The internet has been an ever-present part of my life since I was a small child. I’ve seen the online landscape change before my very eyes as I’ve grown older. It feels a lot less “free” than it used to. Everything is about gaming the system now. Having your own little corner of the internet is not a thing anymore. Everyone gets funneled into a select few platforms, and that’s where people will spend the majority of their time online. Everything is dictated by algorithms and optimization.
I recognize the positives of SEO. With how oversaturated the web is becoming, you need to take every step to stay ahead of the curve, or you risk falling behind into irrelevancy. The consequence of this is you can no longer organically discover niche parts of the internet. Everything is trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Everything is trying to be marketable. You don’t even know what you want anymore, only the algorithm can know that.
The article outlining the “15 Reasons Why Your Business Absolutely Needs SEO” talks about the fight for those first page results. If it’s not on the first page, sorry, it’s never getting seen. The goal is to improve the user experience, but I think we’re letting the machines do too much of the heavy lifting. I would wager that a lot of kids nowadays are less technologically literate than the kids of 10 years ago. I do not know many young people who own a desktop computer anymore. Some own laptops, but that’s usually just for school or work. Everyone surfs the web on their mobile device now, if you can even call it surfing the web. People will use a few social platforms, let the algorithm feed them low-effort content, and then never venture outside of that safe little box.
I’ve noticed that because of all this, people are getting really bad at finding things online. If it’s not on the first page of Google, a lot of people just give up. Most people aren’t even aware of all the extra tools you can use within Google to narrow down your searches, such as:
- Search only for a specific site by using the operator “site:” in your search (example: full semester outline site:posiel.com”
- The “site:” operator can also be used to search specific top-level domains (example: site:.gov)
- Exclude certain search terms with “-” (example: News -CNN -CBC)
- Include “filetype:” to look for certain files (example: Canadian Census filetype:.PDF)
This is just a short list of tools Google lets you use to improve your searches, but most people will never even learn about these (There’s a very helpful list at the bottom of this article if you want to learn more). On top of all that, people rarely even venture outside of Google for search results. I’ve found sometimes even switching to another engine like DuckDuckGo will help you find what you’re looking for better than Google.
I’m not knocking SEO, it’s a necessary tool, but it is causing people to lose their digital literacy. If you’re used to always being presented with a first-page answer, what will you do when you can’t find that?
I love the Deep Web. Ever since I first heard about it as a teenager, I found the concept absolutely fascinating. This idea that we can’t see the majority of the internet, or at least not easily. I think it’s the same sort of appeal that things such as crime movies have, a look into this dark underbelly of the world that is normally hidden from us.
It’s important to distinguish the Deep Web and the Dark Web. The www.brightplanet.com/2014/03/clearing-confusion-deep-web-vs-dark-web/ does a good job of this. I’ve never personally been on the Dark Web. I’ve never downloaded Tor, but I have friends that use it. I am, however, a big fan of the Deep Web, all that data that is uncategorized by search engines, yet still accessible. Most people have probably accessed the Deep Web without even realizing. Searching the SFU Library’s catalogue, as an example, would be browsing the Deep Web. But this is rather mundane. The Deep Web can house very useful things if you know where to look.
There’s a website I’m a member of. It’s a forum. The forum is not indexed on any search engine, at least none that I tried. It can only be accessed by knowing the URL. Even if one knows the URL, they will be greeted by a plain login screen and a link to a forum category of “important announcements”. There are two announcements here: One with instructions in case you’ve lost your password, and one announcing that site registration has been disabled and they “will not be opening registrations again, please don’t ask.”. Nothing here indicates what exactly the site is.
I made an account before they disable registration, back when the site was still indexed by search engines. So, what is the purpose of this site you’re wondering?
Good ol’ fashion file sharing, baby.
People get together to share files. Nothing malicious in nature, mainly just media. You can find apps, games, movies, tv shows, music, anything you want here. I still use some streaming services, because they are admittedly more convenient, but what if content doesn’t exist on streaming? And I don’t mean the content is on a platform you’re not subscribed to, I mean the content isn’t on any platform at all. Sometimes no service has bought the rights to it, sometimes content is locked to a specific region. For one reason or another, some content is just borderline inaccessible. File sharing removes this issue. If there’s something I can’t find on streaming, this forum has always come in handy.
This forum is so fascinating to me. It’s a self contained community completely cut off from the rest of the internet. I’m never worried about the safety of the files here due to the closed-off nature of the site. Registration closed almost four years ago, so there are no users joining just to give people malware. Every member has been around for years, and everyone trusts each other. Everyone has this joint understanding to stay lowkey and not to post anything that could result in the site getting taken down. The site is run off of donations, and all the files are hosted on an encrypted service. To almost everyone, this site simply doesn’t exist.
It’s weird to think that sites like this used to exist everywhere. LimeWire and Napster were household names, but now all of that has been pushed underground. You need to have a solid grasp of the internet to find this stuff nowadays (or you could just torrent, which from what I understand is extremely easy).
I hate that we’re losing that wild west feeling the internet once had. Hidden corners like this brings me joy. Parts of the internet used to have such unique culture, but that’s dying off as everything gets optimized and corporatized.
Some of my favourite “weird” art wouldn’t exist without online culture. My favourite band, Death Grips, have been massively influenced by the internet throughout their career, especially so in their third album, NO LOVE DEEP WEB. Promotion of the album involved an alternate reality game (ARG) taking place primarily on the Dark Web through Tor. After they announced the album, an anonymous post was made hours later on 4chan with an edited picture of the band and a Tor download link. This kicked off a scavenger hunt through the Dark Web many encrypted files, hidden links, and cryptic mailing lists. It was a type of promotion never seen before that wouldn’t be possible without the internet.
Eventually, the band started having label disputes. They wanted to release the album on October 23rd, 2012, but Epic Records didn’t want it released until the following year. In turn, Death Grips leaked the album themselves on October 1st, 2012, which resulted in them getting dropped from Epic. Afterwards, they posted the emails from Epic to their Facebook page.
This album stands out to me not just due to the music (give it a listen, it’s unlike anything you’ve heard), but the insane marketing behind it. From the ARG, to the leak, to the in-your-face album cover (I’ve uploaded the censored version, but I’ll let you take a guess as to what’s behind that black bar).When interviewed by Pitchfork a few months after the album released, the band’s drummer, Zach Hill, was asked about the influence of the Deep/Dark Web on the project:
Pitchfork: You mentioned earlier that your brother is a gamer. So the DEEP WEB half of the last album was informed by him?
ZH: Yeah. We were talking about [shadow internet sites] Silk Road and Onion Land. He was talking about being active in deep web and doing his thing down there. I hadn’t heard the term “deep web” but when I found out about it, I was like, “Dude, that’s fucking sick.” I just liked how it sounded, so I wrote it down on a piece of paper. We were already planning on calling the album NO LOVE, but Stefan saw it in our apartment and was like, “It should be NO LOVE DEEP WEB*.”*
Pitchfork: What did you like about that phrase’s connotations?
ZH: We are totally interested in internet culture and inspired by a lot of aspects of it. Everything I’m talking about as far as transparency and human progression– the internet simultaneously pushes people in a direction towards getting past genres, because it’s so saturated and mixed and free, but it also breeds a lot of lower-level thinking and ignorance. Chaos is another thing we find very inspiring, in theory and nature and human nature. It’s highly relatable to the deep web or internet in general, in terms of information chaos. What people experience on the internet everyday is like the foam at the top; there are sub-levels where all of this other information goes. It’s an abyss. It’s also relatable to human emotions that are similarly incalculable. You can’t physically see where these things are stored. There’s a chaotic aspect to that, too.
This old-school internet we used to exist in inspired people. It was weird, it was unknown, it was fucking cool. Now everything is getting sanitized and dumbed down. You don’t see artists taking inspiration from Twitter (Ok, that might not be entirely true). Still, it bums me out that the internet I once knew is becoming but a relic of the past. But hey, at least you can be on the first page.