“I’m bored; There’s Nothing on the Internet!” The Argument for a Walled Garden

If you can’t find anything interesting on the internet, you’re just not looking hard enough …

The call “There’s nothing on TV” has long been a common phrase in households around the world, but now I’m beginning hear people express disappointment with the quality and availability of good stuff on the Internet.  This has just gotta be absurd, right!?  Well, perhaps not.

There can be absolutely no doubting that the Internet is anything but boring.  There are billions of websites out there and so much fantastic content that it would be impossible to get bored.  Everything from games to videos, interactive websites, chat, education it’s all there and there’s so much of it.

The problem arises when you have to find this content.  How many of you, and feel free to comment below, generally tend to go to the same websites day-in day-out, week-in, week-out?  You’d probably be surprised just how many people don’t experience the broader Internet.

I would include myself in this.  I have a hard-core of about 30 websites I visit on a regular basis and outside of that I tend not to explore too much for fun.

So why is this?  The problem lies in being able to find and access that content.  Back in the early days of the Internet we had services such as Yahoo! and AOL.  These companies aggregated content into portals and delivered us chunks of the Internet that were vetted, relevant to their users and interesting.  There was frequent criticism though of these services, especially AOL, just giving people access to a small walled-garden, and not to the wider world.  Eventually they fell out of favour with the general public and companies like Google stepped up to fill the gap.

Google’s approach made a lot of sense to people, they would place at or near the top of their search results the websites that people used the most, that were the highest rated and linked to.  If you searched for anything on Google in the early days then you could guarantee to get the most popular websites for whatever category you wanted.

But then the Internet exploded in size and became commercialised.  Now for any search you perform you’ll have to wade through a mountain of sales, price comparison, fake search and other services to find the exciting and engaging content you want.

This is where services like Bing stepped in with its decision engine.  With Bing Microsoft attempted to make search smarter by predicting what it was you were really looking for and giving you that.  It is a popular approach and one that’s now often copied.  The problem with this approach though is that these heuristic search engines rarely work properly or effectively.  Whatever you search for you will still be bombarded with fake sites, search sites, price comparison and shopping sites and so on.

What the Internet needs, and needs badly, is a way to be able to aggregate the most fantastic content on the web so that you can find it quickly, efficiently and with the minimum of fuss.

To a certain extent social networking websites have stepped into the mould here and Facebook has been particularly successful at helping people to find and share engaging and interesting content.  Even Facebook now though is beginning to sag under their weight of commercialism and it’s turning people away.  I’ve seen regular Facebookers’ using the service much less than they used to as a result.

So what’s the solution?  One section of society already has it.  Young children have plenty of services tailored for them where not only the most appropriate content but also the most interesting content is aggregated from across the web.  These services aren’t free but they’re an invaluable extra for parents who want to keep their children engaged, entertained and educated, while at the same time keeping them safe from advertising and inappropriate content.

Could a similar service work for adults?  I’d argue that yes it would, and moreover that it would be something that a great many people would be prepared to pay for.

Heuristic technologies exist today that can deliver this.  Companies can use their own computer systems and black/white lists to block inappropriate content.  They can monitor what websites and content we like and enjoy, give us more like that and ask us with questionnaires what subjects we like and what types of experiences we want online.

Is this giving up valuable information to advertisers who can deliver targeted ads to you?  Is this giving up the freedom to experience a truly independent Internet?  The answer to both questions is yes, but I’m not sure how many people would be too concerned.

Another walled garden, or a choice of them, where we could easily find and experience the best on the Internet that’s relevant to us would be a very valuable service indeed.  In fact as social networking has to evolve into something I would argue that this is one distinctly possible future.

The Internet is simply too big to navigate on your own.  We’ll never find all the best stuff out there and the main search engines are all letting us down in this regard.

So bring on the walled garden, make the Internet fun and engaging again and keep us busy and occupied for years to come.  It wouldn’t be our only way to experience the web, just a portal website or browser plug-in that we could use.  We’d also still have Google, Bing and all the traditional ways of find our way around.  It would be an invaluable service for many however an I’d certainly pay something for that!

© Mike Halsey (MVP) for gHacks Technology News, 2011. | Permalink | Add to del.icio.us, digg, facebook, reddit, twitter
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