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Friday, December 14, 2012

What He Said: The Internet Feels Like a Ghost Town

Posted by on Fri, Dec 14, 2012 at 7:49 AM

The other day, Warren Ellis wrote this paragraph in his e-mail newsletter, Machine Vision*:

I cannot, lately, shake this peculiar sense that the net is quieter than it used to be. Possibly because email is less of a thing? Because I don't live on Facebook? And social media is technologically privileged over, say, news or RSS?

This is something I've been noticing lately, but I haven't been able to articulate the thought. I follow a lot of blogs, and they're still publishing. I follow a lot of people on Twitter, and they're still tweeting. But whenever I spend time online now, I get a sense that the lights are off and nobody's home. I wonder if it's because I'm a text-centric person and the internet feels like it's moving more toward photos and video than text? Or if it's because there are more people online, but they're all staying within their carefully defined niches and sharing the same content?

This is a frustrating thing to discuss because it's entirely anecdotal. I'm sure all the facts and figures indicate that more people than ever are spending time online. But everything feels so small and predictable, now. Maybe now that I've been online for over a decade—I was a late bloomer—the sense of novelty is gone? Where the hell has the internet gone?

* If you're interested, you can sign up for Machine Vision at warrenellis.com.

 

Comments (24) RSS

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bleedingheartlibertarian 1
I find I have to periodically refresh my reading list. And sometimes that requires some effort to get out of my usual ruts AND find people actually worth reading.

Also...even though not everyone writes about politics, I think there is usually a lull in chatter after big elections.
Posted by bleedingheartlibertarian on December 14, 2012 at 8:03 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 2
I'm not getting what you're saying. You say you're "a text-centric person and the internet feels like it's moving more toward photos and video than text" and that you think "there are more people online, but they're all staying within their carefully defined niches and sharing the same content."

I'm an example-centric person, and don't understand what you're getting at unless you can give an example.

Here's one example I can contribute, that I think gets at what Ellis is saying. I've spent the last almost-seven years here on Slog and also one other primary blog. This other blog is generating far fewer comments than it used to. Sometimes Slog seems to be generating fewer, too, although that's at least in part due to Dan's partial absence for the past few months. (Dude can generate comments, no matter what opinion he expresses.) More recently, I'm sure the end of the election is part of it. But that's just anecdotal, and Slog at least seems to still have a lot of people checking in.

Social sites seems as busy as ever to me. I don't have tons of friends on FB (around 200), but if I don't check up regularly I have a LOT of posts to plow through.

I wasn't much of one for using email before social sites arose. My friends and I were more likely to call up on the phone. Email was important at times, such as when making plans, but Facebook makes it much easier to talk about nothing to everyone. I never sent a picture of a pretty sunrise or a description of what I had for breakfast to everyone (or anyone) via email, for example.
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 14, 2012 at 8:05 AM · Report this
Rotten666 3
I just reread Crecy. Warren Ellis is fantastic.
Posted by Rotten666 on December 14, 2012 at 8:06 AM · Report this
ScienceNerd 4
I feel it too, but I believe it is the fault of a change in my online activities. I used to play MMORPGs, discuss gaming on message boards, and use IM like crazy. I don't think I've been on IM in over a year, and my gaming has ceased. So now it's just news really, and I'm getting sick of that too. (Although I recently discovered Twitter and am still amused.)
Posted by ScienceNerd http://stanichium.tumblr.com/ on December 14, 2012 at 8:13 AM · Report this
5
"Because I don't live on Facebook"

Yes. Right answer.

Facebook is the suburbs. Everyone moved there.

Responses to posts on Facebook went from a few to hundreds.

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on December 14, 2012 at 8:13 AM · Report this
Sir Vic 6
No one uses the internet anymore because it's too crowded.
Posted by Sir Vic on December 14, 2012 at 8:18 AM · Report this
Puty 8
Well, since we're being anecdotal and poetic: maybe it's not the Internet. Maybe it's the world. We live on a planet that's hurtling toward unparalleled social and environmental calamity and there seems to be no hope to fix it because there's too much corruption, too much delusion and ego and too many stupid fucking assholes. We've got what, five years before global warming calamities start killing tens of millions of people a year? On top of that you've (we've) got a "leader of the free world" whose policies on surveillance, military adventurism, corporate power and lots of other things are a total fucking nightmare. And he was the GOOD candidate!

Didn't the European court just rule that the CIA is literally guilty of torture? NOT A HEALTHY SOCIETY.

And how about guns? Your country* can't ban assault rifles! Merry fucking Christmas, Portland.

There are problems. Good people are sad and tired. We all know it didn't have to be this way.

That's why the Internet seems hollow, Charlie Brown.

*I'm Canadian
Posted by Puty on December 14, 2012 at 8:28 AM · Report this
Chip 9
I think the internet is seeing the kind of media consolidation that's happened in radio since they eased the restrictions on owning multiple stations.

We're seeing more professional sites run by a few big media companies, which draw a ton of traffic - and more content creators moving to these sites where they can earn a paycheck.
Posted by Chip on December 14, 2012 at 8:32 AM · Report this
10
I get that feeling, but mostly on Facebook. I think it's because of the way they're tweaking the news feed, but I feel like all I ever see anymore is memes, from people or feeds I subscribe to, and that actual mundane status updates from my friends, which used to make Facebook feel like a hangout, are way down. I've been speculating that it's because I don't spend time on Google+. But when I check my friends' individual walls, often they're posting the one-line text updates that are my favorites, but Facebook just isn't including that in my news feed. Damn you, Mark Suckerberg. I meant to spell that with a Z but I think I'll leave the typo.
Posted by Prettybetsy on December 14, 2012 at 8:34 AM · Report this
TheRain 11
@7 and I have had the same experience. Many of the blogs that are still in my RSS that are dead/moribund have Tumblr equivalents that are quite active.
Posted by TheRain on December 14, 2012 at 8:35 AM · Report this
12
@9 Maybe this too. I'm seeing a lot fewer blogs, the amateur kind that were lavishly illustrated and written as somebody's hobby. Blogs seem to be either going big, by adding sponsorship/publishing books (oh, irony), or going home (shutting down to join bigger media sites).
Posted by Prettybetsy on December 14, 2012 at 8:39 AM · Report this
Theodore Gorath 13
Nothing is more irritating than clicking on an article link, and seeing nothing but an embedded video.

I want to read, not listen to someone read to me, dammit.

Regarding the main point of the post, I would guess that like all wild areas, the internet is constantly being charted and "tamed," in this sense meaning that content creators and distributers are consolidating, making it seem like there is less out there.

Kind of like if a bustling city block with many small residences was bulldozed, and in its place a few very large apartment buildings were erected, and inside are all the things people used to go out to the streets to get (food, art, conversation, etc.). Same amount of people, but they are pressed into one place giving the illusion of less activity.

Maybe, I dunno. My internet presence is essentially just streaming video, reading news, and posting on a very small number of sites. No Facebook or Twitter, so perhaps my opinion is worthless.
Posted by Theodore Gorath on December 14, 2012 at 9:01 AM · Report this
thatsnotright 14
I stopped reading your post because there were no cat gifs.
Posted by thatsnotright on December 14, 2012 at 9:03 AM · Report this
15
WHAT. There are two Nick Caves and two Warren Ellises!??!?!?!

What does the other Blixa Bargeld do?
Posted by Foonken2 on December 14, 2012 at 9:05 AM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 16
I think this is your answer:

http://www.internetisshit.org/
Posted by Urgutha Forka on December 14, 2012 at 9:13 AM · Report this
17
I think it's a mix of this:

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/20…

and this:

http://dashes.com/anil/2012/12/the-web-w…

which is to say, when the Internet multiplied in size, most of the new users went to the controlled walled gardens, and content creators followed (think AOL in the early days, where ads would say "go to *URL* or AOL keyword: *WORD*". Now it's Follow Us On Twitter and Like Us On Facebook).

The "noisier" Internet you remember was the one reminiscent in Anil Dash's post, where we were all just figuring this thing out, and a greater proportion of Internet users were more proactive in their information-seeking and generating. Now giant swaths of people get their day's entertainment from Facebook and Reddit.

Also, a lot of enthusiasm for generating content just died out. There was a time when everyone had to have a blog because we were so excited to publish and be public, until we realized generating compelling content was hard, and we weren't actually that interesting. Statuses on Facebook and Twitter have made anything but short text bursts (Blogspot, Livejournal) useless. The most successful "blogging" platform is Tumblr, and it does it by being terrible at traditional blogging.

All this to say, it's not that it's quieter, just that it's more efficient at satisfying the less-curious masses :-p
Posted by pablo on December 14, 2012 at 9:14 AM · Report this
18
@13 Yeah, I don't click on videos unless there's some text to tell me what it is. "You've got to see this. Just watch it!" isn't going to cut it anymore. Life's too short.
Posted by Prettybetsy on December 14, 2012 at 9:17 AM · Report this
Fnarf 19
This whining is, I think, coming from old-school journalist types who assumed that they would just move over into the online world and continue being as scintillating as ever, and all their readers would follow them. Not the case.

If your internet diet seems leaner than before, it's because you've overgrazed, and the same old same old is boring to you now. My vote is for the "niche" explanation. The solution is not to complain, but to find new sources of interest.

Nothing lasts forever. No one site is "the internet". Things change. Slog is much less busy these days, both in the comments and in the increasingly narrow range of posts. That's not a slam at Paul; if anything, Paul's been visibly overextended, trying to do too much, in my opinion, and both his book reviewing and his general-interest or political coverage are suffering a little for it. Maybe if he posted less but posted better, he wouldn't feel so burnt out. Slog would have to fill the slack with something, though. Paul can't do it all, though it sometimes feels as if he's trying to.

And we as readers would have to fill up the slack elsewhere as well. Find some new blogs. There are loads of great writers out there, and I guarantee you haven't tapped them all. Facebook is part of the answer, and so is Tumbler, but there's still a ton of great writing out there. Go find it. Hit up a blog you like but haven't been reading very much and go down its blogroll. Start googling new subjects that interest you. Or, uh, read some books.

Only boring people are bored. That's been true since long before anybody ever heard of the internet.
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on December 14, 2012 at 9:35 AM · Report this
20
I'm with @7 and @11. Your answer is: Tumblr. That's where all the crazy, chaotic, old-school blogs have gone.
Posted by crater on December 14, 2012 at 10:03 AM · Report this
21
@20 I only read tumblr in RSS. Maybe I'm doing it backward, but I can't stand that site.
Posted by Prettybetsy on December 14, 2012 at 10:08 AM · Report this
Mattini 23
We could recapture some of the early internet magic if we all made clunky html websites for ourselves ("About me," "Links," "Click to go back") like we had in 1998.
Posted by Mattini on December 14, 2012 at 10:48 AM · Report this
GlennFleishman 24
Facebook, paywalls, blog fatigue.
Posted by GlennFleishman http://blog.glennf.com/ on December 14, 2012 at 10:55 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 25
We're all on Twitter and most of us are sending personal IM to each other to coordinate the 3-5 party invites we get every day, the gifts for relatives, and all our travel plans.

You don't see us cause we're busy.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on December 14, 2012 at 11:08 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 26
@23 I think you mean .plan pages. HTML came later when we needed beamtime.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on December 14, 2012 at 11:09 AM · Report this

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