The internet is a bubble


Links. Photo by me.

No, I’m not talking about a valuation bubble as in the .com-days. I am talking about how we are using the internet, today in January 2012, roughly 17 years after its breakthrough.

The evolution of the internet can be split up in to three phases, each building on the previous. Each phase is defined by a verb, which is the default behavior of a user of the internet in that phase.

The first phase is the SURFING phase, when we went from place to place looking for text and images. Yahoo! even started out as a company that manually tried to enter all the web sites of the world in to a categorized index. How crazy doesn’t that sound today?

This was the era of the bookmark and the URL. Your homepage (if you had one) back then was often just a dump of your bookmarks from your Netscape web browser.

The second phase is the SEARCH phase and started around the beginning of the century when Google became the dominant search engine. For many people, Google became the internet. I personally use the search engine more times than I can count during a single day. It has become almost an extension to my mind, an extra mind that we all share. It’s almost as if we’re becoming the same individual on some level. Quite fascinating.

Keywords and links became the hard currency in this era since links signal trust and is used by the Google algorithm to give each page a weight, the Pagerank. Search Engine Optimization tricks were (are) used to optimise your place in the search result but it really just boils down to creating stuff that people like to link to.

The third phase is SOCIAL and the verb is RECOMMEND, as in retweet, like, +1, share etc. This is where the bubble comes in because in this phase the internet is no longer interconnected web pages but streams of data from our friends. In the phase we live in sort of a Matrix reality shaped by the recommendations and retweets or the people (or companies) we trust.

An endless stream of status updates, this is the bubble we live in.

This is the era of hashtags instead of links or keywords, because the hashtag is how you pick out the signal from the noise in that endless stream. This is a significant shift from the first phase, which was essentially a broadcast phase where content owners had full control over the web sites they wanted you to visit. A hashtag, on the other hand, is just part of the stream and you have as little control over it as you have over the water in a river.

We’re only at the beginning of the social phase of the web so it’s not a bubble in that sense of the word.

Surfing, searching and recommending. The first three phases of the web. What do you think the next one will be?