Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Seneca Cliff for the Web as we know it?





We can't ignore the evidence any longer. The "Web", intended as a constellation of independent information providers is dying. It is going through a Seneca Cliff of its own, being replaced by a "Trinet", controlled by the three giant companies, Google, Amazon, and Facebook.

I have been noticing it with the stats for "Cassandra's Legacy". You can see how the decline in the number of contacts has been steady over the past year. Here are the stats:



We don't yet see a Seneca Cliff, that is a rapid drop in the audience (don't look at the drop at the end of the graph; it is just because the data are for the current month). I think it is mainly because I have been trying to contrast the decline by publishing more posts, but that has not been sufficient to change the trend. Here are the data for another blog of mine, "Chimeras"



In this case, the blog used to be visited by students looking for text to cut and paste for their term papers on mythology. They are not coming anymore; evidently, they found other sources of information. Or maybe the search engines don't lead them to my blog anymore. Hard to say, but it is a fact.

So, what's happening? As always, things change and, in our times, tend to change fast. Many of us can remember the "age of mass media," now obsolete as steam engines and mechanical calculators. It looks incredible that there existed a time when everyone was exposed to the same information, provided under strict control by the government. In the Soviet Union, it was under control of the Communist Party. The West was theoretically more open but, in practice, you had access only to information that was controlled by one or the other of the two parties sharing power.

Now, in an age of privatization, every one of us has picked up the job that once was in the hands of the dominant party (or parties). We have become our own censorship agents and we have been busily building up walls to keep away from us information that goes against our individual party line. It is the concept of "information bubble," or "echo-chamber," or "walled garden."

The difference is that, while once the different echo-chambers were aligned along national borders, now they are fragmented in a pattern embedded within the various language islands of the Web, of which the English one is probably still the largest, at present. Add to this fragmentation the fact that people's brains are different and the result is the phenomenon called "opinion polarization". People across the street where you live will behave in ways that are completely incomprehensible to you if they happen to be part of a different information bubble. And chances are that you'll see each other not only incomprehensible but truly evil.

Nowhere this phenomenon is more evident than with the actions of the Trump administration. If you are a reader of this blog, you are likely to think that actions such as supporting coal burning and removing the environmental protection legislation are not only incomprehensible but evil. But they are perfectly understandable if you think that they are taken by people who live in an information bubble where it is an accepted fact that climate change is a hoax concocted by the left in order to impose a world dictatorship and enslave the American people.

It doesn't matter how powerful you are, even if you are the president of the United States, you are still sensitive to the echo-chamber effect. Again, the situation is not much different than it was when dictators tended to believe their own propaganda.

So, where are we going? I think we can say that the Web is like an ecosystem and that it is being colonized by informational lifeforms which compete and evolve in order to occupy as much virtual space as possible. What we are seeing nowadays is just a phase of a continuing evolution: changes are ongoing, and everything will change in the near future in ways that are difficult for us to understand.

The main problem, here, is not so much the evolution of the virtual ecosystem of the Web but the fact that we - as human beings - live in a real ecosystem and that this real ecosystem is being disrupted by what we are doing to it. The virtual and the real ecosystem interact in the sense that our view of the real ecosystem is filtered by the virtual ecosystem to which we have access. But while there are many possible virtual ecosystems, there is only one real ecosystem. And if we destroy it, as we are doing, the virtual echo-chambers won't keep us alive.

But, after all, the real ecosystem is the result of the virtual ecosystem stored in the DNA of the creatures populating it. If the model stored in the DNA turns out to be bad for the survival of the phenotype it creates, then that DNA is ruthlessly eliminated from the genetic pool of the planetary biota. The same will be the destiny of the bad echo-chambers of the Web. And so it has been and it will be. It is the way the universe works.



21 comments:

  1. "I have been trying to contrast the decline by publishing more posts"

    This reminded of a YouTube video I watched several months ago: Why YouTube Used to Prefer Quality (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03dTJ4nXkXw).

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  2. 1) I very much agree with the basic idea.

    2) I would however date the decline of blogs several years back, in any case long before 2016.

    Due to Facebook and smartphones.

    Facebook is much quicker, not accessible by search engines the way blogs are, and much easier to use. And now Whatsapp is even quicker and easier than Facebook.

    Smartphones allow people to view only a small bit of a screen, not really more than a paragraph at a time.

    The result is that the echo-chambers can close off completely against the kind of reasoning induced by long posts such as those we write.

    You only need a one-liner, or even just an image, pro or against the cause you love/hate.

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    1. And the advantage of Facebook is that all entries are immediately forwarded to the Utah Homeland Security data center where they can be sorted according to content and permanently stored.

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  3. Depressing observation UGO and well confirmed by the above commenters. I never miss your posts and recommend them to all!

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  4. What a mighty web of speculation. I knew Trump would be mentioned before the end three lines in. But the situation is not about Trump he is only a symptom.

    When very young I thought the best minds in the world were working on collapse issues somewhere in our towers of power. This was also at a time when I also thought if you were really really nice to girls they would like you and not run off with the bad boys.

    I learned years ago that big brains were not working issues but for me the big tragedy of that time Is my realizing that I was not aware of how much of a bad-ass I have been all along.

    The big issue is resource depletion but climate change came along and took the limelight. Overall climate change has obfuscated core issues but it also increase the overall awareness base. A significant core minority of concerned now exists and has reemerged from the seventies after being buried by propaganda in the 80's.

    Now we have a larger group of people aware of collapse issues but overall they are less knowledgeable than they were ten years ago. Then the people concerned with collapse was very small.

    With the popularization and somewhat of a dummying down of the issues around collapse there has been a growing awareness that our leaders are not concerned stewards of our future and the planet. They are actually power seeking sociopaths concerned with only themselves and their own. They do not have the ability to understand that we are all in this together because this is a concept the sociopath cannot understand. This awareness grows because people are waking up and realizing our leaders and climate deniers are not actually stupid; they are rather master manipulators who seek power and that is all that they seek. They fawn ignorance and infect the Internet with their trolls who are committed to stop democratic discussion wherever they find it. It is a startling expression of ignorance and stupidity that American taxpayers even pay for some of this and do not care that they sponsor their own ignorance and servitude.

    This has resulted in people basically giving up and deciding that to worry about collapse is pointless. We elect assholes but the big tragedy is that people won't stop putting assholes in power.

    This is my explanation for the Seneca Cliff and Google has nothing to do with it.

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  5. Dear Ugo Bardi, I am a long-time reader and big fan of your blog. I am also a blogger on the blogger.com platform blogging consistently since 2006, and once in a while-- too tempting to overlook-- I check in with the traffic statistics for my blog. No question, since the late 2000s there has been a displacement in what I would call "cultural attentional focus" towards social media-- but I figure, people checking FB, Snapchat, Instragam & etc 300 times a day are not my readers anyway, (may they enjoy their lives on the Planet of the Smombies). As for traffic statistics, in general, over the years of blogging, for my main blog est. 2006, I have seen a rise in my traffic, and for posts on certain topics I tend to get more hits, generally, and for more obscure topics, fewer hits, which comes as no surprise to me. However, blogger.com shows my blog having traffic that does not make sense, for example, Russia as one of my main sources of traffic (I do not blog on Russia, or at least have done so in 11 years, not counting references to WAR & PEACE), and some bizarre spikes in traffic, into the multiple thousands, that do not make sense to me. Over the last year, while my traffic is definitely higher than in its first years, it has fallen. is this because of more readers going over to social media? I do not know. The thing is, blogger.com statistics are not very reliable for ascertaining who, among the humans out there, is actually reading my blog, and therefore, as has always been the case with publishing, from time immemorial, one's work goes out to a largely opaque response. I do not allow comments on my blog, however, I get enough emails from thoughtful readers to let me know that I am not nuts to keep on blogging-- I do have a number of readers I sincerely appreciate. But again, I think blogging, like any publishing, goes out to a largely opaque response-- I may trouble to gather all sorts data but the fact is, I never know what the quality of data is, and moreover, I do not know who is actually reading my blog (or my books) at any given moment, or what they think about it, or who they might mention it to over a cup of coffee. (Right now I myself am reading a book published by an academic press in 1968, which took me a while to track down-- an obscure but outstanding work of scholarship, hugely valuable for my own work, and I will be blogging about it anon. Is the author aware of that? Well, anyway, I think he has long passed into the Great Beyond...) Sometimes I find this opaque response discouraging, sometimes uncanny. But after all, blogger.com data or not, books, like blog posts, are little voyagers, thought-packages that arrow through time and space... Kind regards from a reader who sincerely appreciates your blog.

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  6. PS It occured to me to print out copies of my better posts and save them in a three-ring binder. I also keep copies of the better posts on my personal website. In general the blogger platform is a good one, but I have been locked out of account (this happened years ago, maybe 2008, when an algorthim maisindentified the nature of my site) and earlier this year, for two weeks, my blog, and as far as I could tell, all blogger blogs, came up blank in Mexico and Pakistan. Google did not respond to complaints on forums or twitter, as far as I could tell (and by the way there are a gazillion blogger blogs in Mexico, many also by expats). But then the blogs suddenly reappeared. As soon my schedule permits, I plan to migrate the whole enchilada over to Wordpress, to a paid account.

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    1. Hope you got the original comment, to which this PS belongs. Kind regards

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    2. Yes, sorry for the delay in publishing your post. Sometimes, comments get buried somewhere.

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    3. Anyway, about your comment, C.M., you are right that measuring the impact of a blog is tricky, to say the least. There are mysterious spikes, and Russian bots seem to enjoy this and many other blogs. However, I think it is true that there has been a drop in the interest in blogs and that is a relatively recent phenomenon. What has convinced me that it is not related to some specific topics is that I saw it on two different blogs of mine; dedicated to completely different subjects: one is about literature, the other about sustainability.

      So, I think it is very general, I think it is in part that people migrate to social media, in part also the big players may want to discourage independent blogging, trying to concentrate everything into platforms they can control. But so is life.

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    4. Is this your blog? https://madammayo.blogspot.co.uk/

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    5. Thank you for your reply. Yes, that is my blog, and more usually the URL is https://madammayo.blogspot.com

      I agree with you. And it seems to me that Google is moving away from blogs. A few observations: The blogger updates have gotten glitchy; there was no response that I could see when blogger blogs went down in Mexico for two weeks a few months ago; I see a goodly number of "scraper sites" that Google does not always take down; on the Google + page the blogger icon is not prominent. I would not be surprised if one day Google decides to give up blogger and let all these gazillions of blogger.com blogs go dark. But who knows?

      Different writers will have different priorities of course, but for me, blogging remains valuable-- never mind whether or not I have massive traffic (much of which may actually be bots). People do find my blog and my books and essays via searches (as emails validate), and, above all, I find blogging helpful for clarifying my own thoughts, or answering FAQs. And not everyone has joined the smombies.

      In any event, much of what you say on your blog suggests to me that we may return to relying on ye olde printed materials sooner than most people imagine.

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  7. Ugo, might I suggest Youtube as a good platform to easily reach a broader audience without losing anyone from your blog? I've seen many others in a situation like yours make it work very well. A simple camera recording discussions, presentations, lectures... anything at all that is on topic to your target audience. Small snippets around 5 minutes long are perfect for starting. Frequent shorter uploads work better than 2 hour lectures once every three months! Although there is nothing wrong with including the longer videos among the shorter ones.

    You could also place the same videos on your blog here. That would help trigger video viewings, which are bound to be slow at first.

    I've looking into and experimented with internet marketing for about 20 years now, it has really been shifting to videos over the last few years. That is why Google bought Youtube!

    Also I have to agree, the internet is being captured by a handful of players. I don't see this reversing any time soon.

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    1. I would plead against this suggestion. I really don't have time for videos. I routinely avoid any content only presented as video.

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    2. Yvan, I had been thinking of going video, too. I think I'll do something like that, soon. I myself can't really watch videos on the web, in this I am like crybaby. But some people like videos, so I'll try. Not that it will change much, but for the fun of it

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    3. I think the trick is to start with flexible strategy, otherwise it can take forever to get nowhere. Don't ask me how I know this!

      For example, it really is effective to try several ideas over time. Out of a shortlist of a few potential approaches, like Facebook, Youtube, blogging, Twitter and so forth you would find after a few months that one or two platforms are really outperforming the others. Good old Pareto principle. We had a project the involved Instagram. We put lots of effort into it for a sustained period of time, with basically nothing to show for it in the end. It just didn't fit for us.

      Personally I would not stop with this blog, it's working! Maybe convert one new blog post out of every 3 or 4 into a short video for Youtube while still showing it in this blog. Long videos could work, but they can be more of a commitment for the creator and the audience. When it isn't even known if there is an audience, that can be demoralizing!

      You have something meaningful to say, there is an audience out there for that.

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  8. For some reason, this comment was lost. Reposting....

    I wonder if it's just that most of your original readers would have been 'peak oil people' and that interest in the topic has waned in general, because people have seen that there is no real solution; that renewables won't allow us to live our current lifestyles, nor will we stop burning fossil fuels and that it all wasn't going to happen overnight anyway. I know that's what has happened in my own case even though I still read your blog and most other similar blogs. I agree with, and don't like, the predominance now of the 'Trinet'.

    I wasn't aware of your other blog so have had a look and will read with interest about Mata Hari.


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    1. Above post is from "foodnstuff" (https://foodnstuff.wordpress.com/)

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    2. You have the basic point, Foodnstuff. Topics are popular in proportion to the capability that people have to do something related to the specific issues they raise. Peak oil was popular as long as we thought we (as a society) could do something about it. Then, we discovered that the PTBs had no intention to do something about peak oil other than denying it existed. And the same is about climate change. It will wane - it is already declining as a topic of interest. It is because people are discovering that there is little left to do but to sit and look as the ecosystem collapses. And while you are on the subway train bound for Hell Station, you might as well drink a coke and relax.

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  9. Ugo
    How much of web traffic is not connected through the Big 3? Does commercial and industrial data go through their servers? These days I keep seeing allegations that crypto currency transactions, for example, eat enormous quatities of energy per transaction. Nothing can keep 'doubling' for very long. This energy demand looks to me like a swift ascent to the brink of Seneca cliff. Could this be the real demise of the internet - will growth in energy demand eventually push out all the present big server farms, especially if they are loaded with domestic videos?

    best
    Phil

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  10. You might want to consider the security advantages of hosting your site in Norway. There are several reasons why a site may loose visibility---- not all of them due to how well the owner organizes his site. See---
    https://runbox.com/


    https://runbox.com/

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Who

Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014). His most recent book is "The Seneca Effect" to be published by Springer in mid 2017