Search algorithms have a huge influence
Develop your own website and you'll quickly learn how busted the internet is. My experience of that has come from developing this economics blog and trying to understand how search patterns work.
Here are some guidelines to rank well on the web:
The website needs to have been around a long time
Link, and be linked to, by other websites
Update content regularly
Include useful keywords in your content that act as a signal to readers.
That list is far from exhaustive. The content you consume on the web will typically score well against those guidelines and others.
"How would you like your steak, sir?"
"Let me ask Google."
I get Google's vision to 'organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful' - but it's basically a game with people using their understanding of an algorithm to rank well and make money.
Search for 'economics blogs' for example and you'll get lists by people who are excellent marketers, not necessarily economists. There are so many 'top 10' style lists because marketers believe people consume information better that way, and are more likely to click. Don't think for even a second that there is necessarily much of a science to these lists either. It's usually what the author thinks.
Contrary to appearances, I don't hold a grudge. Nor is this a 'wake up sheeple' post. It's just interesting to think about the implications. So here are 5 reasons the internet sucks:
The expertise required to produce popular content doesn't necessarily match the subject matter - search is more about content marketing than knowing your stuff.
So much content is designed to manipulate search and get clicks - the amount of content that is clickbaity suggests that content standards are pretty low. Of course, manipulation is far from new, the use of concepts like 'outrage' to get viewership has been around for a while, but it's excessive online.
A lot of content is just rehashed from other sites - the amount of duplication is enormous. As a rule of thumb, if content creation research starts and finishes on the internet there won't be anything new. That is unless the creator can come up with new ideas on their own, or joins ideas together in new and interesting ways.
Too much power is in the hands of Google - the power to control search patterns is enormous. Google's monopoly in online search allows it to determine what information we consume on the internet. We have to hope they are responsible.
There isn't that much randomness in the information people receive - despite the huge number of sources, search is all about the top few pages. Anything beyond that might as well not exist. It's a waste and leads to some surprising groupthink.
Search is not a fair playing field
None of this is to say the internet is a terrible place. If you remember the painstaking search for the right books or articles in a library you probably aren't concerned. Search is much better. There are some huge positives.
For example, online search has done an amazing job at addressing differences in information availability. It's easier to find a job now, or the right car. Pre-internet days people would have to trawl through newspaper advertisements or job boards. It is easy to get access to a huge range of information.
No one is saying that we need to go back to the bad old days pre-internet and online search. However, internet search has an incumbent advantage problem with the top-ranked websites having disproportionate, ongoing influence due to how search algorithms are structured. Big companies and websites have considerable power that is simply reinforced through search.
Closely linked with Google's vision that information is universally accessible is the idea that viewership should not be monopolised. If only a handful of places control most viewership, information isn't really universally accessible.
Even if websites produce better content than the top-ranked sites, search algorithms can mean incumbents remain at the top (eg due to the number of existing links). Addressing the incumbent advantage would help to make the web more democratic, and ultimately improve content.
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