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The State of Web Surfing. Posted on 08/26/2001.

Amy Harmon wrote a New York Times article, "Exploration of World Wide Web Tilts From Eclectic to Mundane", that is mostly notable because it quotes ME ME ME, oh, and, um some other attention-cravers like Steven Johnson and Mark Crispin Miller, but, really, I'm the heart and soul of the piece, and once you read my quote, you can pretty much ignore the rest.

I'm kidding. It's a good piece, though I find it to be an overwhelming stating of the obvious, though I suppose sometimes the obvious needs to be stated, just to put it out there. Personally, I don't find the ever-more-concentrated and utilitarian use of the Web to be a 'bad' thing... It's quite clear the novelty has worn off. I still believe the Web to be an extremely powerful medium, mostly because of its democratic, low-barrier-to-entry nature. Just because the mass of people using the Web don't surf quirky personal sites isn't a problem--they *could* if they choose to, and when the need or interest arises, they will.

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I disagree with the points made in the article. As always, the reporter has an agenda, and tries to use supporting quotes like yours and Steven Johnson's to back it up. But where's the proof? If anything, I see the web as more eclectic than ever. Johnson's quote was about something else entirely, and she twisted it to her own purpose: "'What it hasn't done so far is create great flowering of publications or media channels, and of course I have an interest in that,' Mr. Johnson said. 'But maybe it turns out that what the Web is good for is connecting people.'

But that may be better done by e- mail, instant messaging and other parts of the Internet not related to the Web. That is what teenagers, the next generation of Internet users, appear to be far more interested in, according to researchers."

What about all the people who go to Slashdot or MetaFilter? What about the explosion in personal sites?
Posted by timo @ 08/26/2001 02:32 PM PST [link to this comment]

>What about the explosion
>in personal sites?

What explosion in personal sites?
Posted by kilroy @ 08/26/2001 06:07 PM PST [link to this comment]

I think you're being unnecessarily harsh, Timo. Amy cites reams of statistics backing up the claim that people are viewing fewer and fewer sites... And while there might be more personal sites than ever before, I'm not surprised to find out that their viewing is less of a percentage than ever before.
Posted by peterme @ 08/26/2001 07:22 PM PST [link to this comment]

If this guy can't even read your name accurately how can anyone trust his other observations?
Posted by BJMe @ 08/27/2001 08:31 AM PST [link to this comment]

Peter, do you look at hit counts for your site? Have they been falling?
Posted by anon. @ 08/27/2001 08:51 AM PST [link to this comment]

of course the hitcounts have been falling... all the info architects that spent all day surfing are now unemployed.
Posted by anon @ 08/27/2001 09:41 AM PST [link to this comment]

The article is a "look, my baby can walk" story. The "less, less" noise from Jupiter (leveraged on a foundation of 8% of the population, i.e., the half of folks visiting less) seemed much more interesting.

Amy no doubt heard this from Mr. Huberman: The power law nature of web traffic (not news since, ah, 1998?) predicts this APPARENT change. But it's not a change at all.

It appears different 'cause when scaling from a smaller population of web sites to a larger population, there will be greater differences between the bottom ranking and the top rankings: A fewer number of sites visited by more (and more) people; and more numbers of sites visited by fewer (and fewer) people. When the numbers of sites are smaller, and number of visitors, the smaller differences fool us. Even the article makes it clear that this is what is happening.

The better news story might have been about the "way" in which these most-visited sites achieve this. There's one para that begins with a hint of that, but is not truely taken up.

So, the web CONTINUES to grow up, and the prior behavior (seen in 1997/8) CONTINUES to be evident.

Yawn. Unless you're touting a forthcoming book, or have an article you've been working on for a month or so, and a chance to get it in an edition.
Posted by anon @ 08/27/2001 10:55 AM PST [link to this comment]

The main -- but obvious -- point is that the novelty's gone, along with the utopian rose-colored glasses.

The article is the latest a long-running argument over what people ought to be reading, listening to, etc. Cultural elites have been moaning about popular tastes among the masses for centuries. The reality is that "common" tastes have always been the most popular. Gothic horror novels were the best sellers in the 1800s. The early proponents of TV thought we'd all be watching Masterpiece Theater instead of pro wrestling and news, weather and sports (or kicks, guts and organisms if you're watching KGO...SF joke folks...). The folks doing CD-ROM thought people would love to buy CD-ROMs about a variety of high-minded subjects. Didn't work out that way...

I think it's important to remember the quote that "the web is a democracy of opportunity, but not necessarily of outcome." However, while each new medium has been accompanied by utopian expectations, I do think the internet is different because of it's low barrier to entry. Compared to printing your own 'zine, or making your own movie, putting up your own site is easier and costs less to do, and you potentially can reach far more people. Getting people to go to your site is another matter, but the key difference is that someone who's interested in what you have to say (even something as oddball as Sharon Stone's Scar,/a>) can find you reasonably easily. And if you can't put together a site, there's always email.

Will indie sites with indie viewpoints take over the world? No. Will they go away? No. Will they sometimes catch the world's attention. Once in awhile.

To me the most interesting part though was the bit at the end about how teenagers seem to be far more interested in email and instant-message than web sites, which they mostly use for school work.

Part of it is an age thing I'm sure, with IM replacing the hours-long phone calls. But I'll be curious to see in the coming years whether there's a true behaviorial difference.
Posted by
george @ 08/27/2001 11:42 AM PST [link to this comment]

There is still a strong diversity sites on the net, but this is not what the article seems to be about. It seems to be saying that the bell curve of the public has finally become interested in the net and what it can do. What this bell curve populous is doing is going to sites that fit their comfort zone. For those of us that have been using and building for the net since (what seems like) before God was in britches, these folks of limited focus are an anomoly. There were many that thought people would change once they used the Web, but as it is with any new technology the change is only incremental for those in the bell curve. But to many of us, these are the folks for which we are trying to build our sites, information applications, and software. These are the people that are not really interested in learning anything new, so we need to build within their comfort zone. We know the networked world can make life easier, but taking these folks step by step down that path is our task.
Posted by vanderwal @ 08/28/2001 05:55 AM PST [link to this comment]

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