Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The Impermanence of the Internet

This video illustrates how various websites rise and fall in prominence.

I saw this video online a few months ago, and it drove home what I have said for some time now - that what we think of as "permanent" online is really an illusion.  And if you have been online since the days of dial-up 300 baud modems and BBS bulletin boards, you know what I mean.  We were always looking for "the next big thing!" even as the last-next-big-thing was still in diapers.

It seems like the Internet is static - that there are a few primary sites like Facebook, Twitter, and so on and so forth, that have been there since forever and will continue to grow and prosper and never go away.  But recent events seem to suggest otherwise.  Twitter, which never really made a profit, is shedding users and cockamamie plans to charge users for using it seem to be falling apart.  The latest gag is that Musk tried to charge the New York Mass Transit Authority the sum of $50,000 per month or over a half-million a year, just to be able to send alerts to customers.  Funny thing, though, the MTA has its own app and website that does just that.  And in an era of budget deficits, the MTA figured out how to quickly save $600,000 or more.

Every company that has a major online presence has to hire someone to manage that.  If your website becomes a cobwebsite, people think you went out of business. If your Facebook page looks stale, people lose interest in your company.  If your Twitter feed has no content, they assume you have nothing to say. So in addition to any advertising or user fees, you have to hire someone to maintain all these things, and that is a real cost - particularly for smaller businesses.   Some businesses decide to cut costs by shaving one or two of these outlets.

Unfortunately, this often means dumping or archiving their website.  I notice a lot of small businesses have decided not to maintain their websites or let them just remain static.  I logged onto a local citizen's group website and it said, "stay tuned for our new website!" which has been on there for months now. Meanwhile, the existing website is just a bunch of dead links to other groups and sites.  Their Facebook page is very active, however.  Sadly, it is sort of like that "Neighborhood" feature, where people spread rumors and fear, rather than provide any real information or data.

With a recession happening, Elon Musk has chosen the wrong time to start charging for Twitter.  $8 a month might not seem like a lot - for an individual user - but commercial users are being dinged for far more.  And with the rise of hate speech on the site, there is a dirty halo effect.  Companies insisted that Facebook and Twitter clamp down on odious content, as their advertisements were appearing next to Nazi and racist talk - which makes it seem like the company is endorsing that sort of thing.  That's one reason why Fox fired Carlson - advertisers were fleeing.  Toward the end of the reign of the odious Glenn Beck, his only advertisements were for penis enlargers and sketchy gold coins.

You can't make a living just advertising the MyPillow guy - you need Johnson&Johnson, Proctor&Gamble, General Motors, Ford, and the rest of the Fortune 500 or whatever.  Those are people who sell a lot of product and don't mind paying a lot to advertise.  Without mainstream advertisers, your internet site becomes the equivalent of an obscure cable channel that offers nothing but sponsored programming, such as ads for Ronco gadgets and Ginzu knives.  There is profit in that, of course, just a smaller profit.  Does Twitter want to be the next Home Shopping Channel?  Maybe Musk can model that set of Tanzanite earrings.  Order in the next ten minutes and they will throw in the matching necklace!

The reasons the various sites shown above screwed the pooch are many.  In some cases, they were forced out by competition.  A similar animated graphic illustrates the rise and fall of many web browsers.  Netscape was king for a while, until Microsoft bundled "Explorer" with Windows.  Today, Chrome is king, but if they squelch adbockers, something else may take over.  In a similar manner, newer sites cannibalize older ones.  Maybe "Tom" screwed the pooch with MySpace - making it a niche site for bands to advertise themselves, instead of a one-size-fits-all Social Media outlet.  But whatever the reason, Facebook took off where MySpace faltered.

And sometimes it is just style or fads that create and tear down various sites.  The kids log onto Facebook - indeed, "The Facebook" was a college creation.  But when they realize their parents - and grandparents - were on it, it got awkward.

The point is, I guess, that investing in this "technology" of websites is a tricky business.  All it takes is one mis-step for a site to go from hot to not.  What we think as permanent fixtures of the Internet is really just ether.

One day, maybe Blogger will disappear as well!