Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Unbridled Power of the Top of the Internets

Nobody controls the Internet; it has no central hub. Nobody can block you out or shut you out.

At least, nobody can shut you out of the whole.

Although the Internet itself is free and open to all, single websites have their own policies and can do whatever they want: shut out users, manipulate content, cause damage, or other nasty things that I can't think of.

This doesn't sound like a big deal. If one website kicks you out, there's others out there. The danger is because of the tendency for the use of websites to obey a power law; generally, one website tends to attain more hits than all the other websites of it's purpose, and the number of hits decreases exponentially for the websites ranked below it. Therefore, for a single aspect of the Internet--search, social networking, music--one website controls everything, essentially. Google gets all the searches, Facebook gets all the social networking, and bands advertise on mySpace.

When one of these websites shuts you out, you lose the aspect of the Internet they represent. The value of social networks are dependent on the number of users they have; the network needs the users before it can have any worth. If Google were to censor search results, they'd be lost to the majority of users. These websites control their part of the Internet.

Thus far, websites have generally not abused their position on top. The philosophies of a lot of web start-ups are very generous in this regard. Additionally, market forces can quickly drive users away from websites. People realized all those old search engines from the late 90's had crap results, so they all dropped them and went to Google. MySpace looks like HTML vomit, so many users have fled steadily to the more clean-cut and utilitarian Facebook. If those on top tend to decline in quality, people have fled before, and they'll flee again.

Capitalism regulates the Internets.


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