Oct 21, 2008, 11:15AM

The Centralized Web

The Web is not, as many imagine, a vast space full of many different hubs. There is indeed a mainstream, a relatively small number of massively trafficked sites.

Putting the 'Net in perspective:

And that landscape felt not only new but liberating. Those were the days when you could look around and easily convince yourself that the web would always be resistant to centralization, that it had leveled the media playing field for good. But that view was an illusion. Even back then, the counterforce to the web's centrifugal force - the centripetal force that would draw us back toward big, central information stores - was building. Hyperlinks were creating feedback loops that served to amplify the popularity of popular sites, feedback loops that would become massively more powerful when modern search engines, like Google, began to rank pages on the basis of links and traffic and other measures of popularity. Navigational tools that used to emphasize ephemera began to filter it out. Roads out began to curve back in.

At the same time, and for related reasons, scale began to matter. A lot. Big media outlets moved online, creating vast, enticing pools of branded content. Search engines and content aggregators, like Google, expanded explosively, providing them with the money and expertise to create technical advantages - in speed, reliability, convenience, and so on - that often proved decisive in attracting and holding consumers. And, of course, people began to demonstrate their innate laziness, retreating from the wilds and following the increasingly well-worn paths of least resistance. A Google search may turn up thousands of results, but few of us bother to scroll beyond the top three. When convenience meets curiosity, convenience usually wins.


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