There’s a new digital divide, a fissure opening wider and wider as the social web makes encroachment into most forms of information. You may have heard of the ‘darknets’ — unseen networks of computers for filesharing — networks you’re only allowed onto if you’re trusted not to give the game away. What I think I’m seeing the emergence of is almost the exact opposite, but increasingly disconnected.
There are hundreds of websites, lovingly researched and maintained by enthusiastic and knowledgeable people, that it’s becoming almost impossible to find. The sites are built on old technology, and that contributes to their decreasing visibility but it’s not the only reason. The lack of RSS feeds, pinging servers, dynamically generated sitemaps and up-to-date robots.txt files makes it more difficult for other sites to keep in touch with them. That they are often built in HTML by hand makes them more difficult to update, and fresh content is prized by search engines.
The lack of RSS and knowing when updates occur also decreases people’s awareness of the sites, you either have to remember they’re there and how you found them — or bookmark — and check for updates on a regular schedule. Less reminders, less nudges, so less incoming links.
They are often in very niche areas, like local history, local news, and so generate a limited number of hyperlinks from other sites. They often only get links from each other, which is great in a community sense but means the incoming links are low in pagerank (which would push them higher up Google searches).
As more and more sites get better and better at search engine optimisation, as blogs and other social websites link and link again and expand into more areas, and as Google relies on the same sources more and more the sites are getting less and less visible.
And that’s bad because they have a wealth of important content that we need to be able to find.
I’m calling it the ‘hinternet‘.
(From hinterland, in German the part of a country where only few people live and where the infrastructure is underdeveloped.)
Solving the problem is a tricky one: Google’s mission to index the entire World’s information doesn’t always mean that we can find what we’re searching for, the semantic web will only work if the correct metadata is stored with the hinternet sites (and they’re already often “behind” technology-wise).
Search needs to get better, but us on the social-web also need to help. We need not only to link to these sites, but — where we can — help nudge the guardians of the hinternet towards greater visability by becoming “social”.