The Web Giants Will Fall
Created on April 19, 2012, 3:50 p.m.
People often ask me what I think the future of the web will be. They are always surprised to hear that I believe the web giants will fall - and that there will be a return to what resembles the older days of the internet; forums, chat rooms, mailing lists and IRC.
Certainly recent Facebook investors would disagree with me. To them Facebook is not simply a website, but a platform for centralized content delivery, and only in its fledgeling stages. They are right about the first part. Facebook is a great centre for content delivery, and the fact that they have so much information gives it a sort of ultimate power. But I see the current obsession with centralized content delivery as only a phase of the internet, and already the cracks are beginning to show.
People are fed up with Facebook. The simple task of keeping up to date with your friends comes with so much baggage. Spam from people you don't care about, ceaseless narcissism, farmville invites and advertising. It isn't the tech savy crowd which care the most - the majority of my friends who have deleted their Facebook have just been normal people.
And it isn't just Facebook. The more current poster child, Reddit, on the surface feels refreshing and powerful, but its nature self perpetuates the good aspects, and below a thinly smeared veil the true nature of the site is very apparent. A site that is often over-excited, childish, loud and idiotic.
The most appealing and rewarding aspect of Reddit comes from its subreddits. While the front page is an entertaining distraction, what we really seek on the internet is the chance to explore our own individual interests and be part of a community. Again, this isn't just for the tech savy. Of my normal friends, when I ask them what they find most rewarding on the internet, never will it be a site I have heard of. They tell me those quiet places where they pursue their interests freely.
A forum dedicated to auto-repair. The community for a small indie game. The website and forums for couch surfing. The local community mailing list. A frequently updated blog about fashion. Talking to their friends on IRC. The list goes on.
These are the places we love on the internet. These are what the internet was built for and why it will always be special. Compared to these places the large sites are just mainstream channels on a TV, a brainless distraction and some background noise. We will always love the quiet places because unlike the large sites, they feel very real.
And this feeling is why centralized content aggregation and delivery is always doomed to fail. The more stuff which is pushed down our collective throats the more artificial the website feels. Facebook we never properly become a public forum. It will never be able to diversify. The larger it expands, the more areas it tries to encompass, the more fake it will feel and the more repulsed people will be by it.
The most common criticisms I get of this view are that the average person doesn't know how to find the small website for their interest and that secondly the larger sites like Facebook are unavoidable, they are too large to ever die.
Firstly I believe that the average person can and does find these small websites. It does not take any technical knowledge. Even when I was younger, feeding my Neopets, I had started to head down this road. On the second point, in general I don't believe Facebook is going away any time soon, but if I was them I would be contracting and streamlining rather than expanding. If Facebook was a forum or platform for everything the only way I can imagine it is as a ghost town. Huge websites fall often, more often than we remember. Recently we have seen Google+ struggle in finding a direction, and it was a while ago now that the bell tolled for MySpace. It has happened before and it'll happen again.
It is almost always foolish to make grand predictions about anything, but there is one aspect of the internet I believe in, which will always remain the same. If you build it, and it offers something real, they will come.