At the end of 5 years of the third millennium, it’s interesting to guess how the Internet may be evolving. Clearly it changes rapidly and dramatically. Here is one view of the past few years. How do you see the story continuing?
Phase 1. The birth of the Internet – The hyper-linking of web pages and documents create a web-like structure. Any item in the Internet is connected to any other item in the Internet by hyperlinks. The Internet is for humans.
Phase 2. The growth of the Internet – This inter-connectedness of information is so effective and valuable to its users that more and more items are added to the Internet.
Phase 3. The emergence of search engines – To help humans work through this web, search engines create spiders or robots that can give a short list of web pages deemed to be relevant to someone’s interest in a certain keyword phrase. The Google search engine is so thorough, speedy and user-friendly, that it becomes the search engine of choice for the vast majority of people.
Phase 4. The mechanism (algorithm) of the Google search engine values the number of other web pages that give links to a given web page. This creates a pressure on web page owners to create large numbers of related web pages that can provide links to their target web pages. The Internet grows rapidly and somewhat artificially under these conditions. The word ‘bloat’ might well be appropriate.
Phase 5. This rapid growth is accelerated even more by the ready availability of ‘blogging’ software. Everyone can easily create ‘blog’ items commenting on current events. The search engines find these blog items very useful sources of information content and so rapidly scavenge the Internet to find new items as they are created. The Internet therefore grows explosively.
Phase 6. The Internet is no longer something that a human searcher can aim to be knowledgeable on. It is so huge and grows so rapidly that each human must rely on an associated computer that can ceaselessly look for relevant news items on topics of interest. The availability of news feeds (RSS / Atom) for new web pages or blog entries allows the computer to become the essential watcher for anything new that may be added to the Internet.
Phase 7. The picture of the Internet now is of this huge and rapidly growing flood of web pages. Human beings with associated computer robots can only attempt to keep partially aware of interesting developments that may be of interest to them. Unfortunately there is no easy way to designate which web pages may be more authoritative or original.
So how will the story continue from this point forward? Will we see the flood continuing to grow uncontrollably? Will each of us capture only a small fraction of what may be potentially useful to us? Or is there some new technology or social grouping that will keep us above the flood?