The sum of all knowledge and the sorry state of the web

jseliger
155
110
7d
CHRISTIANHEILMANN.COM

Comments

eimrine 7d
I use to ask people about the thing exposed in your photo (why the seasons change, what the moon phases means) to make a quick test about random interlocutor's intelligence to see is it worth to keep discussion. Your father passed this test in absentia.
nicbou 6d
It has never been easier to share knowledge, and thus there has never been a greater time to be curious.

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.

mudrockbestgirl 6d
IMO the worst side effect of current web of knowledge is what I'd call the illusion of knowledge. When it was more difficult to access and publish information, that imposed a much higher bar on what was being consumed. These days, people watch a 10-minute YouTube video or read a reddit comment or twitter thread and believe (perhaps unconsciously) that makes them knowledgeable in said topic. They will then, in an absolutely confident tone, display their expertise by answering questions and stating their opinion as if it was a fact. More people read this, and the cycle begins.

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.

mellavora 6d
Your father's books are real treasures. Were it my library, they would have a place of honor.

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.

carvking 6d
Interesting article until: "Use snopes.com to check if the shocking thing you just read is real."

Mind baffling that this article could end with this.

masa331 6d
I don't get how the author can value all the things in the article and yet work at Microsoft on a bloatware like Edge which is not possible to remove, is pushed hard by Windows against other browsers and used as a part of a giant ads engine in itself
johnchristopher 6d
I love old books like 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.

cm2187 6d
On the other hand the digital assets that people make a personal copy of never age, so chances are higher that we will find some old writing that we thought was lost when the server shut down.

Of course that's in a world where we still have personal computers, not apple style locked down devices.

marcinzm 6d
>Ever tried to look up some news from 12 years ago?

Internet Archive which is a lot easier to search in than going manually through microfilm.

AshleysBrain 6d
Blogs are still an underrated goldmine of knowledge, especially in tech. I find academic papers often too abstract or opaque, textbooks are good but generalized, and documentation is reference-like. Stumbling across a tech blog where someone explains some fairly specific and difficult problem they had, and an interesting solution they found, can be exactly what you needed to solve a problem.

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.

amadeuspagel 6d
Tells a touching story and how that motivated the author to work on browsers, standards and CMS. Wonderful. But the rest is awful. Whining about ads and paywalls without suggesting any better way for websites to make money. Telling people to check snopes.com after they read something. Well, I have a better idea: Just don't read anything other then snopes in the first place. If you accept snopes as the ultimate arbiter of human knowledge, there's no point in poisoning your brain with anything else.
trinsic2 6d
I appreciate your personal account about where society is heading related to the Internet.

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.

seydor 6d
> The web we have these days is in a sorry state

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.

_gabe_ 6d
> and I now work on the browser that comes out of the box with any Windows machine (working on a Mac most of the time).

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.

mikewarot 6d
If we all had the Memex that Vannevar Bush proposed[1], many of the losses we all discuss in these threads may have been avoided. We now have massive local storage, and should be able to freely share data by hosting our own stuff on our own machines.

We don't have that... we're on the worse timeline. It makes me very sad.

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-m...

closedloop129 6d
The social web is no problem. We can choose what we visit like the author's father chose to buy those books.

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.

llaolleh 6d
Part of why the web is shit is low barrier to entry. More often than not, if you read classics or older books, it's information dense. Every prose and sentence constructed had some economy baked in.

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.

BrainVirus 6d
>Ever tried to look up some news from 12 years ago?

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.

vmoore 6d
Just going to leave this gem of a video[0] here. Whilst I agree the web has been walled gardened into various silos like social media, and people think Facebook and Twitter are the Internet, it's still read/write. The blogosphere is still ticking along nicely and last time I checked it's thriving.

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!

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gmP4nk0EOE