The essential infrastructure of the internet has hit a critical juncture via the World Wide Web. The ability to create a web presence is easier than ever with a growing focus at building more faster. In the matter of an afternoon, you can create a blog, social media accounts, and begin posting on anything. Within a couple of days, you can set automations to share, like, retweet, post, email, and syndicate everything you write.
The minimum viable product of this setup can be done reasonably. The cost shrinking ever lower as companies compete for seats to their respective content hubs and SaaS (Software as a Solution) services. Typically, the success of these products are captured through number of views, impressions, and sales conversions. However, we are competing for our user’s eyes and their time.
As the scaffolding for these web presence structures rises ever higher, there are many who occasionally look down to see what (if anything) is still holding.
Jonathan Zittrain‘s article The Internet Is Rotting, is a great example at a brief history of the internet and World Wide Web with a focus on link rot. Concerned with “…how we both communicate with one another and together preserve the intellectual products of human civilization”, Zittrain explores the difficulties humans have had not only building the web, but capturing the fleeting accomplishments of mankind.
The only criticism I have for the article is a lack at a clear distinction between the internet and the World Wide Web. At times, there is confusion as both are treated as the same thing. The internet is a mode of communication and the web merely a medium that utilizes said mode. This distinction is incredibly important as there are thousands of mediums that utilize the internet each with their own knowledge sharing, histories, appeals, user bases, infrastructures etc.
Video games, Video conferencing, private (intra-net) applications, and even in-browser applications are just a handful of examples of the different mediums that utilize the internet. That being said, there are many similarities between each as they all utilize similar enough tools (computers, phones, tablets, laptops). As they are accessed similarly, there is an effort to multi-modally replicate everything as we attempt to meet users where they are either as content creators or developers.
Remember, we are competing for eyes and time. So, is the web the only medium we should consider capturing that utilizes the internet?
Honestly, if hard pressed, I could not differentiate between the core differences in a game review blog viewed in a web browser and an influencer profile writing reviews in the Steam App. They could easily provide the same information. They could be written by the same person. I could even access both using the same device at the same time. Anymore, this is true for almost all content. If there is content on a website there exists a place within an independent application that can capture the same core information.
Even Amazon doesn’t rely solely on sales through the web. Anything they have on their website can be found in their app. The core function of the site is the core function of the app. The core information on one is identical of the other.
The web is now a competing medium whose cost is beginning to go up even though the movement of SaaS website builders attempt to keep that at a minimum. At the very least, the web is flexible and has limited governing bodies, but is much more dangerous as a result.
I’d like to think that the web is more democratic, but the cost of entry tends to be higher than in an independent or private application. I can get an account going on Twitch or Facebook for a vLog cheaper than I could setting up my own website and posting the videos there. It all depends on where you are attempting to meet your users. Those knowledge communities deem what they want to see and what is important.
Before we start looking at capturing the World Wide Web, we have to ask ourselves, “What do you deem important enough to capture?”. I couldn’t imagine the answer is “everything”. Take my earlier example of Amazon whose app is a living medium. Products are constantly coming and going. Same is said for their website which replicates the information presented on the app (vis versa). Surely every version with every edit and change is not equally important. Is it?
Zittrain acknowledges “digital malleability”, but I’m asking a larger question. Because the web is such a vast space, capturing everything would be like capturing the human experience through only one lens. Each community could determine importance for themselves; but let’s face it, I can’t get my neighbor to do something about the weeds in his yard let alone mow it. I couldn’t imagine again that this would be repeated for each medium that holds the same core information. We would have to accept that some knowledge communities prefer not to capture anything let alone everything in any medium.
Is link rot then forgivable with content that has no importance or deemed to lack enough importance by its own community? Could we just accept that content serves a purpose for a time and then is inevitably lost? Even the Pyramids will be piles of sand at some point.
The short answer, “no”, but the long answer is a post for another time.
Just want to thank Jonathan Zittrain for his fantastic article The Internet Is Rotting. I would definitely deem the article worthy of capturing for future use as it raises a great deal of questions.
As always, I hope you found something to add to your everyday rhetoric repertoire. Thank you for reading.