Does the Web Get Smaller as Usage Grows?

The web was a strange and exciting place during its infancy. It offered choice. Consider how many search engines existed 10 years ago. I’ve forgotten more than I remember, but I regularly used Altavista, Excite, Hotbot, Lycos, Web Crawler and others. While some these sites still exist, they’re a shadow of their former selves. Today, web search is dominated by three engines and that will shortly become two.

It’s the same for social networking. Web2.0 brought us a flurry of websites, yet today we’re left with Facebook and, to a lesser extent, Twitter. MySpace is struggling and AOL is planning to sell or shut down Bebo just two years after after buying it for $1 billion.

You want video? Why visit anywhere other than YouTube? Want to go shopping? Do many web users venture beyond Amazon or eBay?

Web Gets SmallerThe web has converged. Although more sites are created every day, few users look beyond a handful of regularly-visited bookmarks. Perhaps it’s not surprising:

  • Few companies survive without a viable revenue model. YouTube and Twitter are yet to make money — how could a competing site do better and make money?
  • It’s rare for a site to continue if it can’t attract a critical mass of users. Facebook became successful because of the number of registered users. A competitor would have difficulty persuading users to switch to another system — especially when none of their friends are using it.

Chris Anderson’s “Long Tail” theory is still relevant. Selling small quantities of niche items can be as good as selling large quantities of popular items. But has everyone become a long-tail supplier now there’s little hope of competing with the 20 or so major players?

Independent traders have all but disappeared from some high streets. Is the predominance of large corporations causing the same to happen on the web? It’s less of a problem — physical space is not an issue and there are fewer barriers to entry — but I can’t help thinking we’ve lost something. Is big business sucking variety, excitement and innovation from the web?

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  • http://www.thecreativesheep.ca SiberianHuskey

    The Web is shrinking because corporations want it too. As the author mentioned there will be two search engines, the amount of web pages with the information you want will shrink as companies by out smaller companies and the control over the Internet increases, is it right ? No the same can be said in comparison to Mom&Pop Shops opening in your neighbourhood only to have a few months or a year later a major store chain opening up killing the Mom&Pop shops, is that right ? No once again.

    In all fairness and this maybe going a little OT I don’t know where they expect things to go if everything is owned by one or two corporations. A prime example of this is the country we know so well the United States of America everything couldn’t be going worse for them and only the Exec don’t seem to be worrying or Richard Brandson.

    It’s trickling throughout the world, very scary.

  • NetNerd85

    There is plenty out there for those that are looking Craig. Blogs are a great example of independent information.

    Little hope? I strongly disagree. Not everyone wants to be big or be found. You obviously don’t do much web surfing or have no hobbies with that kind of view. Maybe you should go stumbling… http://www.stumbleupon.com/

    Price and quality of service/product are king though. Also, some people run away when they see no activity in a website or a bad web design.

  • http://www.daniel-groves.co.uk dgroves

    I don’t think the web gets any smaller, it just changed. More and more sites are being launched everyday, this means that web is growing.

    People find one site they really like and will as a result keep on returning to that site to do the same job over and over again. If that site does something to upset it’s users then they will go somewhere else – the competition.

    What is actually happening in reality is people are just thinning the sites they use, until they want something new. Think about the number of blogs out their! Every time someone want to learn how to do something new they hit google (or similar) and the chances are they will come across a blog that teaches them how to do it.

    So, what am I saying? No, it’s getting bigger. It’s the users stretch that is getting smaller.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    @NetNerd85

    Little hope? I strongly disagree. Not everyone wants to be big or be found.

    Absolutely. That’s a perfect example of the long tail in action. However, do you think there will ever be viable competitors to Google search, YouTube, Facebook, eBay or wikipedia? It’s almost impossible to enter the those markets.

    @dgroves

    If that site does something to upset it’s users then they will go somewhere else

    That used to be easy, but I’m not so sure now. For example, you could abandon Facebook, but where else would you go? Could you persuade your friends to move too? You could abandon Google for Bing, but what would happen if that service annoyed you?

    The web is growing, sure, but several key areas have less choice than they did several years ago.

  • NetNerd85

    However, do you think there will ever be viable competitors to Google search, YouTube, Facebook, eBay or wikipedia? It’s almost impossible to enter the those markets.

    People said the same thing about Microsoft Windows and MS IE. Apple has taken a bit more market share, not sure why but they have. More and more people seem to be turning to their laptops (co-workers, friends etc). And do I need mention Chrome or Firefox.

    The same can be said for physical companies. Look at the media, Mr Murdoch controls alot with his news corp. It seems you’ve got no chance up against his vast empire. Unless, the people suddenly go off everything news corp puts out. The larger they are, the harder they fall. Remember that, the mighty, always, always go down sooner or later.

    Personally I use Bing now, when it first came out I used it for a bit, went back to Google now back to Bing. At this stage you still have to use both to get what you want. But Bing has the pretty pictures of places… I’ve mapped out some interesting “places to visit” thanks to Bing.

    I agree with what dgroves said about people limiting their list of websites to visit. It’s a very good point. Maybe after so many years online we are all just getting bored with simply just looking for something new?

    The internet is always changing. Big companies can’t always change fast enough.

  • Andy White

    …do you think there will ever be viable competitors to Google search, YouTube, Facebook, eBay or wikipedia? It’s almost impossible to enter the those markets.

    I suspect we’ll see niche competitors spring up. Hulu, for example, are competing with YouTube in some ways (they offer video over the web) but in another sense, they’re a different niche (not user-contributed – licensed stuff by big-money media creators).

    In some sense you’re right – it’s hard to displace an existing player. A good business model shouldn’t care about that though; to be truly disruptive and effective you’ve got to do something innovative enough that the old guard are “not even wrong”.

    Whole ecosystems of service providers are popping up leveraging existing tools to make money. We’re an example: SitePoint is using Google Search, and Kev’s new Javascript Live course will be using YouTube to deliver video.

    In my opinion, there’s plenty of room for new things to flourish!

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    @Andy White
    Thanks Andy. Again, Hulu is a great example of another long-tail company.

    Disruptive companies are certain to appear, but I suspect they’ll use the existing systems in different ways. For example, a new social network which improved on all others might have to use Facebook’s login and data-sharing mechanisms to get a foothold in the market.

  • @Danny_Fr

    The web does indeed give the impression to be shrinking.
    But I think it has more to do with the standardization of the current sharing/editing platforms.
    When I accessed the internet for the first time, in 1998, there would be a ton of unorganized source of in formation, with a limited or nonexistent authority, an the communication between users was nothing compared to was it is now.

    Today, information is more centralized, thinking that the Web is shrunk down to Wikipedia and Facebook is both understandable and pretty wrong.
    All the “personal websites”, later replace by personal blogs are being supplanted by social websites, which give users the opportunity to share faster and sometimes much better.

    Nothing got smaller, it just changed shape. :)