Prompted to by “The OG Social Network: Other People’s Websites” which I felt was rather incomplete exploring the topic of the ‘privatization’ of the Web and how it impacts search engines and archival.
I feel that the post was inspired by Business Insider’s “Nearly half of Gen Z is using TikTok and Instagram for search instead of Google, according to Google’s own data” and Kotaku’s “Please Stop Closing Forums And Moving People To Discord”.
Regarding that Kotaku article, well, I found out that Discord is specifically trying to replace forums too as can be seen from this blog post and this Forums Channels FAQ. That is rather concerning since there doesn’t seem to be any attention given to SEO or archival.
What if Google invested more in Google Reader to make sure that websites stayed open?
Now, I think Jim Nielsen’s article indirectly asks some very interesting questions - What if Google invested more in Google Reader to make sure that websites, forums and the such were easier to follow? Would that have encouraged the use of Google Reader and discouraged the use of relatively ephemeral, private services which all try to keep you engaged on their platform?
While, I think those are relatively impossible to answer, I think that it probably would’ve had an effect if Google had decided to push it that way. It’s something that makes me think of Google Chrome’s recent rediscovery of RSS, was this an attempt to push RSS as to have this kind of change happen or was this simply Google engineers dreaming for the return of Google Reader?
At the very least, it seems Paul Bakaus, who posted about this work on Twitter, was a fan :
I loved Google Reader! Used it extensively back in the days. (source)
And as one of the replies mentions, Feedburner did have some related changes about prioritising RSS which might lead to believing that Google might actually want to bring back Google Reader but that’s probably more fantasy than reality (unless this prediction ends up being right then I’m totally taking credit for that).
Privatization and the Web
I think a point that Jim Nielson tries to make is that ephemerality and privatization of services (like TikTok, Discord, Twitter and Facebook) is affecting Google’s search services.
In fact, these service companies largely don’t want to be indexed or allow people to follow people outside of their service. Such a situation where you have that ability can result in less reliance on their service and less exposure to ads that these companies rely on for revenue.
This has an effect on Internet Culture as different cultures form from people using specific services. This results in a more fragmented Internet Culture which doesn’t connect as it used to. That’s not necessarily to say that this is a bad thing because it could cultivate good cultures (for example, Beehaw).
However, I think that a lot of the culture being bred in those silos is one molded by the interests of advertisers who want people to see as much advertising as possible. I believe that this usually results in encouraging virality to keep people engaged. To shape this type of culture, these services will try to prioritise trending subjects and mess with the timeline of events to maximize engagement rather than showing things in a chronological fashion and encouraging organic recommendation schemes. (Worth noting that chat applications usually don’t have this particular type of culture shift as they are usually not ad-funded and try to use other funding mechanism).
Of course, this privatization and ephemerality also effects archival greatly as this makes it harder to preserve things as they were and make sense of things. It’s hard for example, to see how Twitter culture has changed through time because it’s not organized in a way that this would be possible unlike how blogs or a newspaper would generally be organized. It’s also generally harder to index or archive certain services (like TikTok and Discord) because they require an account to see some or all of what they offer.
I don’t think the death of Google Reader is the creator of this trend but it certainly can’t have helped combating it. I think it’s really unfortunate and I wish there were more discussions about this which provide insight into how we could fight this worrying trend.
Note : I don’t think telling people to learn a static site generator or to make handwritten websites will work.