The Interesting Bits are Hidden in the Quieter Corners

July 31, 2012

I remember being in college in the mid-1990’s, and having borrowed a login code from a classmate who was in the ‘Internet Society’, we would gather around a PC and marvel at the 23,500 websites that existed on the Information Superhighway.  You could find whatever you wanted and surf away.  It was an exciting, amazing time.

Now, according to someone who counted them, there are 644 million active websites.

Despite this incredible growth somehow the internet seems like a lot less exciting a place than it was nearly 20 years ago.  To go online in 2012 can seem very functional and practical.  Gone is the pioneering spirit felt in 1995 when the random beeps of a dial up modem built a sense of expectation (combined with the sense of fear that having invested considerable time the page you were waiting to load might crash).

The extent to which the internet has become a functional and practical tool is borne out when we consider that despite the 644 million sites 50% of Irish web traffic comes from only 20 domains.  These are the big names sites, the high street brands of the internet.  Their role in people’s lives has become so integral and ubiquitous that they have also become quite mundane and hard to really get too excited about.

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Yes, Google routinely come out with innovations that generate that wow moment – where were you when you first spun our planet around and zoomed in and out on Google Earth? remember looking for your house on Streetview?  These tech marvels aside our day to day use of the internet can generate the same excitement and wonder as a visit to the bank or motor tax office – largely because our day to day internet usage involves visits to the bank and motor tax office.

It is true that we have been anaesthetised by the routine excellence of the big sites.  The most trafficked parts of the internet while useful are ultimately pretty dull.  (As if to celebrate dullness a recent Google doodle marked the inauguration of the world’s longest covered wooden bridge).

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We need to remember to stray away from the high street of the internet and become surfers again.  It is in the quieter harder to find corners of the long tail, where people express their passions and talents, that the internet becomes really exciting.  Before your mind wanders towards the gutter this can be a passion for bookshelves, the dumping ground where the US Navy skuttles their ships or photos of people reading books on the New York Subway.

The beauty of the long tail is that you can endlessly recreate the excitement of the internets early days and find whatever it is you didn’t realise you were hugely interested in seconds before.

-Garret

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