Encyclopaedia Britannica is still there, and it's great. But there's also an army of content creators are there to teach you just about anything. If one source doesn't do it, you have more to choose from.
Yesterday, I read an article about North Africa that mentioned in passing Qaddafi's underground river. A few minutes later I was watching a documentary about it, then a variety of videos about that man. My information binge extended to other African dictators, and will probably last a few days longer.
If I'm curious about something, I can go really deep. I'm not constrained to a few paragraphs in whatever book my local library carries.
You could argue that the web is in a sorry state, but if that's the cost of giving everyone, everywhere access to all this knowledge, then it's a deal worth making. This might be more obvious to someone who did not have access to a well-stocked library.
The problem is not availability, but curation. The sum of all knowledge back then was a well-curated book. Now it's literally all of it, unfiltered.
You see it all the time on HN and other forums. If you're an actual expert in a specific (usually scientific) subfield and you read comments about an article in that field, you find that a large percentage are not just factually wrong, but also written in an extremely confident tone by people who have probably studied the topic for about 10 minutes.
By having easy access to all this information people have stopped being humble about what they don't know.
I want to put your post in the context of yesterday's HN front-page post lambasting the EU for trying to build a better search engine. The bulk of the comments suggested that a government effort could never be as good as a commercial effort. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=32915263#32916945
Your post is a strong counter-argument. All of the points you mention on the massive decline in quality of web content are due to the web being driven by commercial efforts.
Likewise, comments on this current HN front-page post "Despite faster broadband every year, web pages don't load any faster" https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=32945858 also seem to explain the poor state of the web as being due to commercialization of everything (even the comments about the need for cookie banners-- the logic behind the cookie consent is to regulate the commercial collection of user data).
Google started as a DARPA project, and was a great engine while it stayed true to that ethos. It was the need to commercialize it, thus setting perverse business incentives, which has destroyed it.
Your post praises libraries. Which are seldom commercial ventures.
The economics are simple. I don't know why this even continues to be a debate on HN.
- A socially created entity (corporation, government, "charitable" organization, ...) needs money to function.
- Money comes from capturing a portion of the value created by the organization.
- The most efficient organizational structure depends on the relationship between value creation and value capture.
Thus: if the product/service generates immediate and focused value, the value capture can be directly linked to the product and a business is optimal. Think: a hamburger.
If the product/service generates long-term and diffuse value, the value capture also needs to be diffused, i.e. taxes. Thus a government. Think: the road network which allows the raw materials and the customers to get to the hamburger store.
I leave the case for charitable orgs as an exercise for the reader :)
disclaimer: strongly pro-business, have founded 2 personally, assisted several others.
Mind baffling that this article could end with this.
I managed to salvage this one when my grand parents went away https://imgur.com/a/AFmTQv7
I don't think it's worth much but it's old and smells nice and feels good to handle.
Of course that's in a world where we still have personal computers, not apple style locked down devices.
Internet Archive which is a lot easier to search in than going manually through microfilm.
The web has its problems for sure, but don't forget there are still gems out there which the web has made possible. I'd love to see a comeback of blogging culture, but I guess a lot of that has been sucked in to social networks now.
I avoid for-profit social networking websites because for the free flow of information because I realize that these sites only represent a small portion of what the web is about. I know the Internet is really best when I read from people that self-publish. I also publish articles on interpersonal work and the state of technology myself. As a "principal product manager in Microsoft working on tooling to enable people to do more on the web." I wonder what you think about Microsoft and Apple creating walled gardens in there respective OS's? I recently switched to Linux and [wrote](https://www.scottrlarson.com/publications/publication-transi...) about why I think the biggest threat to the free flowing information of the net has to do with how we allow our technology that connects to the net to become restricted.
The web is one of humanities greatest inventions, right up there with Gutenberg or even more. It's a shame that people focus on politics and miss the rest of the web. There are two webs, one is a medium of mass manipulation, just like all media before it, the other is the library of all human knowledge, ever, everywhere.
The printing press precipitated major societal changes, but the internet has yet to. We still follow the rules set 400 years ago, voting some humans to rule us every 4 years, and have not questioned the system under the current situation , where everyone can create and access information everywhere, instantly. The internet will take us to new politics , we just have to invent it.
Is this why Microsoft products are getting progressively worse every year? How can you work on a product and then never use it natively and expect other people to enjoy using it? Or worse, like with windows 11, it leads to the product morphing into something the users never wanted to conform it to what the developers are used to using. I don't know, it kind of baffles me the way most developers view the products they make.
We don't have that... we're on the worse timeline. It makes me very sad.
What is missing is a beacon of light in the desert of choice. There is no lack of knowledge anymore but a lack of orientation. The author's father knew that he could buy knowledge in a bookstore. Where do we go to find orientation on the web?
People don't know. That's why they are stuck in the social net with its memes.
Now everyone and their mom, as well as bots and marketers,can spam right on over.
We either need a search portal with aligned incentives, or perhaps a new internet with none of this crap.
I have a better one for you. Ever wondered why it's so hard? Why web protocols have nothing related to archiving? Why web browsers are a hellscape for aggregating information over time in a meaningful way? Why this continues to be true, despite countless Microsoft and Google engineers writing all these heartfelt posts about knowledge?
If your answer is "because it's hard to implement" than you understand nothing.
Yes, people have gamified Google and search to get traffic and the blogosphere of old has largely been co-opted by profiteering gluttons, but there's still hope. Surf Hackernews enough and you'll find little gem posts that don't have an ulterior motive and are not 'monetizing' their content and sprinkling it with affiliate links and ADs. They just want to vent, exchange techne, and share knowledge.
Then there's Wikipedia which has remained AD-free for as long as I can remember (apart from their donation banners which I don't mind). Wikipedia is the coolest thing ever and my IQ has probably gone up a few notches over the years because of it. It is the closest thing to getting home-schooled without going through formal education, and you can verify all the claims made in its entries by going to the footer section and reading various citations usually written by esteemed scholars.
The web is in a sorry state due to the commercialization and walled garden silos, and also because of the proliferation of smartphones which are mere consumption devices IMHO and not designed for producing any meaningful or substantial content, apart from maybe uploading photos/videos to Instagram or writing tweets etc I can't write a blogpost on a phone because I have bad dexterity, and I typically have to have 100+ tabs open to verify claims, provide sources, do cross-referencing, find relevant images etc...all something done best on a workstation PC or laptop.
Some context: I have professionally blogged for more than five years but due to reasons I won't go into here, I have stopped. I'm thinking of jumping back in, only this time armed with the wisdom of my previous blogging shenanigans. Failure is an opportunity to start again more intelligently!