When you talk about the growth of the internet, there’s one word that you don’t expect to use and that’s contraction. However although the web does continue to grow at an exponential rate, it can easily be argued that access to quality content is in fact doing just that – contracting.
If you look at this in a simple way, there’s little doubt that every day the web grows by millions of pages. However much of this is of limited value to most of us. On YouTube videos are added every second, but many barely gain anything in terms of audience. The same is true of the web, millions of pages in websites, blogs, e-commerce stores and so on appear every minute some of it barely ever looked at. There’s also the increased use of automated content generated or scraped by software simply to add pages to establish sites in lieu of the perceived SEO benefit (Search engine optimisation).
In short much of the content on the internet, is either ignored or pretty much junk. However where is this contraction? Surely if the web grows by millions of pages it all can’t be rubbish. Well this is true, but there is a problem with the increasing amount of filtering, censorship and restriction of access to web sites.
Take for example my favorite site on the internet, the BBC web sites. Packed full of up to date content, music, TV programmes, documentaries and radio shows – the list is huge. I use it every single day and yet if I was accessing the internet from outside the UK 99% of the site would be inaccessible. This is because it uses something called geo-blocking, restricting access to the site based on your physical location. It may be one the best websites on the planet but it’s not available outside the UK. The same is true for loads of other huge websites especially those in the media business.
Of course, there are workarounds, technology is available to change ip address online and bypass these blocks. However these generally cost money and is often a barrier to large parts of the world’s population. So there maybe thousands of these sites adding fantastic new content every day but if you’re in the wrong location none of it is accessible.
This combined with the increasing use of filtering on commercial, political or ideological grounds mean that the web is actually getting smaller for some people. The facility to spoof my ip is something that is available at a cost but not for everyone. It is unknown how long these technical ‘fixes’ will work though, as they tip the balance of control back to the user themself. Certainly commercial sites are always looking for ways to block these applications and certainly governments will be likely to use these too.