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Whatever Happened to the Internet?

November 22, 2012
The scream
The Scream

When the internet started there was a description in my mind which seemed to sum it up – a level playing field. Here was a wonderful future where  businesses and individuals could get together to share common interests. Everyone would have an equal opportunity. Small countries around the world, ordinary folk, would have an equal voice. Wonderful! I was learning Greek at the time and the lecturer talked of accessing different sites through a portal. It seemed that magical opportunities were opening up. Whatever happened to the portal concept I don’t know but the total domination of the internet by one country and by a few multinational companies  seems as distant from my ‘level playing field’ as it is possible to imagine.

I wonder what Tim Berners Lee, who invented the world wide web, thinks about the way it has developed and how it could be done differently. This is always a difficult thing to envisage and the more entrenched the current way of doing things becomes the harder it is to change.

To give you a little of my background. I had an idea in 2008 for a website where people could store and share their history. This went live as www.sharehistory.org in 2010. It is based on my experiences that I write this piece.

A website is a concept we take for granted. What if there was a different system altogether? I can imagine looking back from 2030 and someone saying ‘do you remember those website things?’ Anyway, for now that’s what we’ve got – so first, unless you can code and build your website yourself, OK if it is simple you can now get an off the peg version, then you must find a web designer.

I wish I could say that my relationship with web designers had been rewarding and exciting. I look for a designer (just the one) who will take my concept to the limits of what is technically possible and so far I have not found any. The client, has to trust that the designer he/she chooses can do the job as much as we trust a surgeon who operates on us. But how to make the choice? The job title ‘web designer’ implies a cluster of skills –  programming, design and marketing. In reality you may get one of these, you may get none.
The trouble is by the time you have found that the designer you have chosen is the wrong one, you have expended vast amounts of energy, time and money. In the time that I have been working with web designers and making little progress, I could have done a Master’s degree and possibly a PhD. The question is how do you find a web designer who will do a good job for you at a reasonable price? How do you find one with whom you can have a long term client/designer relationship? Yet without the designer’s expertise and knowledge of what is  technically possible  and you, the client’s understanding of what is needed, progress is impossible.

The internet has spawned people who make money out of it in seemingly ludicrous ways. Having a website is not enough. To get any traction in this world you will need an SEO (search engine optimisation) expert.  They make sure that Google and other search engines will find you. Then there are experts telling you (at a high price, of course) how to market your business through social media sites. ‘You simply must have a facebook page, you must engage with conversations on Twitter and then there is  Pinterest of course.’ Help! My day is now taken up with doing all these extraneous things instead of concentrating on developing an archive of history. And for whose benefit am I engaging with social media? Not for mine, that is certain.

Picture this scene. You have just launched your website and you are so excited that you phone your friends to say that it is live. In no time at all the friends are ringing you back to say that Google says your site doesn’t exist. Welcome to the real world of the internet. You search for the level playing field, for a place where you can be heard, and there is none. The quiet places where you might have been heard have long gone, dominated by a few large players who  control the rules of speaking.

I can only wonder how we let this happen.

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