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Ping the World

Friday, February 24, 2006

It's All Been Done Before ...

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the infancy of the Internet — those glory days when the Web was new and everything was different and exciting. Back in 1994, there was no Amazon, no eBay, no PayPal. No broadband. Altavista was the search engine of choice; Google wasn’t even a twinkle in its fathers’ eyes.

The Web was a wild new frontier, full of experimentation and possibility. It was a people place where “information wanted to be free” and people built web sites out of curiosity, altruism, and idealism. It was a world of bright ideas and innovation, when one could get wildly excited about tables, frames, and animated GIFs.

It was a world focused on information sharing, collaboration, and empowerment. You heard a lot of talk about the potential of technology for bringing about social change and “levelling the playing field.” Newsgroups and web forums let people post and share ideas, support one another, and debate important issues.

Then, along about 1997-1998, the corporate world woke up to the profit potential of the Web. In a few short years, the Web was hijacked by big business, commoditized, and transformed into an ecommerce money machine — spelling the end of an era of people power and grass roots innocence.

Soon, nothing wanted to be free. Popular sites began charging for information. Advertising ruled. Then came the consolidations. Big fish gobbled up the smaller fish. Mergers and acquisitions became the order of the day. Only the strong survived.

Then, around the turn of the millenium, a new trend emerged. The blogging phenomenon was born, quietly and with little fanfare — launching a widespread grass roots revolution and a triumphant resurgence of people power. Today, servers everywhere groan under the strain of an estimated 28 million blogs and counting.

These days, I’m experiencing a strange sense of déja vu, coupled with uneasy glimmerings of impending doom. To quote the Barenaked Ladies, it’s all been done before ... Remember Zeal? This novel experiment was based on a breakthrough concept and enjoyed a strong and dedicated user community. It was a forerunner of today’s social bookmarking and tagging sites like Wink, StumbleUpon, and Furl. Today, Zeal is part of the LookSmart network (as is Furl).

The phenomenal growth and impact of blogging; the advent of exciting new technologies; the wild and wooly sense of novelty and innovation; the feeling of community — it all puts me in mind of the heyday of the early Web.

But it’s all still free. The blogging tools, the massive volume of information being pushed out into the blogosphere, the ancillary resources. Sure, some blogs are monetized by AdSense, but this brave new world hasn’t yet sold its soul.

How long til it does? It’s just a matter of time, of course. The corporate hounds are smelling money to be made, and already there are signs that business has awakened to the profit potential of the blogosphere.

Here we go again ...


crumblepie said...

I remember those days... BLOG wasn't even a word back then. I liked it better in those days because there were not many websites back then and my site would get a lot of visitor feedback... now I have to try 1000 times harder to get comments, and it's not even remotely as much fun as it used to be. Missing the good ol days..

Lady Skye Fyre said...

I remember when there were no pictures at all on the internet. It was just a bunch of bbs's and I logged on via a gateway from our local library. That seems like a lifetime ago.

Tyler's Story said...

I think this is different, personal blogs have alot of support, and sway so far (see government trying to censor blogs) Yes, Big Corp will cash in, but there are too many of us outthere for it to disapere like ther web sort of has. I see it more as an adaptation, as one way fails, another is born. Perhaps I am just optimistic

Josh said...

You make it sound like everything online costs money...rather a pessimistic point of view. Without big business we may still be in the days where people are amazed by animated gifs.

Besides, animated gifs are still free. Thanks to big business so is email, basic web hosting, blogs, encyclopedias, dictionaries, journals, and just about anything you can think of.

Big business may not be directly related to these feats, but because of big business open source developers and other such programmers have risen to the challenge in a way that would never have occured had big business stayed out of the internet.

I don't think blogs will ever cost money. Why? because there are thousands of campanies that offer free service. When one starts charging then everyone will move to the free service. That may continue to occur until only a couple free services remain, but they will continue to remain because they are open sourced and not interested in profit.

in the event that every one of the thousand blog hosters go out of business then there are options as always. People will move to myspace or livejournal. Free web hosting will allow people to make thier own website instead of a blog. There are always options and always open source developers to help out the little guy.

Pam said...

Yes, I agree that we owe a lot to big business and to the open source movement in particular. The Web today has made our lives easier in numerous ways, but that doesn't mean I still can't lament the loss of some great resources along the way.

The main point of this post was that grass roots "people power" has prevailed and that the cycle of innovation has started all over again, with the blogosphere.


Useless Man said...

I like the Braenaked Ladies. The rest of this post is a little over me. I like your insight though.

I don't know why I'm commenting... I know, I'm Useless.

Thanks for sharing.

Pam said...

Hey Useless, I don't think you're useless at all. I took a quick look at your blog, and found it entertaining, witty, and irreverent, political correctness notwithstanding. Thanks for taking the time to comment.