I remember when the Internet was a promise.

Back in the day, you might have had a homepage if you were really into the whole computer thing, and chances were your homepage had a real purpose that actually made it interesting to other people. You were probably an expert on something, whether it was quantum entanglement or collecting beer mats, and since the majority of your cyber correspondence was related to that forte you naturally started to upload more and more data related to that subject until your little website became a miniature Solomon's Mine of information and you were no longer just Daniel, the computer geek who lived next door with his mom but Legendary Dan, the Beer Mat Man.

And you did it without frontloading Google keywords in your home page and cross-posting all over the Web and putting links to your page and Amazon affiliate banners in your sig, but by simply uploading information about beer mats.

Nowadays you wouldn't have an outside chance of becoming the Beer Mat Man without a major advertising campaign, a feature in Wired and a Lulu-published book with five-star reviews by several of Amazon's Top Reviewers. Even then you'd be better off getting sponsored by Anheiser-Busch in exchange for some favourable product placement in your beer mat reviews.

Of course, it doesn't matter a bit, because websites that are actually about something are so Web 1.0 anyway. Nobody generates informative content any more. Why do all that research when you could just create a MySpace page, join the Beer Mat Collectors group, post quotes from the official Heineken site in your blog and hit every forum you can find with snarky comments about how people who collect bottle caps are complete LOSERS!

(Note: it is vitally important that when you start posting snarky comments, your forum signature is seven times as long as your average post. Your fans won't appreciate the effort of having to converse with you to find out who you are and what an amazing beer mat guru you have become in your years of experience. That is what your sig is for. Make sure your sig states clearly the url for your website, your current five favourite beer mats, the number of beer mats in your collection, the time and location of your first carnal encounter with an Apple computer, and why Journey suck so hard, or you will surely be seen as a complete loser. Also, it never hurts to insert a shibboleth from an obscure webcomic (not too obscure, mind you - as a professional Web poster, you live for the occasional off-topic "wow, you love Webcomic X too?" comment) or something about how much you love Jesus, depending on which camp you fall into.)

YOUR AD HERE!!!!!

Strangely enough, though, the Web doesn't seem to have been depopulated. On the contrary, it's growing at a phenomenal rate. This is no wasteland, you may think as you're cruising the eightteen lanes of Information Superhighway. This is Wonderland! Look at all the stuff out there! Why, I can see a dozen amazing websites from right here! What is this idiot Dejawhatsis gassing on about?

I'll tell you what happened. We completed the Superhighway metaphor. We built billboards and service centers all along it. That's what you can see. No trees, no wonders of nature, just mile-high, customer-driven, neon billboards, Exxon stations and McDonald's franchises. The Internet used to be a new frontier that crossed borders and held limitless possibilities. Then the businessmen moved in.

Are you reading a webpage about supernovas? Hey, you must really be into the stars. Why don't we frame that page with a banner ad for the new Star Trek movie, a couple of box ads for telescopes, DVDs about the Challenger disaster and one for a website where - get this, fellow stargazer - you can play a crappy Flash version of Asteroids with HARDLY ANY HIDDEN COST AND GUARANTEED NOT VERY MUCH SPYWARE!!!

And since it's pretty easy for to just ignore the frame and read the article you came here for, why don't we pepper the text itself with pop-up hyperlinks to dozens of other things you can buy, and make every one jump out at you every time your cursor comes anywhere near it?

Also, that page is way too long. Who wants to look at so much boring text? Don't your fingers get tired from scrolling? Take a break, fanboy. Tell you what, we'll put a little stop sign in there to break up that wall of text for you after three paragraphs. Looks a little empty like that, so how about we insert a nice page-width ad for Dell computers there? No harm done, right? Hey, if you don't want a new Dell you just scroll right past it.

And if we find that you do that too often, we'll make it into one of those neat animated pop-up ads that scroll with you, blocking the text until you click to make it go away. So everybody wins. Hey, our sponsors have to eat too.

Hmm, that's still an awful lot of text. Hey, I know, why don't we break it up into three pages, and that way you can see three times as many ads for the same actual information?

Yeah, I like that. Thanks for reading our page(s) about exploding stars. And on your way out, don't forget to click on the handy buttons we've installed for Reddit, Duggit, Hatedit, nas.ty.tast.ing, and Regurgitate.com, so all your friends can know how much you rock. That way we get noticed, you get indy cred points, your friends find out what's cool, and the Web evolves, right?

WEB 2.0: EVOLVING TO THE LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR

Welcome to the new world. It's a major step forward. It's actually user-created. This is a quantum leap, my fellow Netizen. Finally we're taking control of the Web. No more static content written by people who know what they're writing about. We've got access to Mother now, and we'll get our own answers! Down with Brittanica, up Wikipedia!

Yeah, sure.

I like Wikipedia, actually. It's a perfect example of the things I once thought the Web would achieve. I don't write for it because I'm an opinionated bitch who can barely write a single sentence in Neutral Point of View, but I look things up on it all the time. And over the years, the hivemind really has turned Wiki from a niche hobby site riddled with errors and dead zones into a really good writers' resource that you can trust to at least get the basics right on just about every subject. Wikipedia search is built into browsers now. It's done well, it's beautiful, and it's the future.

BUT.

Wikipedia isn't the paradigm for Web 2.0, MySpace is. For every Wikipedia-style website you can find in the wild, there are three or four taking pages from MySpace or Facebook. The key element of the new wave of websites isn't user-written, it's social networking. Friend requests! Shared bookmarks! Make Me Popular widgets! What kind of loser wants to spend hours writing a dumb encyclopedia article, when you could be checking Monica's latest camphone self-portraits, finding out who's going to the Fall Out Boy concert, or voting on the new Mountain Dew flavor? And if you're really caught up in that oh-so-2007 blogging stuff and still think writing is cool (what a dweeb!), use Twitter instead of one of those long, boring blogging tools. Hell, 140 characters is more than enough for anybody - and with Twitter, everybody knows how sucky your work day is the very second you get a bathroom break! You're not just writing or hanging out virtually here, dude, you're sticking it to the Man! The Web is ours at last!! You should totally YouTube that shit!!!

THE BATTLE OF THE BOOB TUBES

Remember when Yahoo was a Web directory? Well, that functionality could still be there for all I know, but I haven't seen it in years, because they've buried it under seventeen layers of MyYahooSpaceBook crap as part of Yahoo's transformation into a modern Internet portal. What "Internet portal" apparently means circa 2008 is, your new interactive TV station, with every kind of junk that you used to get on your old-fashioned TV. This, the second most popular gateway into the wonderful Web, now proudly presents a front page full of the very latest in celebrity gossip, diet tips, box office news, love horoscopes, and "most popular searches", half of which involve Jessica Simpson (who appears to be some kind of singer, as far as I can tell).

Sure, there's information in there, too, just like there are good things on TV. You can find real news on Yahoo if you want it. You can use search to find things that don't involve Jessica Simpson. You can check your e-mail, get a weather forecast, find critiques of great books, just like you could potentially use your TV to watch Masterpiece Theatre and Jon Stewart. But that's not what Yahoo assumes you want, and it certainly doesn't go out of its way to show you those things. By Yahoo standards, Jessica Simpson is more important than Barack Obama. Call me a geek or a pretentiously serious old fart, but that just seems wrong to me.

The good stuff on the Web is still out there, just like TV still produces the occasional Daily Show, Lost and Deadwood. I still get my news from the Net, and probably still spend more time reading online than reading books. But the signal to noise ratio gets worse and worse every year, and it's becoming unbearable. We turned off our TV in 2002 to protect ourselves and our daughter from the brain-sucking stupidity that passes for entertainment on TV. I'm starting to wonder if we'll make it to 2012 without turning off our Internet.


DejaMorgana
Online since 1995ish
TV-free since 2002
Author of a bunch of stories you never heard of
Father of two
Ruler of the Known Universe
Champion of Baby Fieldmice
Currently reading: "Excession", "The Hidden Family" and "Interpretation of Laboratory Results for Small Animal Clinicians"
Currently watching: um, Futurama? (See above)
Currently playing: Shiren the Wanderer (true Nethack heir!)
Currently typing: Currently typing:
Honk if you love Sweet Zombie Jesus!
(Now that's a sig!)

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