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Letters Re:A Quantum Theory of Internet Value.

Rather fatuously a couple of weeks ago, we proposed that the amount of Internet hype must remain constant over time. But is the information on offer getting better or worse? Here are some of your responses.

I think you're right; you may even have understated the problem. A few points in support of your argument:

In the mid-nineties (while the never really existing Internet 'existed') I put together a web page of "local area data" sources for Oregon (I was a graduate fellow in the University of Oregon library). There were almost no publicly accessible, worthwhile sources except for those created and maintained by governments and other public institutions. I knew there were important private sources, but they were, of course, only accessible via fee-payment.

I taught college courses from about 1994-2000, and could not dissuade many students from equating research with Google searches. Of course, some students found useful information in this way, but even those that did overlooked much better sources that, for them, were free (because the library pays scads of money to provide access to a slew of online, increasingly full-text, services). More often, they found bogus material and seemed to have no standard of judgment to apply.

Since, as you note, information costs money (here I mean producing it in the first place), the extent to which high-quality information is publicly available depends largely on the extent of public funding.

Joseph Boland, Ph.D.



Quick response to your article of the 18th. The Internet mavens who you say promised access to everything must have been latecomers and certainly were not the first promisers. The first net provocateurs promised one thing and one thing only: connectivity. Which is in place in spades. What we put at the ends of the connections is strictly up to us.


All best,

Taylor Walsh



The disappointment lies in the space between early adopter interest and mass market demand. What better example of a generation soaked in irony, than to have the paradigm shifting invention turn out to be equal parts irritation (spam, pop-ups) and blessing (ichatAV,pocket sized mobile phones, soon with HDD's, for every man, woman, and child). The populist hype was great in a VC pitch, but the disappointment of the internet brings back the saying that the more things change, the more things stay the same. The vast majority of people never wanted access to free educational materials, digital or otherwise.


For the majority of people, the novelty of downloading free Dante, Plato, or Thomas Jefferson texts pales in comparison to the prospect of downloading filthy movies. The short answer is that we got what the largest number of people wanted, stuff that works, "good enough" for "most people". Hell, how else can you explain how Dell is the number one computer company? The bubble of internet hype wasn't so much inflated hopes for what technology would produce, but inflated expectations for the growth of the human race, and that bubble, has most certainly burst.

Thanks, love el Reg,

[name supplied]



Andrew,


I worked for Dialog for the years surrounding the introduction of the World Wide Web (1993-1998) and given our paid-for-access database collection with an excellent bespoke search engine I always found the so-called "search engines" of Google, AltaVista, Excite, et al as laughable as they were purely boolean in nature, hoovering up whatever rubbish people chose to put in their page headers.

The very idea that one could ever meaningfully search the entire content of the web for information in its current form is ridiculous: all indexing is based on the individual content provider's own definitions of what their site is about and I think we're all well aware of how "useful" the concept of Meta-tags was for ensuring that every search resulted in hundreds of porn sites as matches.

Yahoo! initially had promise because it painstakingly built its own indexed database of sites, but invariably they could only index a fraction of the web and just maintaining accuracy of such a collection over time as sites die or change would make that a difficult task.

In my own experience the most useful way of learning about other sites is through those maintained by active communities which link to other sites. If I had to rely on Google alone I probably wouldn't know many of my hobby sites even existed simply because they aren't established by people willing to pay a premium to a search engine company.

The only time I use a site like Google is when I can't find something via intuitive http address guesses - usually to find a corporation which hasn't registered the obvious domain -- or to locate a vendor for a product, and then I had damn well have a model number from the vendor's web site or the noise to signal ratio will be too high for that to be worthwhile.

I don't see a meaningful solution outside of rigid control over content allowed on the web; with its newest initiative it would appear that the days of free and open searching for content are over -- maybe the libraries can turn this to their advantage and increase usage by making their OPACS accessible over the internet? I know I would find it an invaluable service and I have to imagine that others would as well.

Sean



You've hit the nail on the head with this one. The value we have now, is approximately the same value we had back in 1994 (or even earlier) If you're a geek and you know how to work the net (like the librarian in the library) it was and remains a fantastic resource.


The failure, and the .com collapse comes from the very thing that everybody who was familiar with the internet in 1994 didn't want the commercialisation of the websphere.

"Of course, a decade on, we know that real economics have prevailed. Information costs money. Those transport costs certainly aren't zero "

I'm not sure, in fact the transport costs were approaching zero (and one of the defining drivers of the net expansion was free net access as a result of free local calls) and whilst information may have initial costs, information has always wanted to be free. The economics of it are simply that a few information holders thought "hang on, think of the margin I can get for this little nugget".

Only it turned out that people wanted it to be free (like it was before), so no-one made any money.

And now? Well everyone (everyone being large corporate telecommunications interests and governments) wants the old wired internet to die, because they have much better surveillance and desperately need to recoup the costs of 3G, and why would anyone want 3G when you can get all the net access you need right now?

Alan Drew



There's comment from a librarian here, who is much more optimistic that information professionals are not an endangered species.

One of the curious aspects of this debate recently has been the notion that the mass amateurization of information processing is axiomatically good; that collectively the Net will provide a better service than trained professionals. This typically has more to do with the advocate's favored variety of New Age junk science than hard-headed analysis, and invariably ignores the economics.

Sign up to Gary Price's excellent ResourceShelf to look at the riches available to you beyond Google. ®

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