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The Commercialization Of the Internet 305

YorickFinn writes "Common Dreams recently posted an article by Norman Solomon on "Denial and the Ravaging of Cyberspace." In short, Solomon argues that the commonly held view of the net as the last bastion of truly democratic mass communication is, in fact, a myth. For instance, he points out that "Websites operated by just four corporations account for 50.4 percent of the time that U.S. users of the Web are now spending online...." Ultimately, Solomon claims that the net may become more like "interactive digital TV," with the decline in the use of browsers and the increasing prominence of technology such as MTV.(The "M" is for Microsoft, formerly WebTV.) All told, his forecast is somewhat bleak, but not entirely unfounded. Worth the read."
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The Commercialization Of the Internet

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  • Its not all bad..The money that was thrown in the tech sector made the internet a better place..Sure that money has all but dried up now. But without it technology wouldn't be as far along as it is.
    • Yeah 92 really sucked, I remember if I was surfing mindlessly I wouldn't get a single banner/popup ad! I mean who's going to tell me about a tiny wireless camera that goes ANWHERE!

      I remember checking my email and not a single solicited message, not one! I mean what fun's email if the only email you get is the stuff you want. Without junk mail, I'd have never got my University diploma, and would still be an uneducated idiot in a low paying job.

      Seriously, I think we should discuss how ADVERTISING now owns the internet. Corporate control has definately become a problem as it has removed information to the internet and replaced it with sensation. Advertising has removed convenience and taste from the Internet and turned it into a cesspool of free porn and useless products (Internet tupperware).

      I compare the Internet to a Lord of the Flies situation. Let them be animals and they will be animals. If Americans weren't so blindly protective of "Free Speech", we could regulate it like other information mediums and return to an Internet with CONTENT!

      • by Genom ( 3868 ) on Thursday August 30, 2001 @12:32PM (#2235183)
        I compare the Internet to a Lord of the Flies situation. Let them be animals and they will be animals. If Americans weren't so blindly protective of "Free Speech", we could regulate it like other information mediums and return to an Internet with CONTENT!
        I disagree. Were the US to repeal it's first amendment rights, and regulate speech, who would get the shit end of the stick? The answer is the same people who get the shaft by Congress now. The American people. Corporations make a nice "campaign contribution" and buy whatever laws they want (DMCA, UCITA, etc...) -- whereas the average citizen doesn't have that kind of influence. Who is the Congressman going to side with? The side giving him the cookie, of course. THe only "cookie" his constituents can give him individually is their one vote - which in the grand scheme of things is pretty worthless, seeing as the media conveniently splits things into a 2 party system (forcing 3rd parties out of the picture) and promiting two people who probably aren't really the best ones for the job - but of course, noone knows that because those are the only two choices presented to them before they get to the voting booth. Once there, the see a long list of names -- most of which they've never heard about before (thanks media!) so of *course* they're not going to vote for them.

        If Free Speech is regulated, it's not the corporations that will be silenced, and their content removed -- it's the independant sites who will be squelched - because they don't give nice cookies like the X10 people do.
        • The only major hole in your argument is the assertion that the 3rd parties are forced out due to media capitalization on a 2 party system.

          This simply isn't the case. The U.S. government was designed to be a 2 party system intentionally. The only way for a 3rd party to succeed, is for it to take the place of the dominant 2nd party. The reasoning behind this makes sense.

          That said, it is true that media and corporate propaganda shape the minds of the constituency. You can hardly blame the media, though. It is the American people who have lost their vigilance, and are willing to swallow what they are fed.
          • How have you deduced this?

            I believe that George Washington adamantly opposed the political parties, considering them to be a wedge that split democracy.
            • Certainly there were many ideas during the formation of the U.S. government.

              What happens if you have 13 colonies and they each have their own political views and agendas?

              Supposing each one has its own candidate - popular democracy suggests that the candidate with the most votes prevails. When a vote is split between more than two entities, there is a greater possibility that the majority submits to the minority. Even though one entity received the most votes, chances are the number of votes in that category still represents a substantial minority of the whole.

              Hence the electoral college. The intent is to force the issues to the center, appealing to the largest number of people possible. When you only have two choices, there is no chance that a minority will get in power. The Constitution guarantees this "republican" form of government. Thus, it is not a true democracy.

              Now, the original poster had pointed out that public perception of the issues is tainted by corporate agendas. This could be a reason why the smaller parties have not replaced the dominant Republicans and Democrats.

              For example, I am personally incensed at the terrible DMCA legislation. The DMCA is an issue to me because of my background. The general public couldn't care less, so it isn't important to them if their candidate supports it or opposes it. Why doesn't the public care?

              Well, I can go berating the system because I am enlightened about certain issues that the public is blind to, or I can realize that I represent a minority and that my government isn't optimized to satisfy my ideals.

              The solution to good legislation isn't only to inform your elected officials, but to also inform your neighbors and friends. Their voices count more than yours alone.
        • If Free Speech is regulated, it's not the corporations that will be silenced, and their content removed -- it's the independant sites who will be squelched - because they don't give nice cookies like the X10 people do.

          I knew when I stated that Americans are blindly protective of Free Speech that I would be met with controversy (I was even outright called a moron by one of the replies). I am a Canadian, and in Canada, information mediums are (rather heavily) regulated.

          In Canada, if I wanted to advertise a tiny camera that fits anywhere, so to imply I can use it for voyerism, on any medium, it would not be allowed. The CRTC monitors all forms of advertisement for taste and offensiveness. At times this can be invasive, but for the most part, it protects children and keeps broadcasting tasteful.

          This is the regulation I am talking about. Does it violate Free Speech, perhaps (Free Speech is a very loose term). Am I a civil libertarian? No. Freedom comes with responsibilities, and if these mediums are not regulated, they are invaded by people purpotrating and penetrating it with tasteless junk. Ever browsed Slashdot at -1, I think this proves it.

          The fear of corporate involvement is true now, but if you voted a president who can count to ten next time, maybe he'd have some political will.

  • Stupid Users (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Scrag ( 137843 ) on Thursday August 30, 2001 @11:53AM (#2234979)
    While most people might spend most of their time on commercial sites, that doesn't mean everyone does. It also doen't mean that they are forced to. If a user feels like spending his time on commercial sites, it isn't my problem.

    The whole point of the internet (ok theres not really one point to the internet) is to ALLOW everyone to be able to have their own sites or visit the sites they want. This doesn't mean that everyone should be forced to go to the "underground" sites. If someone wants to go to a sanitized news source, that does not hurt me in any way. I've never understood the problem with letting people use the internet how they want. There will always be an "underground" on the net for people who want to go there.
    • I think what the article was trying to say was that statistically speaking, the Internet is commercial. I don't see any big surprises here. The overwhelming majority of consumers are too lazy or stupid to say something with any meaning for the rest of the world, therefore they don't *need* a mass communication tool. They need their daily fix of one-way mass communication directed at them, so their surfing habits are very likely to match their TV viewing habits - which is exactly what the article describes: most of them only surf commercial sites owned by those 4 corporations.

      That, however, does not mean the internet itself is commercial. That would be a very stupid thing to say, if you only consider that a lot of governments have an internet presence, and governments are anything BUT commercial. The network itself is agnostic, it doesn't care if the packets running through it are commercial or not. We geeks use it for a lot of non-commercial stuff, but that doesn't count for someone who is looking exclusively at numbers. Joe Consumer counts, as he always did.
      • Re:Stupid Users (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Zachary Kessin ( 1372 ) <zkessin@gmail.com> on Thursday August 30, 2001 @12:28PM (#2235156) Homepage Journal
        You know I don't see it as being lazy or stupid to not put up your own page. You just might not have the time or energy or have anything that needs a web page. Ok sure I could put up a web page with a picture of my cats and such but in truth who cares? Many of those people who you acuse of being to lazy or stupid are neither. They just have lives that don't revolve around the net. They have kids to spend time with and bills to pay.

        When I get around having kids (G-d willing), and the choice comes to 1) put up a web page, 2) spend time with the kids. I will go with 2 every time.

        I also don't see a problem with a few big companies getting 50% of the hits on the internet. There are thousands of small groups with web sites no one is stoped from looking at those site, and many people do. But it does mean that whats on the web sites of the big 4 is not useful (to someone) or relivant.
        • Re:Stupid Users (Score:3, Insightful)

          by quartz ( 64169 )
          Hey, I never said commercialization was bad. I said analysts incessantly spouting doom predictions are bad. :-) But anyway, communication does not necessarily mean putting up a web page. As you say, there are a lot of people who don't have the time or the resources to put up a web page, BUT they do participate in forums, or mailing lists or newsgroups or whatever. No matter how stressed and/or busy an intelligent man is, he always needs to communicate, and the Net is the perfect medium for this. The lazy and stupid consumer on the other hand, carefully avoids anything that may even remotely imply an intelectual effort, he just sits there and watches the pretty pictures, because that's what stupid lazy consumers generally do. You only need to browse mainstream magazines or watch mainstream TV to see what I mean.

          And yes, companies getting 50% of the internet is not a problem. Hell, they can get as much of it as they want, as long as they don't try to push Free information off it...
    • Re:Stupid Users (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Bonker ( 243350 )
      There will always be an "underground" on the net for people who want to go there.

      I agree totally. While I may occasionally swing by Yahoo to get movie times or AOL/CNN to get world news, the vast majority of my time on the web is spent on 'private' sites. Sure, some of those sites may be hosted on AOL or Geocities, but they are administered by individuals rather than companies.

      The vast majority of my packets don't come through HTTP at all, but from Usenet. I suspect that something like this is true for most 'advanced' users. They'll have a P2P client or some other form of unattended 'leech' going, especially now that cable and dsl connections are becoming ubiquitos... for those who haven't been bent over by their cable and DSL companies.
      My 'Internet Time' goes roughly like this:

      8:00 AM. Read news, see if world is still spinning.

      8:02 - 8:30 Read comics like Sinfest, Exploitation Now, and Sluggy Freelance.

      8:31 - 5:00 Work, taking frequent breaks to read fanfiction, download MP3's off Usenet, see if Anime News Network has published any thing that will change my world. Take 3-4 breaks a day to see if there's an interesting discussion here. I may check by CNet or ZDNet once a day to see if there's any interesting tech news. This doesn't happen every day.

      5:30 - 11:30 Watch Anime Fansubs I've downloaded the night before off Usenet. Maybe game a little. Dinner. Family time. Go to the gym, etc. Almost 0 web browsing.

      11:30 - Download headers for anime fansub newsgroups. Pick the episodes I want, start them downloading. These can be anywhere from 50 MB to 3 GB in size. While I sleep, my PC will leech for me.

      95 percent of the content I get off the internetis generated by individuals rather than companies.
  • We might consider the web democratic only because we have MORE say than we have other places. And that might be just a gradient of percentages.

    80% of the wealth is controled by 10% of the population. If we have 50% of the web controled by 1% of the population, that's a little bit better in some respects.

    The thing that scares me is that we have so many opinion sites that are advocating new products and they arn't revealing their affilations. A good example is Tom's Hardware [tomshardware.com]. And while this is a guy who had a bias from the start (and the bias isn't that bad), what happens when we have only a few media companies and everything is spawn by them? You might read some reviews on yahoo, unable to know they are owned by the company that is releasing the products. And while not directly lying about what's good and bad, they might put the 'good' reviews of their own products closer to the top.

    Eventually, you'll have things like "AT&T would like you to get 3 months of free cable modem service, but only if you go see the great movie 'Plotless'!" The ideas of cross promotions are only just starting to be explored on the internet. Or imagine that search engines tend to exclude items. It just goes down hill from there.

    This is why grassroots sites will always be helpful, until places start astroturfing. The question is, where does slashdot fall in this range?

    • 80% of the wealth is controled by 10% of the population.

      And 80% of the skill is possessed by 10% of the hackers. Why is this a problem?

      Most of the wealthiest people in the US are also on the list of the highest income EARNERS. The rest got their wealth mostly because somebody earned it, then left it to them in his will.

      Is it a bad thing if some folks work hard and successfully? Is it a bad thing if a man leaves his possessions to his kids when he dies?
    • The question is, where does slashdot fall in this range?

      Well, in my bookmarks it falls right between Sex Maniac [sexmaniac.com] and StileProject [stileproject.com].

      Now what does THAT say about the Internet, hmmmmm? :)
    • The thing that scares me is that we have so many opinion sites that are advocating new products and they arn't revealing their affilations.

      One glorious day in the not too distant future I imagine that the mother of all bullshit-detectors will be born (oh, and it'll be "p2p networked" too--buzzbuzzbuzz. :-)

      When a SlimyCorp(tm) or SlimyHuman(tm) attempts to pull the wool over your eyes -- and trustworthy sources have validated the stench of the BS -- a seemlessly integrated klaxon alarm will sound to notify the ignorant of the scam and offer up the 'truth' instead.

      A few examples that would trigger The Bullshit Alarm(tm):

      • When MSNBC downplays yet another "email virus" that only affects MS Outlook.
      • When a karma whore gets moderated to +5 with opinion presented as fact.
      • 99.9999999% of the time that the word "FREE" is used in any context (eventually people will learn and can disable this filter.)
      • Anytime someone tries to sell you overpriced crap that you can buy cheaper from a less greedy merchant.
      • When a search engine sellout boosts paid listings, but doesn't mark them as such, the BS detector will cover the culprits in shit for you.
      • When a retail store announces a yet another sale, but shoppers failed to notice that prices had predictably inched upward for the past few weeks leading up to it.
      • When Yet-Another-Diet-Pill-Scam begins to rev up it's marketing campaign. (input fewer calories/output more energy.)
      • When a politican speaks.
      • When a lawyer speaks.
      • ...........When Krusty the Clown impersonates George Carlin...badly.
      • When Austrailia claims that The BullShit Detector(tm) is liable for defamation..
      • Too much other bullshit to list...
      I didn't mean to go on and on like that. The simple point is to network experts, insider knowledge and uncommon-common-sense so that it's not as easy for reptiles to exploit the uninformed as it once was.

      (preemptive postscript: this whole post is bullshit -- ignorance is bliss -- mindless consumerism and entertainment-as-news is good for the economy!)

  • by daoine ( 123140 ) <moruadh1013 AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday August 30, 2001 @11:57AM (#2234995)
    ..if you consider democratic as an ideal where everyone has a voice.

    The net has always had an access cost -- you had to have a machine, you had to have a connection. In the "ideal" net of late 80's and early 90's, it wasn't necessarily more democratic. Only people with computers and net connections had access.

    With commercialization came lower costs and greater access. So while the proportion of content has become less democratic, the number of people who have been given the opportunity to access it has become more.

    No, it's not the wacky little connection of home grown websites that it used to be, but it's not necessarily a bad thing that more people have been given access either.

  • The Internet doesn't need to be 100% free of corporations to be "the last bastion". People still spend 49.6% of their time at sites not run by the 4 biggest corporations. When that number drops to zero, it will be dead. Until then, it's mixed.
    • Right.... and remember the blatant statistical lie in this whole thing.... of the 50% of sites that are "owned by major corporations," a huge portion are personal sites on Geocities or AOL or MSN that are created by individuals.
  • by Johnny5000 ( 451029 ) on Thursday August 30, 2001 @11:57AM (#2235003) Homepage Journal
    4 corporations account for 50.4% of web traffic.. sounds like 50.4% of web users 'vote' for those sites with their usage. That doesnt mean those are the best websites, or the most worthy of their attention, just that most people use them. I guess that has some vague notion of democracy.

    democracy != freedom

    As long as we're free to go to whatever websites we want to, and free to communicate with whoever we want to, the web will be free. It doesnt matter if one website gets 99.9% of all web traffic (democracy in action there) as long as the other 0.1% can look at something else.

    Democracy is about majority rule. Freedom is about no one, not even a majority, having the right to tell one what to do.

    So, sometimes freedom and democracy overlap, and sometimes they collide.


    • 4 corporations account for 50.4% of web traffic.. sounds like 50.4% of web users 'vote' for those sites with their usage.

      Right on. Every election there are only two presidential candidates, and that hasn't made anyone claim that America isn't a democracy.

    • And let me add that America is not a democracy. We're a representative republic. This is any government can protect the rights of the majority. Even Afghanistan can protect the rights of the muslim majority there with great success. The true mark of a good government is how well they protect the rights of the minorities. Democracy just cannot do that efficiently.

  • by Syberghost ( 10557 ) <syberghost&syberghost,com> on Thursday August 30, 2001 @11:58AM (#2235009) Homepage
    Ok, let me get this straight; the internet is democratic mass communication only if everybody picks the "right" web sites?

    There's no chance at all that the reason 50% of people's time is spent on web sites belonging to four companies is because those four companies are providing a service that Americans feel is worth spending 50% of their time reading?

    Freedom of choice means freedom to make bad choices, and freedom of the press includes freedom to print crap.
    • No, no it can't be. A voice of reason? Say it isn't so!

      It never fails to amaze me how people equate "they don't do what I do" with "well, that must mean their stupid and/or *forced* to do something else."

      The internet will become less democratic when others *force* me to stop publishing on the net. No one has yet to tell me I can't post on my shittly little website. [fatratbastard.com]. Just because no one reads it doesn't mean my rights are being trampled, it just means I really don't have anything compelling to say.
      • No one has yet to tell me I can't post on my shittly little website. [fatratbastard.com]. Just because no one reads it doesn't mean my rights are being trampled, it just means I really don't have anything compelling to say.

        Not necessisarily. It could mean you can't afford a fatter pipe/faster server/more storage and don't want more visitors. I'd hate to have my page Slashdotted. But it could also mean that you don't have the leverage to get the publicity you need to attract visitors.

        You do raise a good point. However, I think the Internet will grow like TV did. First there were the early adopters, then pretty much anyone with a radio station got a TV station, then those little stations needed content, so they formed networks. Things settled down to a few choices -- the Big Three. Then Cable TV appeared, offering more variety. At first the broadcast networks continuted to dominate viewers, but after a few years (like about 20) the cable alternatives reached critical mass and suddenly we have cable channels dedicated to single subjects like Science Fiction, Cooking, History, and News that the Big 3 previously limited to as little as one hour a week (if they offered them at all).

        The Internet -- specifically web pages -- will be much the same. A few big guns that capture most of the general interest folks, and a lot of specialty places where you can get in-depth information about single topics. Gee, sounds like what I see today! The big difference between TV and the Web is that if I go to UPN and watch Star Trek they won't advise me to try the SciFi Network if I want more, but if I go to Yahoo! or MSN or AOL and look for Science Fiction they all provide links to specialty web sites.

        The issue for the little guy is how to get listed on the Big Four. That's the one point your arguement overlooks. Those who have the gold make the rules. You talk of force, and say that nobody is forcing you to take down your web site, but by not listing you the Big 4 are arguably forcing half of the world's Web surfers to never hear of you.

    • by Genom ( 3868 ) on Thursday August 30, 2001 @12:19PM (#2235115)
      There's no chance at all that the reason 50% of people's time is spent on web sites belonging to four companies is because those four companies are providing a service that Americans feel is worth spending 50% of their time reading?

      Nah - it's because us Americans, for the most part, with notable exeptions, are lazy technophobes who have been convinced that if technology isn't "so easy a complete moron could use it", or doesn't look super-slick and glitzy, that it's not worth using.

      People aren't interested in content, they're interested in big flashy graphics, and pretty lights, and little midi jingles that play when you hit a page.

      Welcome to the world created by mass-capitalism and the sellout of government to corporations - where the incentive is not to make a better, cheaper, more efficient product, but to produce the lowest-quality product you can, while still making it sell well. Where the incentive is not to properly educate the consumer, so they can make an informed decision, and buy your product on it's merits, but to confuse the customer, and keep them stupid by telling them that competitors products aren't "as easy to use", and that they "shouldn't be bothered" with things that aren't "easy".

      Yep. That's where we are. We're in a world whre everyone is supposed to be, and assumed to be morons. Distracted by bright lights and flash, while ignoring the larger issues. Don't worry about those things - they're not "easy". "Let us take care of that for you -- all you have to do is hand over your credit card -- that's a nice doggy -- here's a biscuit ::pat pat::"

      Nah--I'm not bitter ;P

      Freedom of choice means freedom to make bad choices, and freedom of the press includes freedom to print crap.

      So it does =) I hope it stays that way. Everyone (corporate or private) should have the right to publish what they'd like to publish. I'm even against "gating" content behind warnings and layers of obfuscation to "save the children" from pr0n, violence and the like -- I say let them find it! Let them learn about those things - and make their own *choice* as to whether or not to look at it again. Let parents give their kids the morals to know whether the stuff is "right" or "wrong" - instead of imposing "right" and "wrong" based on some farsical community hivemind. And for people that feel they "shouldn't be bothered" with pr0n or various disgusting content sites - here's a clue: "Don't go back there if you didn't like what you've seen there!"

      ::sigh:: of course, I *know* I'm in the minority - I just rant a lot ;P
      • Welcome to the world created by mass-capitalism and the sellout of government to corporations - where the incentive is not to make a better, cheaper, more efficient product, but to produce the lowest-quality product you can, while still making it sell well. Where the incentive is not to properly educate the consumer, so they can make an informed decision, and buy your product on it's merits, but to confuse the customer, and keep them stupid by telling them that competitors products aren't "as easy to use", and that they "shouldn't be bothered" with things that aren't "easy".

        I don't agree that it's bad that we don't teach the average person to know as much about computers as we geeks.

        We got this way by spending a tremendous amount of time screwing with computers. The average person isn't a geek, and can't spend that kind of time on them.

        Some people have to, and like to, spend their time building the cars, cooking the food, sweeping the floors, healing the sick, fighting the fires, etc.

        I mean, would you rather your average doctor had spent his every waking moment learning to be a better doctor, or setting up a dual-boot configuration of Linux and FreeBSD?

        Nevertheless, if the folks who aren't geeks are all on the Internet, it's good for me too, because I can go read medical advice written by doctors and med students, instead of written by geeks.
        • I don't agree that it's bad that we don't teach the average person to know as much about computers as we geeks.

          That level of knowledge is not required. What "we" (I presume I agree with the poster) want is for the average person to know as much about computers as he does about cars, and as much about electronic information as he does about pen, paper and books. In other words, the rudimentary education that will save him from lots of trouble and grief. A society of illiterate savages cannot be a democratic republic. In such a society, the individual citizens lack the conceptual tools to effectively use their theoretical freedom.

          We are entering an era when most human activity is mediated by computers, software and networks. The fact that the majority have almost no knowledge of these things, and are in fact plunged in the most profound superstition and ignorance is not a good omen.

          Much of the prosperity of the 20th century was powered by widespread literacy. Learning to read and write is hard (much harder than the basics of computers) but as a society we've decided that everyone should have these skills. Yes, even those:

          building the cars, cooking the food, sweeping the floors, healing the sick, fighting the fires, etc.

          In a sense, the medical doctors have already succeeded in forcing a little of their knowledge on us: health class, or sexual education in high school. It doesn't make you an MD, but it's a reasonable distillation of parts of medical knowledge likely to affect a young person. I think we should draw up a corresponding curriculum of basic computer knowledge and urge its adoption.
          • What "we" (I presume I agree with the poster) want is for the average person to know as much about computers as he does about cars, and as much about electronic information as he does about pen, paper and books.

            I've got news for you; the average person who owns a computer DOES know as much about them as the average person who owns a car knows about cars.

            Most people don't know dick about their car; why else would there be places that change your oil for you? It's a simple procedure, easily performed by anyone over the age of 12 with no more than a few minutes of instruction, but the average person doesn't even know HOW to do it, much less do it.

            Most people don't even remember all of the traffic laws they learned in Driver's Ed; why would you think they'd do any better with computers?

            Please keep in mind that half the population, by definition, is of below-average intelligence.

            and as much about electronic information as he does about pen, paper and books.

            Again, they do. The average person knows how to read at what, an 8th-grade level? That's only counting the adults, of course; it's higher if you count the kids in high school, lower if you count everybody.

            The average person who has never owned a book doesn't know how to read that well; the average person who has never owned a computer or an ebook doesn't know to use them, either. Sounds about right to me.

            In a sense, the medical doctors have already succeeded in forcing a little of their knowledge on us: health class, or sexual education in high school.

            Usually taught by an assistant football coach, so they can get around local laws against paying that many people just to coach. I submit that the average kid in school these days spends more time with computers than he does in these classes, already.

            But the average person isn't going through school now; the average person today is 34 years old, and thus if he finished high school at all (17% of people 25 or older haven't) he did so in 1985, when the state of the art in PC technology was DOS running on a 286, and most schools didn't even have a single PC in the office, much less a "curriculum of basic computer knowledge".

            I graduated in 1984, and my school's attitude toward the computer sciences was that they could just stick a few TRS-80s in the Physics classroom along one wall, and the physics teacher could teach them in his spare time. But the football team was winning the state championship 2/3 of the years, and that was all that was important. In order to have a real classroom, I had to commandeer one (threw the cheerleaders' supplies out of a small, windowless room with adequate power, and talked the principle into putting a lock on the door when the cheerleaders responded by putting our computers out in the hall), and TEACH THE DAMN CLASS MYSELF. The physics professor just graded the tests and gave me the lesson plans.

            That high school was regarded, at the time, as being the cutting-edge in the county in computer education, and THAT'S what the average person faced when he was in school.

            Today, the cutting-edge school in that county has Internet to every desk, because I installed it; but they still have 386 PCs running Windows 95, and the computer teachers are as follows:

            High school: Physics teacher, with the computers stuck off in a small office room off her physics classroom.

            Junior High: His last job was manager of an ISP, that failed. Before that, he ran a shale mining operation that failed.

            You think those folks are teaching everybody in the school to learn computers, or just maybe acting as babysitter for the geeks while they learn it on their own, just like in 1985?

            There's a reason why it can't be taught properly in any but a tiny handful of schools; the average teacher is a 34-year-old who graduated high school in 1985...

    • The Wall Street Journal tilts toward the delusional on its ideology-laden editorial pages...

      You've just got to love the irony of it.
    • Absolutely right! If you haven't heard, freedom and democracy have been redefined. Get with the program sir!

      Freedom means the ability to make the same decisions are everyone else. Democracy means the right to vote for the same people as everyone else. Do you understand now?
  • The fact that more than half of internet time is at the top four companies sites doesn't have anything to do with free speach. That's like saying Americans lack a basic freedom to live where they want because most people live in big cities. The only important issue is can I publish any ideas or beliefs that I want. From what I can tell I can on the net easier than I can any other way. Whether or not my views capture the interest of anyone else is a different issue.
  • So What? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bilbo ( 7015 ) on Thursday August 30, 2001 @12:07PM (#2235056) Homepage
    I'm not sure I understand what the problem is. It's like saying that, "90% of the traffic on the roads today is for commercial purposes" (which, if you include commuter traffic, is probably a low estimate).

    So what? The volme of commercial traffic probably funds most of the development of road infrastructure (including gas stations, insurance companies, snow removal, etc., etc....).

    As long as that "commercial" traffic doesn't prevent me from making use of the roads for whatever purpose I see fit (like going for a drive on the country, or going out for a spin on my bicycle), then I can't see how that hurts me.

    (True, the Internet isn't what it used to be, but I don't see that the original ideals of free, global communication have gone away... if you take the time to look for them. The "unwashed masses" may still be duped by the forces of commercialism, but that will always be true. The Internet isn't going to "Save the World" any more than any other technology is.)

    • I like your post, but it makes me think of some of the roads in Northern Maine. You're free to go on them, but they're essentially owned by loggin firms. If you're going uphill and the truck full of logs is going downhill, prepare to get violated, and there isn't squat you're going to do about it. (I don't know about the legal status of those roads, there may not be squat that your heirs can do about it, either.)

      Think superhighways. Think 18-wheelers zooming by.

      Then think about riding your bicycle on the same road.

      Oh yes, make the superhighway limited access, with the best access points controlled by AOL, MSN, and cable and phone companies who feel free to make restrictive conditions about the vehicles and destinations they'll let on their ramp.

      Then, once again, try to get your bicycle onto the same road.

      It's surprising this topic wasn't posted by Jon Katz.
      • I'm not sure I know what you are talking about with your bicycles and 18-wheelers. The metaphor is not the argument, maybe you could explain using concrete terms.

        • The post by Bilbo invoked the highway metaphor, and that all of the commercialization that is the current topic can be ok, as long as he was free to tool around on his 'bicycle'. I guess with cable and absurd TOS, I'm tooling around on a moped.

          But a second look at his post, and the road metaphor made me think of Northern Maine, hence my reply.

          The gist is this: If the road exists for the benefit of the big trucks, maybe we can ride our bikes on it. But we'll need to be wary of getting run off the road or turned into some form of roadkill. Look at the current Copyright fuss, and consider the incidental damage that may be done to peer2peer, simply because the RIAA thinks it's ALL about pirating music. Look at people accused of DMCA getting booted off of their ISPs, simply on suspicion.

          Sounds like getting run off the road or becoming roadkill to me. Sounds like Northern Maine.
          • The gist is this: If the road exists for the benefit of the big trucks, maybe we can ride our bikes on it. But we'll need to be wary of getting run off the road or turned into some form of roadkill. Look at the current Copyright fuss, and consider the incidental damage that may be done to peer2peer, simply because the RIAA thinks it's ALL about pirating music. Look at people accused of DMCA getting booted off of their ISPs, simply on suspicion.

            Ok, that makes more sense. Right now we have huge problems with dynamic IP assignment, filtering of incoming traffic and absurd ToS agreements. This effectively, and maybe not intentionally, makes home computers "clients" and requires dedicated hosting to be a "server". This creates a situation where it is more difficult for a person to get web space that they fully control, if the data is stored on someone else's machine it is effectively under their control.

            After reading the IPv6 article from the other day it seems that there is some hope. IPv6 seems to allow "roaming", much like cell phones you can transparently move your netblock between providers in around 60sec without losing any existing TCP connections. If your ISP doesn't work the way your want it is pretty easy to move to one who does. I just hope we can build it out the way we want to, one more step to Utopia 8^)

  • by daviddennis ( 10926 ) <david@amazing.com> on Thursday August 30, 2001 @12:10PM (#2235075) Homepage
    What on earth does AOL/Time Warner do that's 32% of the Internet? I visit CNN occasionally, but as far as I know that's about it for me and AOL/TW.

    I suppose AOL users spend quite a bit of time at AOL/TW sites, and since they represent such a large percentage of Internet users, that skews the figures. But that's hardly fair to the rest of the net, since AOL itself is dedicated to giving people an experience that sticks with their services.

    If you consider the argument that AOL users are AOL users first and Internet users second, the picture starts looking a lot less bleak, with Microsoft at 7.5% and Yahoo at 7.2%. The fourth company must have such pathetic market share they don't even tell us who it is! But we can tell - the total is 50.4%, so subtracting out AOL, MS and Yahoo we get a titanic 3.4% for number four, whoever it is.

    This hardly strikes me as a good case for massive concentration, and certainly it doesn't show how Slashdotters use the net. It is true that I explore new sites just for the fun of it a great deal less than I did before, and I concentrate on specific sites I already know. But every query I type into a search engine exposes me to new places, and Slashdot does the same, and some of those will wind up in my mental list of cool sites to visit.

    So the situation is not so bleak. The fellow who wrote this, however well-intentioned, has blinders on. He starts with the idea that anything controlled by private business is bad, and inevitably comes up with the same conclusions writers on the left always do.

    He forgets about millions of personal home pages, including my own, whose owners develop an expertise on various issues they are happy to share. He forgets about community sites such as Slashdot, where people speak freely about what matters to them, and help evolve an uncontrolled consensus. The soul of the net is still alive and well.

    Any mass medium develops a large variety of users. Some of those users are passive, others are active, as many of us are here. In the end, though, that's a choice made by each of us individually. And the mindless drones are drawn to heavily advertised sites, but that surely doesn't mean the sky is falling; if they weren't here, they'd probably be watching TV, which makes viewing any web site look like an intellectual exercise.

    • AOL not so bizzare (Score:3, Insightful)

      by twitter ( 104583 )
      When you consider that AOL is the world's largest ISP, and that many of their users surf excluxivly through AOL's software, this is a little easier to see. When you take into account how long it takes to do anything while your computer downloads all those adverts, the numbers make even more sense. Also, remember that AOL owns Netscape and others, so visits to those sites may also count.

      The adverts do bother me. It's up to us to make sites that suck less, and put those stupid bloated carcase sites like doubleclick out of business. If 50% of web traffic is going to those stupid sites, 49.9% of web traffic must be adverts.

    • But we can tell - the total is 50.4%, so subtracting out AOL, MS and Yahoo we get a titanic 3.4% for number four, whoever it is.

      According to the Jupiter Media Metrix [jmm.com] site, the 4th place spot goes to none other than X10.com. Doesn't surprise me since just about every other site has a stupid pop-under from them.

      • I'm not as annoyed by those at most people; it's a lot better than the pop OVER ads I've seen. All I need to do is close the silly thing.

        For what it's worth, I saw it at Fry's. Picture quality is beyond awful - you'd might as well be watching random video noise for all the good it does you.

        Someone reviewed it and noted that they didn't like it but their 8-year old kid loved being able to watch fuzzy, out of focus, noisy images and would stare at it for hours. So perhaps it's not entirely useless, but I fear it's hardly competition for my Canon XL1.

        Their home automation products are plasticky but do work, although sadly the built-in light dimming, which I had high hopes for, was not very effective. But for controlling hard to reach light fixtures, it's realistically hard to beat. From what I understand, the products that do it right (non-plasticky quality, nice dimming, etc) cost thousands of dollars.

      • At first I thought this was a joke, but you're right. On closer examination, this study seems to be another example of 'lies, damn lies, and statistics'. Yes X10 is 4th in total number of hits, but the average visit is 1.4 minutes per month. I'll bet this comes exclusively from that damn pop-under loading on machines whose users are too dumb to disable it.
  • by vovin ( 12759 ) on Thursday August 30, 2001 @12:13PM (#2235087)
    So all those pr0n sites are really just 4 companies? Weird.
    • Yes, actually: there's VMI (Cybererotica), CEN, iGallery, and RJB. At a guess thsoe three make up 50% or more of the online porn industry. I guess MSN or Time Warner is maybe the other big player on the net.


      • Okay, something is screwed. None of those four comapanies appear on Jupiter Media Metrix top 50. I can not believe that porn sites don't get enough hits to make the charts. IIRC, porn and financial sites are the only web plays that even showed any profit.
    • by MarkusQ ( 450076 )
      Although this post got to the top as "funny" it also shows insight. If the results were based on surveys (as appears to be the case) rather than on measured traffic, we would expect the big players to dominate, simply because they have name recognition. Yesterday I visited around fifty sites; today I remember yahoo/google, slashdot, ameritrade, sourceforge, colorforth, and borland. A fair fraction of these and almost all the ones I don't remember are the old "democratic" web. But if I had to answer a survey a week from now, the ones I would be sure I visited would be yahoo, slashdot, and ameritrade. A year from now, I might only remember yahoo. And in twenty years, I might quite confidently remember AOL.

      Surveys aren't reliable.

      But even if we look at traffic, I'm not sure we'd get a clear picture. True, the porn sites might show up, but I doubt that even they are as cluttered--uh, I mean "content packed"--as the top dog portals. When I load a single page from yahoo or MSN (or even slashdot) I get a lot more "traffic" than when I look at a page on somebody's personal site.

      The point is: this sort of doomcasting is irrelevant. The power of the web comes mostly from the fact that we don't have a clear picture of what everyone is doing, where they are going, or why--even in aggregate.

      -- MarkusQ

      P.S. As a final comment, note that the original article is by the guy that doesn't get Dilbert. His analytic credibility isn't high in my book. I suspect if he knew that 80% of what we breath is inert gas, he'd claim we were all suffocating and just too dumb to realize it.

  • Misleading stats (Score:5, Insightful)

    by astrashe ( 7452 ) on Thursday August 30, 2001 @12:13PM (#2235088) Journal
    Wait a minute -- on the one hand, the net is horrible because people can distribute copyrighted material, and on the other hand the net is horrible because big corporations control everything?

    I think the 50% stat is a little misleading. People spend a lot of time using free web applicaitons that sites like MSN and Yahoo give them. But should a person's time on Hotmail really be counted as the same sort of thing as a person's time reading the NY Times? If AOL forces its users to hit their page first, how does that compare to a site like this one (/.), where people choose to view it?

    The Drudge Report is a good example of what the net can do. It's one guy with a massive audience. Andrew Sullivan's site is another example of a single guy with a big audience. I think sites like Indy Media have big audiences as well. Even if they don't, when compared to Time/Warner/AOL, it's an enormously powerful tool for getting the word out.

    I think there's a parallel here to Linux vs. MS. People started businesses, everyone started talking about "world domination" and all of a sudden Linux is failing if it can't compete on MS's home court, the corporate world. But that's not the way Linux started -- it was a great way to learn, it was something that allowed everyone to participate. It's still great for that stuff, and it always will be.

    Debian can't be killed, it will probably go on for decades. Seriously -- what possible scenario could you think of that would cause it stop existing? Why isn't that the relevant fact, instead of the VA Linux stock price?

    Alternative media don't have to compete with commercial media to succeed. They just have to survive and provide high quality information. The net makes that possible, and it's going to continue to make that possible. And the net's going to make sure that almost every family in America, and in most of the industrialized world, is going to have access to that information.

    Sure, most people aren't going to bother with it. But what did anyone expect? That the net would change human nature? Most people don't care. But a lot of people are going to take the trouble. They already do. And those people can make a difference.

    • Debian can't be killed, it will probably go on for decades. Seriously -- what possible scenario could you think of that would cause it stop existing?
      Since you asked: Software patents.
    • "Debian can't be killed, it will probably go on for decades. Seriously -- what possible scenario could you think of that would cause it stop existing?"

      In 2021, political infighting in the Debian community reaches an all-time high over with the distribution should be called "GNU/Debian GNU/Linux" or "Debian GNU^2 Linux" or "GNU Debian GNU Linux GNU". Once the nukes begin to fall, the Debian project (and all other life on Earth) is no more.

      And while the preceeding is obviously a joke, it does underscore some very real potential threats to Debian's viability. Any free software project can die off from lack of interest, just like any company can die off from bankruptcy. The fact that Debian has a massive following is no different than the fact that Microsoft has a massive bank account -- both mean the entity in question has a much better chance at survival, but it doesn't guarantee it.

      Debian could lose interest due to everything from a technology shift obsoleting the notion of a software distribution to heavy developer infighting over free software "religious" issues resulting in the disenfranchisement of too many core developers.

  • Yes, once again we have a report that the net is dead, companies are taking over, we've all lost, etc. I've heard this in one form or another for about three years.

    Guess what? It's not dead, it's changing. Everything changes. Did people think that companies would NOT see the massive opportunity? Of course not. Look above you - as I type I see a banner add.

    So, it's changing. Everthing changes. The question is what are we going to do if we don't like it?

    If you don't like it do something about it. Change it sneakily. Change it cleverly. Go down fighting at least and show some dignity.

    The future is for those that will make something of it. Just showing up doesn't count.
    • surf with images off, you will save yourself and me the bandwith to load that stupid banner :>

      If 50% of web time is to these sites, 49.9% of web traffic is adverts. That's bad. Getting those adverts from just a few overloaded sites is worse. My wife was wondering why certian suck sites took forever to load. It took me a while to figure out that the advert loading was the problem. She now surfs with images turned off. MSIE is an evil thing that will not let the user do that.

  • From the article:

    "Search engine optimization is the number one strategy for generating qualified traffic to your site," said a recent sales pitch offering prominence in search-engine listings."Eighty-five percent of all traffic is generated via search queries and over 90 percent of that traffic is driven to the top 30 results. If you're not in the top 30, you're not in a position to compete!"

    The dot-com flameouts have sped up the Net's commercialization -- as quests for cash-flow, market share and multimedia synergy become more voracious.

    The underlying assumption shared above is that traffic is important. The market moron is looking for profit. Sollomon seems to agree with WSJ analyist who state that "severe market dominance" is possible. Who cares?

    Traffic is not important, access and control are. As long as you and I can serve freely, the old internet will continue to grow. People who bother to look will find it. New search engines will be made when old ones suck. The only thing that can kill the web as we know it are the companies who would own the physical media itself, and change it's standards to resemble broadcast toll roads.

  • I had to take a second look at this one...even MS isn't thickheaded enough to challenge MTV (Music Television) in a head-to-head trademark war. Even MSN TV may be too close for comfort for MTV. This trademark issue might become interesting - especially if MSN starts streaming music videos.
  • by L Fitzgerald Sjoberg ( 171091 ) on Thursday August 30, 2001 @12:28PM (#2235158) Homepage

    Am I correct in understanding that among that 50.4% are sites like Yahoo's Geocities and AOL personal pages? Which is to say, the sites are hosted by Yahoo and AOL, but the actual content is put there by individuals.

    If that's so, then I'm not overly concerned at the moment. It's like saying that there's no free press because 90% of the paper in the US is manufactured by three corporations.

    Okay, it's not exactly the same, because paper companies don't require you to agree not to print porn on their paper and they don't sell ads on letters to your grandma. But I think there's a wide difference between 50.4% of the sites being hosted by a few corporations, and 50.4% of the content being generated by those corporations.

    • Am I correct in understanding that among that 50.4% are sites like Yahoo's Geocities and AOL personal pages? Which is to say, the sites are hosted by Yahoo and AOL, but the actual content is put there by individuals.

      Not only that, but the time includes instant messaging and email, which is why Hotmail appears so high on the list.

      Quote from http://www.jmm.com/xp/jmm/press/2001/pr_060401.xml

      "Total Usage Minutes: The total number of usage minutes spent at the online property, Web site, category, channel or application during the course of the reporting period."

  • It is nice article. Passage about search
    engines reminded me that google started
    inserting "Sponsored Link". I feel it is beginning
    of demise. I stopped using Altavista when they started doing that. Time to look for new
    search engine...

    • At least Google marks them as such...the same can't be said of many of the other search engines out there.

  • my favorite ""The most heavily trafficked sites are overwhelmingly devoted to commercial activities in one form or another, such as online shopping, financial services, investment, corporate-screened entertainment, travel deals and market research. ""

    Any more commas and he would have covered 99% of what you can DO on the internet.

    The internet has been sold as a means of buying stuff and finding information. It is pretty obvious to those who think for themselves that corporations are much better at selling themselves than individuals are. Nearly everyday I see the three companies he wrote about being mentioned in one form or another on different mediums. It is very hard to compete with entities that people encounter on the web, radio, tv, and print.

    Is that bad? No, because as we have seen, no amount of advertising keeps a bad company on the net for long. People will go where they feel is suitable for their needs.

    As for 50%+ of people's time being spent on only certain sites, I would like to see what constitutes "time spent". Are we refering to time actually using the resource of the site, or including idle time or just passing through time.

    Last. People here and in the tech fields love to over estimate the intelligence and willingness of the common web surfer. Most would never know how to search, let alone where unless they were taken by the hand. Same goes for shopping, after all if its on AOL it must be safe! (ask my Grandmother why she shops where she does, and I have other relatives who are convinced QVC is the place - and why? BECAUSE)

  • It's the bandwidth (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bee ( 15753 ) on Thursday August 30, 2001 @12:30PM (#2235174) Homepage Journal
    The reason big companies can have so much web traffic is pretty obvious: they have the money to pay for the bandwidth.

    It's easy enough to put up a web site off your DSL link or what have you, but once you get some serious traffic, such as the well-known slashdot effect, boom no one can get to your site any more. This is why no private individual that's not independently wealthy could ever try to compete toe-to-toe with cnn.com, say.

    But that's not necessary. Very few people, with the exception of Matt Drudge of the self-named Drudge Report, want to compete with CNN. And it's much easier to compete on the web than it is in TV markets-- anyone can put up a web site overnight, but good luck starting a cable channel and getting cable TV carriers to carry it. The independent web is alive and well, and any talk of the death of it is greatly exaggerated.

    The only thing that could possibly kill the web is control of the browser, which would be Microsoft. And you know that AOL-Time-Warner will fight them tooth and nail on that. Now if those two ever merge, then we should all be Very Very Afraid.
  • Waaaah! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gnovos ( 447128 ) <gnovos&chipped,net> on Thursday August 30, 2001 @12:34PM (#2235195) Homepage Journal
    See this? It's the smallest violin in the world, playing for the loss of the once ubiquitous "Hamster Dance" faction of the Internet.

    The one real draw of the internet, the low cost of entry, still is true. You are still free to go and make your own sites, just go ahead and do it. Just don't blame people for not visiting it if it isn't interesting...

    (On a slightly different note, did anyone notice that the "top 4" companies were all portals? Maybe people's web browsers have set those sites as thier home page, and they get a "free" hit every time the browser loads up.)
  • MTV vs. MTV (Score:5, Funny)

    by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Thursday August 30, 2001 @12:37PM (#2235215)
    One is noting but a bunch of corporate whores, selling themselves out for just a little bit more power over its consumers, trying to claim status as a cultural icon and a driving force in Western societies and economies, while the other is operated by Microsoft.
  • by sabat ( 23293 ) on Thursday August 30, 2001 @12:37PM (#2235218) Journal

    We act like what is happening now is the final word for the Net. It's not even close -- someone just invented the horseless carriage, and we're really concerned because a couple of big companies have started making them.

    Yes, those companies could be Ford and GM, but they also could be nobodies. We have only just begun; the technology is very young and very immature, and so are just about all the internet's users.

    Don't worry yet. Worry in about 25 years.

  • So what? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tmh31 ( 234569 )
    Its just because all the mainstream average everday people from real life have started using the Internet. Most of what these sort of people want to use the internet for can be easiest found on those 4 web sites.
    All the techies and other people who use the internet for other stuff besides shopping and chatting still make use of a wide variety of sites and publish a wide variety of stuff just like they always have.
    The stats are just skewed by the influx of lots of Joe Smiths.
  • One of the first things that jumps out at me after reading the article (try it sometime, it adds a new perspective to posting) was the comment about the 50% of the time being spent on four big commercial websites. Maybe this will be seemed as a troll, but quite possibly couldn't a lot of this time be credited to those folks that live and die in the chatrooms?

    Also, he seems to be missing one important fact: online banner advertising is failing miserably. Click-through numbers are painfully low, pay rates are even lower (if the web admin gets paid at all), and banner companies are dropping like flies. And X10 is making more enemies than friends with their pop-under ads.

    There will always be a large segment of society which will stick with what they feel is safe on the Internet and stay within the confines of the major providers. What makes the Internet truly great is the ability to get information out to the masses in a matter of hours when it used to take days, if not weeks.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 30, 2001 @12:59PM (#2235347)

    IMHO, based on my observations of the "average" internet user (ie, my in-laws), here are the "forces" that result in that traffic statistic:

    * Many think AOL == WWW == Internet, so they only are aware of 1% of what's available. Someone will come up to me and ask "where's store X or how do I spell Y or how do I find out more about Z" and in 30 sec. I find it for them (mapquest.com, m-w.com, google.com). You then hear "wow, how did you do that dude?" If AOL doesn't lead them by the nose or if they don't hear about the site on TV, they will not find it. For example, my in-laws ALWAYS go to yahoo.com to find things (heard it from someone on TV), which may not be the best way to find something (it's one tool of many). Most people just don't know any better.

    * Most people I know want to be passively entertained (except for AIM). It NEVER dawns on them that THEY can set up a web page! A lot of people I know have digital cameras, but they always send me one or two pictures by email. They can set up a web page and put ALL their pictures for ALL to see at once (http://balder.prohosting.com/~jkb0859/vacation.ht ml). My kid's teacher is blown away when I take pictures of the school's artwork and whip out a web page on it and kid's relatives from Australia see them.

    * As everyone knows, it's not exactly easy to find things on the WWW, even with the search engines available. You need a different skill set (mind set) to "dig" for the information, as opposed to having it shoved in front of your face or having a comprehensive index. For most people I know, that means they just don't do it. My in-laws or wife would rather just ask me to find it than do it themselves.

    Because of the lack of education (let's face it, not everyone wants to just sit there and explore or dig for things by themselves) and lack of easy to use tools, it's no wonder that most are going to a few sites. The fact that these sites are run by corporations is probably due to exposure by TV (news) or other popular media

  • Good News Folks (Score:2, Insightful)

    by squaretorus ( 459130 )
    50% is pretty low. Think about TV or Radio - in any given region for the top 4 networks to have only 50% of the audience leaves a hell of a lot for the others to pick up.

    Most people don't surf small sites because most people don't have the need - people are sheep - small sites that satisfy the sheep become big sites and get bought by the big 4. That doesn't mean that the other small sites that just satisfy the few don't still exist - its just that they'll never figure in this kind of article individually.

    In publishing some of the most successful and profitable magazines are tiny circulation niche journals run by a couple of people for a few thousand or tens of thousand readers. As these move online, if peope continue to PAY to see them, you'll get more and more of them as costs drop. They may pick up a few readers, but they are niche interest and so have a limited audience - doesn't stop them being profitable - true democracy! MARKET democracy!
  • I disagree with this view provided the barriers to entry on internet remain low. What I mean by this is that internet and the associated freedom of speech really took off because there was very little preventing anyone off the street from posting a page, an idea, or a thought. This allowed ideas (good and bad) to all have equal footing which is necessarily a Good Thing. (You have to have access to bad ideas to be able to see them for such.)

    While 50% of web content may be owned by a few big corporations, there's still very little barring the average Joe throwing a race relations thesis online for others to comment on. While it may not get tonnes of traffic there has been no barrier to the free flow of information. So long as these barriers remain low, internet will remain Free. (You may not *like* the corporate sites, but they have as much right to existence as Joe's thesis.)

    Things that could put this freedom at risk include rising web hosting costs that could potentially limit sites to only wealthy commercial ventures. ISP's that pull content at the slightest complaint are another risk. Content filters, especially politically-motivated ones are another risk (ie - Country-specific content banning). Even the spiralling complexity of markup languages and browsers could make it cost prohibitive to publish content. Not to mention proprietary extensions!

    I don't think any of these possibilities have really hit us yet and the web is still quite free. After all, think of how easy it was for me to fill this space with my opinion! However these are the things that we need to watch most closely. As long as there remains simple means to share information (the new, ripped Britney Spears CD probably doesn't count!) on the web I think we remain free.
  • The masses are spoon-fed by corporations, and individuals looking for a voice or something different will seek and find it.

    This is just like music, where 99.9% of the music out there is pushed by majors, paid off by song promoters, and bribed onto radio stations that play the same song over and over. You want Alejandro or the Vigilantes of Love? Too damn bad, right? No...you just have to look, listen, and use word of mouth to do an end-run around the business.

    Why should web content be any different? Feed the masses, but leave the interesting underground sites and URL's. I'm smart, I'll find them, and I won't need an interactive portal with them.

  • Yet another "the commoners have bad taste" rant. If 80% of Americans want to limit their browsing to MSN, Yahoo, and AOL, more power to them. If they don't want to, so be it. If they don't want to educate themselves enough to even know they have a choice, well, seems like an odd decision to me, but last I heard they hadn't asked for my advice.

    As long as corporate control of large chunks of the net doesn't impact my own ability to both share and obtain unpopular information, I don't especially care about it. I'm far more worried about (e.g.) the potential for single-chokepoint content controls when there are only a half-dozen giant ISPs left.

  • The key difference between the Internet and traditional mass media is that the Internet is not of fixed size. I can find (or create!) a site that caters to a small set of people, and offers them information and resources that they won't find easily in other mass media.

    A perfect example: my new favourite web site, Equipped to Survive [equipped.org] is the personal page of a guy who's done a lot of research on wilderness survival, particularly for pilots in remote areas. He has detailed essays on what makes a good survival kit, general emergency preparedness topics, and reviews on everything from Leatherman-type multitools to large inflatable life-rafts. The site design isn't flashy and polished, but it's extremely well-organized and well-written.

    So the mass media outlets still do what they do best: sell sizzle to the masses. That doesn't make it any harder for me to find the REAL gems of the Internet: people scratching their own personal informational itches, and sharing the fruits of their learning with others.
  • If you're an average joe/jane user and just wants to 'surf the web' with your new Dell and Cable modem but don't really know what you want, then sure, there are thousands of marketeers and mousekateers ready to take you by the hand and lead you to their store and tell you what to buy and how to be with the 'in' crowd and their fashion leaders.

    On the other hand, if you know what you want, say, for example, a spec sheet for a 2N304 dual-gate mosfet UHF mixer transistor, a modern substitute number, and place a web order for 2 to be delivered in 3 days, then you can easily cut thru the crap, pop-ups, and freebies and find them, place your order, and get your parts, Bada-bing, bada-bang, bada-boom.
  • by Dast ( 10275 ) on Thursday August 30, 2001 @02:53PM (#2235831)

    Okay, so let me get this straight...

    Websites operated by just four corporations account for 50.4 percent of the time that U.S. users of the Web are now spending online, the authoritative Jupiter Media Metrix research firm reported in early summer.

    So these people are making a claim about the amount of time people spend on websites. I'm still hunting for the reference, but the question I ask myself is, how did they collect this data? I can think of at least three different ways.

    1. Interviewing/Observing test subjects
    2. Requesting traffic logs from sites
    3. Requesting traffic logs from ISP's

    I would doubt method three was used, as it would probably be a violation of rights, and I doubt most ISP's would give out that info without a court order. So that leaves us with at least two other possibilities, either direct observation or requesting logs from websites.

    As I'm sure most will agree, neither of these methods is going to give you good data. In the first case, I guarantee people are not going to surf the same way being observed as they will unobserved. Who volunteers for this kind of survey and looks at pr0nography, stileproject and other disgusting sites, looks at pr0nography, illegaly downloads music and movies, looks at pr0nography, grabs spl0its for some kiddie h4x0ring, and looks at pr0nography while being observed? If they were actually observed in a lab, I would almost guess the researchers might have warned against illegal activity while surfing. If the subjects were interviewed, do you honestly think they would say this is how they spent their time surfing. If you were to ask Joe Sixpack on the street what websites he looked at, he will probably only remember the names of most of the major sites (because they are so visible), and wouldn't have the guts to name his favorite pr0n site.

    The second method has its share of flaws too. The researchers are going to, of course, request the logs for all of the major (ie visibile) sites. But how can you get logs from the multitute of little known sites out there? You will never get them all; the best you can do is estimate, at which point you are making up your own data.

    If someone can get find the reference for this "study" and post a link here, I would appreciate it. I think Jupiter Media Metrix web site is mediametrix.com [mediametrix.com] but I can't get in with my non-Javascript enabled browser. :P

  • Real communication is one person communicatiing with another. If I put a page up that touches another person then I have communicated. It only matter that yu drive massive trafic if you have a business plan that depends on it. Who cares if most of the traffic on the net is going to AOL to read gossip about this 15 minutes diva or sports jock. The fact that you and I can communicate is important and thus the net is relavent for our communication. If AOL & M$ run the business opertunities on the net into the ground, wll, so be it. I'll talk and listen to people who are thoughtfull and the net is still a good place to do that.
  • The big guys always wanted this to happen. They want interactive TV, billg always wanted that, as late as 95, he talked all about it in his book, right?

    They don't want everybody to make content, that's very dangerous.

    OK, this is what we need: We need lots of people to make content, and it must be feasible to make a living from it. Only that way will a large part of the internet remain like we want it.

    So, we need, public domain payment standards, for example for making micro-payments, and we need that fast!

  • IF you don't mind that nearly all 'information' on the web that people actually know about comes from 4 sources then fine. Likewise if you don't mind that one way or another those sources are biased by politics or economics or just plain ignorance then fine - it's all good. If you don't mind that there is little distinction between those 4 sources and sitting calmly in front of the TV then fine - this is the best of all possible worlds. If you don't mind that the economic forces usually work to marginalize that which does not agree with it then, fine. If you don't care if there is any difference between editorial agenda and actual news or if there was you couldn't tell the difference and it wouldn't make any difference to you anyway then once again I agree - all is fine.

    It's the flip side of censorship in a way. Not active certainly not "hey you can't do that!!" No. But when most outlets are owned by the same few people then all they have to do is put up only what they approve of. Whatever your affiliation, do you actually think its a good thing to the development and maintenance of a critical society when every website is bland version of USAToday or every opinion is the same? It's like those stupid polls on ABC News like "Do you think McV should be fried or pulled apart by horses?" Or "Do you thing women who have abortions should be jailed or stoned to death?" It's that kind of censorship. Is that what you want?
  • A few points it neglects to mention...

    • In 1993, the population of the net was a small fraction of what it is today. Analyzing shifts in usage by looking at percentages is misleading (not that the article even analyzes any shifts, since it only cites present-day usage statistics). If on day 1 there are 100 people on the net and 80% of them browse small ad-free private sites, and on day 2 there are 1000 people on the net and 30% of them browse those same sites, that's a huge increase in usage of those independent sites.
    • In 1993, today's top commercial sites didn't exist, or were radically different than they are today, and there weren't really any equivalents. So of course people weren't using them then.
    • Related to the first point, the demographics of Web users are very different today than a decade ago. It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows a thing about book purchase patterns or musical tastes or TV viewing habits that people in the net's initial demographic of college-educated techie types enjoy different things than people who aren't in that group. Now the initial users are vastly outnumbered by the newcomers. Big deal. Doesn't necessarily mean those initial users have changed their habits (though some doubtless have). It was never a realistic expectation that people with vastly different interests and backgrounds would log onto the net and instantly become just like the uber-nerds who were already there.

    From where I sit -- just look at Memepool [memepool.com] -- the democratic, chaotic net is still alive and well. And my ad-free site from '93 is still around and still has no ads, even if 10 others have sprung up nearby.

  • Why did we let them in in the first place? They thought they were gonna get rich and make billions of dollars from the web doing stuff like extracting personal and private information and forcing us to buy stuff from insecure and badly administered web sites. We knew this was not what the internet was about, and we (most of us) knew there wasn't that much money to be made on it. So why did we let them do it? Is it because we wanted to "stick it to the man" without him realizing until it was too late?

    Why do we keep trying to make it easier for people of lower IQ to use computers, especially when it just makes computers less useful? Just look at all those "Dummies" books that popped up (must be a lot of dummies out there).

    The sad part of "commercialization" is that it is necessary to attract the masses in order for the commercialization to be a success (in their goal of getting rich). I don't mind the commercialized aspect of it but I really hate the dumbing down it brings with it. Is there any possible hope of separating the two? Is there any way to commercially do anything on the internet strictly for smart people, and make at least a decent living at it, besides being an ISP (as if that even does it).

    And then there's the troll issue on Slashdot.

  • As long as non-commercial interests control at least 0.1% (arbitrary) of the Internet, and as long as web standards continue to be generally adhered to, alternative politics wonks and grassroots movement organizers will have more than enough strength to carry on their fights. I think in reality, no matter how the corporations shake things out amongst themselves, that websites personal and non-profit in nature will remain a large percentage (even if just a minority) of the web.

    It can even be argued that we're entering the "Age of the Non-profit" (alongside with electronic governance) on the web, with open/free software being widely adopted (kind of all-of-a-sudden, from a public perspective) and the spotlight moving away from the dot-com's. Those "Business 2.0/Fast Company" magazines have to have something to write about! :)

  • Security focus recently touched on this very subject [securityfocus.com]. Except what they talked about were AV companies spreading virus paranoia to drive sales. If you think about it, there are a lot of parallels in the evil behind writing an inflamatory virus report to boost your ass out of the red [yahoo.com] and passing off an advertisement as an objective review. Maybe if this shakeout does enough damage to the payees, the backlash will carry over the payers.

  • OK, so people get 51% of their web content from the same four companies. But put it in perspective: they get 95% or more of their movies from the same dozen or so companies. 95% of the music (published by 7 companies) is played on the radio stations owned by the same 5 companies. Most the "news" in your local paper comes from the two wire services. ALL mass media is dominated by a small number of insanely wealthy and powerful companies. The internet is still the one place where the rest of us can be heard. Granted the mainsteam McWeb may be dominated by a small clique, but small voices will always be able to make themselves heard, at least to the part of the population smart enough to look outside the McWeb for their information.

"There are things that are so serious that you can only joke about them" - Heisenberg