Sheez! How does one deal with information overload on the net? Information overload period. I honestly don’t think I’m getting a valid picture of a subject online if I only consult one or two sources, so I might “Google” something (or as Microsoft would have you do, “Bing” it), which multiplies that by 25 discreet pages per screen.
At that, the gazillions of web pages aren’t all created equal, so one has to be discriminating. If you have a television, and if you read (print) newspapers, and then magazines, and then you go online – that’s total information overload (notwithstanding the hard fact that most news is not good and it’s not only overload, it’s overdose.
So powerful Web concerns push various solutions:
1) Dumping “information and entertainment” on the same page you use to access your email, or
2) And less successfully, bombarding your inbox with:
a. SPAM, or
b. Crap you don’t want to hear about, but having originated tangentially in a distantly related matter that at one time you showed some interest in by filling out an online registration form or made a purchase online.
3) “Feeds” where web site material is pushed on you through what is termed “web syndication”; i.e., one night you clicked on a catchy-looking icon to “Subcribe to this!” and now you get it all the time, even when you don’t care to look.
4.) Browser-based apps that organize your feeds onto a UI or menu, like Google Reader or iGoogle or MyMSN, which seek to personalize content to your tastes, based upon some CADIE-derived formula, or based upon your own subscriptions, feeds, or otherwise “bookmarked” web pages.
5.) Physically pushing certain web content at you through factory-bookmarked web pages that come ready-installed in your browser or otherwise physically through technologies installed on your computer (or, until a couple years ago, by CD-ROM sent by snail mail).
…And a thousand other minutiae of methods for “selling” whatever to you on the World Wide Web.
Of course, Web concerns seek to constrict what comes up on a computer screen, by browser or otherwise, to their preferred content, whatever that may be and for whatever reason, though the bulk of it is for the purposes of making a sale of one sort or another.
I sometimes wonder what the Web will look like in 20 years. Computers are one technology whose growth is measured not linearly but exponentially. This is reflected in how we get information over the web. There are ways to describe the phenomenon – Web 2.0, Web 3.0 – but how to do justice to what “version” of the Web we’ll have two decades hence?
I’m guessing that if political trends regarding the Internet continue at their present trajectory that we’ll see a narrowing; a constriction of the information portal. It makes sense from a logical, evolutionary perspective too, that the Web, from its onset to rapid flowering that the progression would be from flatly democratic access and distribution (thanks in no small part to the vision of programmers who kept the original software platforms open source – Apache HTTP comes to mind) to a consolidation of control. Some have commented on the biological, life-like nature of the development of computer technology; it’s exponential growth and its tendency toward negative entropy. But humans are still in charge, for the time being anyway, and much of the Internet that was not ten years ago is now subject to human or political controls.
I think it’s fair to say that the above five ways of pushing stuff onto you is a sampling of what this “constriction” will look like. When political leaders realize what a force the Web can be in elections – the ’08 U.S. one a case in point – they will (and already have) be looking to exert control over the information that ultimately reaches the human user on the other end.
And it could be that such strictures will come out a very practical desire to control the often overwhelming flow of info onto our computer screens and hard drives!
For more information on keeping the Web free and clear, check out the web site of Richard Stallman, the originator of the GNU Project, at Stallman.org.