It seems that in the post-banner ads
era that we live in, the internet
is collapsing under its own weight. Perhaps I should clarify: the content
of the internet, the stuff that makes the internet worthwhile has a tendency to be self-destructive
. Good, independently run sites go down or are drastically reduced in size with little warning. You may have noticed it on some of your favorite websites: of my own experiences, lileks.com
have recently been affected by this phenomena.
What's happening? Well, to understand, you've got to know just a bit about the World Wide Web. Specifically, you've got to understand that everybody's web site, even Everything2, has to live on a hard drive somewhere. More importantly, that hard drive (which, ideally, is connected to a computer) must be accessable by people browsing the internet. This connectivity (which, by it's mere existence, turns the computer into a "server") costs money, and to allow thousands, nay, hundreds of thousands of people to pull large amounts of data in the form of web pages and pictures and sounds and whatnot costs a lot of money! Most people don't have access to the bandwidth necessary to host a truly popular site, so they have to turn to companies that run server farms to give them the bandwidth they need. These farms charge the poor webmasters large fees for their service.
This means that anybody who is smart enough, dedicated enough, and skilled enough to put up a website that brings back readers day after day has to pay out the nose to do so. Since these people devote most of their time to maintaining their websites, they don't have as much time to make money at actual jobs, which usually means they can't afford their server bills. Thus, they are forced to either shut down their site entirely or reduce the size of its content so that people won't be able to download as much at one time.
This is alarming. The number of people on the net is only going to go up, and that means the number of hits on the more popular websites is also going to go up. However, unless somebody comes up with a foolproof way of earning money from web page hits, the out-of-pocket cost of running a popular website is also going to skyrocket. The sites that truly deserve public attention will be drowned by their own popularity, leaving us, the public of the future, with nothing but crap crap crap. That, and tiny, pared-down, low-bandwidth versions of our favorite sites. Currently, sites like somethingawful.com and penny-arcade.com stay afloat through donations from readers. Others, like sluggy-freelance.com, one of the most popular web comics around, seem to be able to support themselves through merchandising. But donations are unreliable and, to some proud operators, humiliating, and as popular as some websites are these days, the market for T-shirts with switchblade-wielding bunnies on them seems an easily saturateable one.
So what does the future really hold for this wonderful institution, the internet? The one thing that should happen in the public's favor as the internet's population rises is a decrease in bandwidth costs. But that cost is pretty much controlled by the major telephone and cable companies, who have historically been loathe to lower their prices. And why should they? It's not like email or e-commerce are going to go out of business, so who cares about a few meaningless websites? There's mindblowingly huge profits to be made by the people who provide the foundation for the internet, but I fear they'll be all too quick to dismiss the importance of the people who truly build it into something grand and wonderful.