hopelessly inadequate with my few - less than 10 - regular haunts, and complete non-interest in both FB and Twitter. But just a bit of history....

Remember GeoCities? Or AltaVista, Excite, LookSmart, Lycos? I've got screenshots of each from 2001 showing their effectiveness in 'retrieving' (if that's the right word) a hobby of mine at the time. But the one not mentioned which might be of interest from an historical perspective is Google:

The screenshot dated 8 March 2001 for a search of "dalmatian+australia" on (maybe didn't have a then?) shows "results 1-10 of about 5740. Search took 0.34 seconds"

I just did that same search again, (on and got the following: "1,230,000 results (0.15 seconds)"

The above well supports your 'filling up with crap' contention, but I'd like to make the observation that (if a niche is defined as a subset of the whole) the internet is and only ever has been a collection of 'niches'. It has only ever been just a bucket; it is always up to the user to choose which particular apples to 'bob' for.

ps apologies - this is quick and jumbled; 'real' work interrupts

Anonymous said...

Jim, sorry about dashing that off.

The thing is, you're looking at it from the "seller" point of view, whereas my comments are from the "buyer's" perspective.

I have no idea how to successfully sell on the internet, but I'd suggest from my point of view (as a consumer), the three things of interest are relevance, authority, and good writing. If you get two of those three you will be read; dunno if you could make money, but you will be read.

Otherwise, I pretty much agree with Augustus' comments - which is depressing.


Evan said...

The standard wisdom about selling online is that people buy from those who they know, like and trust. The point of web2.0 (blogs and such) is that you can develop this kind of relationship on line. Then it becomes all about the offer - knowing the market and what problem they have that they will pay you to solve for them.

Anonymous said...

"people buy from those who they know, like and trust"

That's not how eBay works, imo. In the past 10 days I've purchased 3 items, and sold 4. For the purchases I relied upon 'crowd experience' - i.e. seller has good rep. For sales I'm guessing the buyers did likewise, plus insurance via PayPal.

There was no "knowing, liking, or trust" between the buyer or seller in any of those (quite minor) transactions.


Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you all for your comments. I printed them off so that I could read and respond properly!

Evan, I looked up Joel and have subscribed to his free newsletter.

To you and kvd, in a way the internet always has been an aggregation of niches. However, I would argue that there was also a universality that has been lost through fragmentation.

kvd, your search engine piece is interesting at two levels. One is the decline, the cessation in some cases, of previous platforms. The internet is inherently unstable. This creates problems for the survivability of content. Geocities is a good example.

Augustus, nice to see that kvd agrees with you, at least on some things!

The CofC example struck a chord, I used to go to networking meetings and had the same experience. A group of willing sellers without buyers is pretty useless!

I agree that that the proliferation of content has devalued the written word and at two levels. First, why pay when you can get it for free? Second, in the flood of words the good gets crowded out. Who has the time to distinguish?

And thanks, Rod, for the kind words about my blogs!

Anonymous said...

Just to record the fact:


Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, kvd. It does bear recording and a proper response on my part.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim

Some discussion points are coming up on skepticlawyer - which is where I saw Helen raise a post on this.


Anonymous said...

And not to rabbit on about it, but you might miss this particularly well written and thoughtful piece:

- which is buried way down in the LP comments. Both the post itself, and some very good commenters seem to back up your 'village now anonymous city' feeling about the internet.

Anyway, as always, I shall look forward to anything you may further write on a general topic which greatly interests me - even if LP itself did not.