blog master mode
subscribe
back to index

The Internet Event Horizon

by osk at 2023/07/03 (Mon) 2:26:21 pmPERSONAL

Throughout its history, the Internet has seen a lot of change. What started off as a simple collection of servers hosting barebones pages with an image or two, mostly containing text and links, has turned into a deeply connected yet somehow very centralized set of applications that bring us together.

Of course, the Internet wouldn't exist if it was not profitable, so the leader of Web monetization was pulled in: the humble banner ad. The very first banner ad was purchased in 1994 by AT&T and was very to the point:

It was a massive success. Almost of half of the people who saw it clicked it! You can't say that about ads nowadays, where about 1 in 1,000 tend to click on ads. As soon as this ad went live, others took up the same idea. In fact, this ad format (albeit slightly larger, to fit with our modern screens) is still what drives the majority of the Internet's profitability today, even 30 years later.

The Bubble

Once the world recovered from the dot-com bubble bursting, the Internet once again took upon itself a path of near unstoppable growth. Of course, the Internet has seen changes. The iPhone sparked the world of the mobile Internet and apps, highly increasing the centralization of the Internet. What used to be a large collection of disparate websites has been clobbered into single megasites that do everything. In 2007, the top 50% of internet traffic came from many thousands of Web sites, whereas nowadays, the top 50% of traffic consists of Netflix, YouTube, Disney, TikTok, Amazon and Facebook, with some random large downloads in there like PlayStation and Xbox downloads (because of how ridiculously large games have become). This goes hand-in-hand with the nature of mobile phones, using apps you get in a centralized store as opposed to free-floating websites.

In addition, the Internet has seen many changes in how it addresses ads and monetization. The early Internet just used banner ads, but for a short while, pop-ups got dominance, simply for being higher-impact. Of course, pop-ups were not only obnoxious, but often malicious too, so they were relatively quickly destroyed — first by users using pop-up blockers, then by browser developers themselves. YouTube instead sparked the concept of video ads, a far more valuable but also more annoying form of ad.

But, monetization itself has changed, too. While ads wouldn't randomly go away, the early Internet's sites had a starkly different approach to how they should exist in the larger Internet. Mainly "Web 2.0" was of interest, the concept of making your site really easy to connect other sites to. For example, your own site could display things people are saying on Twitter. In fact, Web 2.0 was Twitter's claim to fame! Twitter was originally meant to be usable through SMS (hence the 140 character limit), but instead, its ability to be used completely programmatically became its selling point. Up until now, you could see many places show live Twitter feeds, and helpful bots write to Twitter in the same way. For a long time, the existence of an API (the way programmers can connect software together) for a site was almost a given.

In more recent years, however, that has changed. As centralization kicks in, once you are a major player in the market, there is simply no need to bother integrating anymore. Rather, sites want to keep their content to themselves, and ensure you don't see it without also seeing their ads. The prevalence of APIs has gone down massively over the last few years.

The Squeeze

Indeed, as time went along, the centralization of the Internet and its obsession with constant growth has created a painful duality. On one hand, information on the Internet wants to be free. People want to be able to visit sites at any time, without payment, and do their thing. Website owners want their sites to be useful, to fit the purposes they are supposed to serve. Developers like the concept of APIs, making cool new projects possible.

But investors want to see money. I talk a bit about the problems with this growth in a previous blogpost titled "Optimizing for time waste". There, I talk about Google, specifically. Google used to be revered as the search engine, always able to show useful results. Yet nowadays, Google is a husk of its former self, only serving spam and ads, begging you to either stay on Google's premises (to see more ads) or to click a bunch of links to sites Google has ads on.

Once the Internet gets centralized, there is nothing other than morals stopping the owners of the large properties from turning on their users and trying to squeeze them for money, instead. Over the last years, this has become harder and harder to uphold, but luckily, the ad business has only been growing. So, as long as the ad business doesn't collapse, and no other strange things happen, we should be OK, right?

...

The Singularity

Uh oh.

In an unstable economic climate, one of the first things to tend to get large cuts is advertising. So after multiple years of global problems, the advertising market is finally buckling. Of course, this isn't the first time economic downturn has caused lower advertising spend, but with the current centralization, the effects are a bit more noticeable.

And there's another thing. Generative AI (ChatGPT, Stable Diffusion, etc.) have shown that aggregating a ton of data from the Internet and forming a neural network out of them tends to work pretty well now. This means that a neural network will be able to give you content from webpages, by simply programmatically downloading them once and extracting the text (scraping). This creates a strong competition against those sites, since now you won't be seeing their ads anymore. As sites have grown to be as human-unfriendly as possible, shoving in as many ads and popups and cookie notices and newsletters and paywalls as possible, the moment they get caught up to is here.

ChatGPT has, within a short amount of time, destroyed the premise of most of the monetization of the Internet. Coupling this with bad advertising climates means... our Web as it is now cannot hold.

The Supernova

We're already seeing the effects of this unfold. YouTube is starting to block users from using adblockers, Twitter and Reddit have immediately destroyed their APIs, and Twitter's going even further, destroying their entire site by only allowing you to read 300 Tweets a day, and only if you're logged in (hey, if nobody can access the content, nor can bots, right?). It's a race to survive, trying to ensure your site doesn't become irrelevant.

So what's next? Well... it depends on where generative AI is. Nobody can predict what happens if it keeps growing, but if the growth spurt of AI is just a one-off thing, and doesn't get any orders of magnitude better than it is now, then it simply means the death of any chance of decentralization of the Web. It's already very entertainment and social media-focused, so the large players will simply lock off their content even more. Search engines will be a thing of the past, as the spam they procure has become completely irrelevant. Banner ads as a format will die out and get replaced wholly by subscriptions and video ads.

Is this a bad change? It's hard to say. I hate the concept of losing APIs, seeing DRM, paywalls etc... but at the same time, such a large purge might give the remaining sites more room to create better experiences. Then again, that puts a lot of trust in companies to care about making a good product, as opposed to just caring about the bottom line.

It's scary to see Internet history occur in real time, especially as a relatively large player. In the end, the hope is that the Internet doesn't devolve entirely to a toy. What do you think? Where do you see the Internet in 5 years, considering the quick change we're seeing now?

preview
28 comments sorted by age

Kamada Kazuyo

at 2024/04/16 (Tue) 11:23:51 pm

real

Ogino Ruriko

at 2024/02/22 (Thu) 2:03:16 pm

we need to revert back to physical media fs

Nakazawa Ayako

at 2024/02/14 (Wed) 6:43:27 pm

panic

Wakayama Yayoi

at 2024/02/20 (Tue) 5:26:41 pm

fr?

Aida Kasumi

at 2024/01/29 (Mon) 3:41:44 am

I feel like the internet is gonna get even more centralized and consumer unfriendly. For example, I've tried to switch away from youtube to whatever other services I can find, but I always come back to youtube because youtube has a much bigger user base and more familiar UI. I know services like Odysee and Floatplane are great alternatives to youtube, but they each have their flaws (odysee's creator base and the platform's heavy push of crypto, and floatplane's downright inaccessibility to those who want to watch content without paying, not to mention their tiny creator base.) I really hope that at some point that not only will we get a viable alternative to youtube, but also an alternative that people will *actually* want to switch to. Same for other platforms like Reddit and Facebook and TikTok (i'm particularly hoping for an alternative to tiktok that's not as tolerant to genuinely dangerous trends) AI is getting better and better by the week, just recently I believe it was Google who unveiled a new AI video generator that's far better and more convincing than any others known to exist. I'm not even mentioning the massive push on AI integration that's begun to plague the likes of Google, Windows 11 (yes, *that* windows 11), Quora, Instagram, and more. It was because of *two* tech demos by OpenAI that we now have to worry about this. Thanks, Sam.

Uwasawa Eiko

at 2023/10/17 (Tue) 8:36:21 pm

me when the internet dies :/

Tanahashi Momo

at 2023/10/05 (Thu) 2:04:24 pm

the internet is evolving

Imamichi Shino

at 2023/09/11 (Mon) 1:00:11 am

Windows 7... ?

Komuro Tatsuko

at 2023/09/04 (Mon) 9:58:22 am

do you still use windows 7

osk

at 2023/09/11 (Mon) 12:33:51 pm

you bet

Nishiogi Takemi

at 2023/11/09 (Thu) 3:37:33 pm

nice

Chihaya Kotori

at 2023/09/10 (Sun) 2:22:46 pm

im not osk but yes he does

Higashiguchi Marie

at 2023/07/18 (Tue) 1:09:24 pm

I don't think the internet is going to do so well after this one...

Uetake Hiroko

at 2023/07/16 (Sun) 6:23:44 am

[1/2] Paywalls probably aren't that bad of an idea, if your goal is to keep the internet open. Charge a reasonable price for website and API access, and you've secured an unshakeable foundation for your platform's future. Of course, turning to greed will inevitably consume all. I don't like companies owned by shareholders, especially shareholders who's only interest in the company is how much money it can make them. Unfortunately I don't see the future of the internet as becoming decentralized. Big corporations will always be spinning up new platforms, if only to capture users to lock them in or redirect them to other company profit centers. Users want somewhere to share things, don't often care much about how they're treated because most of the time it doesn't really significantly affect them personally, and what's a better place than one that's free? For those who do care, there'll probably be an alt-network of individual sites. It'll never grow on it's own, though. Centralized platforms will refuse to integrate and will exert a massive pull. (Just look at Discord, swallowing up nigh-everything that would have otherwise existed as a forum somewhere.) I don't see the internet ever devolving into a toy, any more so than it is now. It _will_, however, continue to become more locked down and regulated, and possibly start to devolve into a faceless corporate tool for taking your money. Competition is sorely needed in this space; specifically _sustainable_ competition. Especially now that VC and advertiser money has dried up. If your site can't sustain itself, it'll inevitably go under and/or to shit and create another nightmare scenario for your users.

Uetake Hiroko

at 2023/07/16 (Sun) 6:24:02 am

[2/2] I have an idea that I toy with from time to time. It's pretty much just, fix the problem for your own users (and then hopefully let the market follow). Build a company in a way that can stay stable in the long-term by charging based on usage. Make the pricing fair - cover bandwidth, storage, and a bit extra for fixed costs (employees, hardware, etc.) - and flexible enough for users to create onboarding experiences for others. (e.g. flexible accounts that can be shared with other users, tied to communities to make them free to access, or shared with a bot to allow the bot to act on behalf of the user at the user's cost rather than the bot author's cost) Your user's data is valuable, but your user's data also belongs to your users. I'd expect that most users want their data to be open - if not, why are they posting it publically? Monetize your own costs, not what you can extract from people. Once you make enough money to cover your fixed costs, there's not much incentive to squeeze more out per user. You can focus on improving the platform without compromising on quality of service. (It sounds a bit hopelessly idealistic, but at least feasible. I actually kinda started to actually build it, but starting a company on my own is a far bigger task than I'm comfortable with.) --- P.S. Hi, I'm back to wall-of-text your blog post comment section again. Sorry. This was originally 5866 chars, had to trim it down a bunch.

Yanami Io

at 2023/09/25 (Mon) 12:50:35 am

Very nicely said.

Hiroi Terumi

at 2023/07/04 (Tue) 11:15:10 pm

Access to information in major social networks will be much more restricted since now their content is much more valuable. but I don't think independent places like your blog would suffer from this. about the search engines dying, if the new tech is much better, allows you to find what you need faster and with more detail, then I wouldn't look back to search engines anyways. and with the current trend of AI progress this will be the case.

Mashima Mari

at 2023/07/04 (Tue) 9:28:30 pm

Time to archive EVERYTHING. For real though, I hate the fact that we're losing so many free and independent things to end up in centralized platforms, which end up with paywalls, API fees, unfair terms for users and devs, etc. BRING BACK THE FREEDOM, BRING BACK THE REAL INTERNET! More forums, more personal sites, don't let the big platforms eat you up! Make the internet a fun place again, fuck these corporations. Copyright, DMCA, monetization, advertisements, investors, IPOs, tracking, data farming, "insert your phone number to continue"... What happened to my wired beige box? Where is my small corner forum? Why is it all so... money oriented? God damn this used to be the corner where people hang out to escape reality and make stuff!

Akisada Ayu

at 2023/07/03 (Mon) 4:57:15 pm

The internet will not be in the best spot...

Kushida Sumika

at 2023/07/03 (Mon) 3:46:38 pm

In my words, people were printing money off the internet on inkjet printers that are cheaper than the ink. These people ran out of replacement inkjet printers but have a surplus of paper and ink now.

Ichida Yukina

at 2023/07/03 (Mon) 3:32:59 pm

The Internet will be so empty

Imamichi Nobuko

at 2023/07/03 (Mon) 2:49:12 pm

Unless something global of the other kind will happen (I'm talking about, for example, WWIII, cataclysm, you name it), I think the major players such as Google, Apple, Amazon and others will be distanced from other player – yes, they cam provide valuable material, but where are the guarantees that it won't be censored? One of the possible outcomes is creating decentralized Web (als known as Web 3.0), but, watching this doesn't have gret success... eh, time will show the true future of Net =/

Chihaya Kotori

at 2023/07/03 (Mon) 9:13:14 pm

"Decentralized Web" is what was before Web2, and that never required cryptocurrencies, which is sadly what runs under most "web3" shilling. Which is sad, because "decentralization" definitely used to work, and now we got sp*culative m*rkets people to tarnish its name.

Kohatsu Kazusa

at 2023/07/03 (Mon) 2:36:33 pm

Personally somewhat hoping the recent events will lead people to setting up their own community websites again rather than entirely relying on a third party for it. It's a bit of a pipe dream given how expecting of every little convenience people have gotten as well as complacency with dubious actions by owners of the platforms. We can only wait and see in any case.

Chihaya Kotori

at 2023/07/03 (Mon) 2:35:45 pm

A R C H I V E E V E R Y T H I N G A R C H I V E E V E R Y T H I N G   A R C H I V E E V E R Y T H I N G A R C H I V E E V E R Y T H I N G A R C H I V E E V E R Y T H I N G A R C H I V E E V E R Y T H I N G   A R C H I V E E V E R Y T H I N G A R C H I V E E V E R Y T H I N G

Shinya Tokuko

at 2023/07/08 (Sat) 10:04:41 pm

how

Chihaya Kotori

at 2023/07/09 (Sun) 2:49:31 am

download ALL your favourite movies videos music articles books images photos software games memes, whatever your disk can carry, before they disappear. and hold on to them. NEVER trust someone else to keep it up, because at some point they will stop. even if you pay them. also reminder that "the cloud" IS someone else, and most of the times the someone is a company who would sell you and your family to the mines for a quarter of a cent and not think twice about it. applies doubly so for "rights societies" and copyright vultures, hold on to ""'their""" shit as much as possible because they will remove it when they feel like it can help them screw people over for a cent more

Wakasugi Ariko

at 2023/12/23 (Sat) 10:29:43 am

We always used to say once something's on the internet it's there forever, you can't put the genie back in the bottle.... etc. But now, in many cases it's a different story...