Evolution of Information Consumption on the Internet

I have been wondering how consumption on the internet has changed. The internet started in 1991, and since then, it has gone through multiple revolutions. From static pages -> dynamic pages, authoritative content -> user-generated content, text -> visual, desktop -> mobile, browser -> apps. Each of these revolutions has impacted and increased the adoption of the internet. I am excited to see what the next revolution of the internet might be.

Early days: People created indexes, i.e., pages with lots of links, Yahoo, Craigslist, etc., to help other people explore other parts of the web which align with their interests. The exploration and consumption of information were based on links and navigations. For example, if you want to know about cricket, you can navigate through sports -> cricket -> Sachin Tendulkar on a website like Yahoo. Was there personalization of information on these index pages?

Search Engines: A new technology called “search engine” started, which allowed users to quickly scan the whole internet with their query and get links. This allowed users to browse the internet with a specific intent compared to exploration.

Web 2.0, Participation, and Social Networks: Most of the early websites were run by organizations, i.e., the content was owned by organizations. The users of the internet were information consumers, thus unable to participate in the content creation process. Or atleast, it was non-trivial to create content on internet. This changed with Yahoo Messengers, Orkut, Friendster, Myspace, Facebook, etc. Additionally, these applications allowed users to consume personalised content. The personalization was mainly in terms of their friends and connections. But not about the topics they are interested in.

Soon to allow users to explore topics of their choice, Facebook introduced pages, groups, etc. This made users spend more time on the internet, as users had new things to explore (in the topic of their interest) in addition to information from their circle.

Twitter introduced a new protocol. With Twitter, your post could be shown to anyone in the world, interested in similar topics. The protocol allowed you to send your message without defining the recipients. Prior to this, your reach was limited by your circle, groups, pages, or via search engines. This was a game-changer because soon, everyone started adopting this protocol.

YouTube allowed users to upload their videos, which could be viewed by others through different exploration channels. This made consumption of information easier on the web. Information started to be generated and consumed in videos compared to text. During this same time, people switched from laptops and desktops to mobiles. This required a shift in UIs and layouts.

Instagram allowed only image posts. It was bought by Facebook in 2012. It only showed information in your circle but soon launched reels, which were powered by TikTok type protocol of showing information around the world. Facebook pivoted to video a couple of times and focused on showing visual content for its ease of consumption. Who likes to read?

TikTok started in 2016, launching a new format of content, short video. Moreover, its mobile-first UI and twitter-type protocol helped it attain exponential growth.

ChatGPT, Bard, Perplexity, and GenAI: GenAI took the world by storm when ChatGPT reached a million users in 5 days. It allowed users to consume information through a human-like intelligent interface that ingested the whole world’s information.

Themes for the Future:

  • Intelligent Web: The AI revolution in recent years has allowed machines to better understand the human world. It would be exciting to see an intelligent web that can understand human intent better. From links -> intent -> semantic intent (?)
  • Decentralized: More control for users over their information, decentralization.
  • Medium: VR, AR.

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