by Patrick Appel
A reader writes:
The Web-Google-Wikipedia monoculture may, in fact, be a bad thing, or at least a phenomena of high risk and negative side-effects, but to call it a "fundamental failure of the Web as an information-delivery service" is to show a fundamental lack of understanding of how systems work. Systemic integration always comes at the price of the diversity that emerges within isolated niches.
On a grand scale, when all the land masses of the earth were shoved together, biological diversity dwindled as successful species had few insurmountable barriers to expanding their territories. Conversely, separated continents and isolated islands made for extreme diversity, as Darwin noted in the Galapagos Islands. This global diversity began to collapse, not due to the remerging of the continents, but because the human race overcame the barriers of geographic isolation.
Other systems are similarly vulnerable. Diverse local economies give way to the monocultures of global trade. The plethora of local dialects give way to both mass media and to other global systems that require a common language (such as international air traffic control). "Mom and Pop" stores and local diners with distinct local cuisines give way to a homogenized food culture, not so much because of the multinational corporation (though that plays its part), but because of a nationally integrated highway system. Global systems are inevitably more homogenous than isolated systems. A loss of diversity is always the price of a globalized system. So to call the homogenization of a globalized information network a "failure" is to beg the question of how much success is feasible in anything other than a dream of what globalization could (but really can't) be.
If you want more diversity in the Web, the solution is simple. Put up more barriers of one kind or another. Diversity will bloom. In fact, if you want to find places in the web where Google is not dominant, look for the places where Google is blocked. The services available may not be up to Google standards, but that's not the point. By being able to evolve without competing for "habitat" with Google, they will become systemic species unto themselves. That's what diversity means.