At the time of writing, one half of the world’s population are in protective quarantine to escape a virus that originated in a wet market, in Wuhan province China. Last night, oil prices dipped to below zero for the first time in recorded history after a Saudi-Russia price war. So if you’re starting to wish you could see things a little ahead of time, here’s some more bad news: we’re messing up the Internet too.
In a 2010 article Wired magazine argued that “The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet.” The article pointed out that apps and ‘walled garden’ proprietary systems were proving more popular and profitable, slowly replacing the open culture of the Web. Written in 2010, the article might need an update.
Two things have changed. The first, is that algorithms have become smarter but also more discriminatory. On platforms such as Youtube, a generation of creators compete to feed the algorithm and reach new and existing subscribers. At the same time, algorithms are automatically scanning and demonetizing content from creators like Joe Rogan, to political pundits you’ve probably never heard of - and, if things continue, you probably never will.
On platforms such as Youtube, a generation of creators compete to feed the algorithm and reach new and existing subscribers.
On top of the algorithm, there is human curation and intervention. Employees of mega-community platforms are tasked with intervening to remove events, pages or ideologically unacceptable messaging. Neither the algorithm or the actions of the human curator are transparent or open to scrutiny. Thinkers, artists and creatives suffer the most, as algorithm and curator engineer a bias towards more of the same.
how are creatives ever going to get to a point when they can use this system to their benefit - it’s like climbing two steps, and being pushed back three.”
Jenn Sanasie, a creator and producer, describes the futility of the current standard as follows. “With these new algorithms you can have an audience of 50,000 followers and you’re trying to access them, but when you’re looking at who is viewing your content you’re only allowed to reach out to 1000 people. So how are creatives ever going to get to a point when they can use this system to their benefit - it’s like climbing two steps, and being pushed back three.”
Your Algorithmic Fate
CoinDesk Chief Content Officer and StreambedMedia co-founder Michael Casey, describes the existing creator-platform relationship as dysfunctional and exploitative. “We’re out to try to get your attention - in an open peer-to-peer situation that would be fine, but unfortunately now we have this curator in the middle that’s saying, “you know what, I’m going to set the terms.. ”.
we’ve totally distorted the Internet. We’ve gone from this dream of an open architectural system for better information dissemination, and ideation and innovation to once where we are all trying to serve the interests of something that we don’t even know how it functions - a secret algorithm.”
For Casey the end result is a system designed to make platforms scale and gain advertising revenue, even if this results in a race to the bottom. “We’re not competing for the interests of our audience, our ideas are not on an open playing field, instead we’re competing for the love of an algorithm over which we have no control.”
So the death of the web, could augur the death of a free and creative Internet. Casey describes the fall from ideation as follows, “we’ve totally distorted the Internet. We’ve gone from this dream of an open architectural system for better information dissemination, and ideation and innovation to once where we are all trying to serve the interests of something that we don’t even know how it functions - a secret algorithm.”
The Future of Publishing Metrics
The Internet has introduced a publishing metric which depends on advertising, layered alongside ideological and cultural controls that differ depending on which jurisdiction you happen to access cyberspace from. In the future, publishing metrics may have to return to a subscriber model in which engagement, cultural cache, and ideas are the key criterion.
The growth of long-form content, attempts at building what Casey refers to as “decentralized autonomous organizations” and nascent systems for monetizing content could be a step towards these new systems.
Full disclosure: Al Bawaba is experimenting with the Open Index Protocol. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.