Caffeinated Simpleton

The Internet is Fluff

I’ve written three blog posts recently, all at various technical levels. The first was a post about a little JavaScript class library called Cobra that I had written. It detailed what problems the library solved and how to use it. The library was nothing special, just a few lines, but it was unique and got a thousand views or so. The next post was a very technical post on how and why Cobra was written the way it was. It assumed the reader had a fairly good knowledge of JavaScript and went into some deep issues on how the internals of inheritance and scoping work in JavaScript. It got very little attention. My last post was mostly fluff. It just talked about how I’ve hopped on the git bandwagon. Nothing controversial, nothing enlightening, nothing really worth reading. It has been, by far, the most popular of the three.

This bothers me. It does not bother me that my blog is not that popular; I keep it mostly for me. It does not bother me that posts that are deeply technical are not the most popular articles. I might not be a very good writer, and I might not be saying anything that interesting. What does bother me is that the most helpful posts I have written are probably going to be the least read. The only true value on this blog is posts that go into the internals of how something works. These are the posts that, hopefully, people will read and get something out of. I do a lot of work gathering the knowledge that I do have, and if I can pass it on efficiently, then I am accomplishing my goal. However, Google is the reality of how the internet works. If Google doesn’t see a lot of links coming into your page, then you won’t get any visitors. That’s fine, except that you also won’t get that one guy who really wants to understand the internals of JavaScript inheritance; that one guy who really just wants a library to allow some consistency in JavaScript class declarations without getting in the way.

Now I’m not saying I’m the one guy who can answer these questions. JavaScript inheritance is fairly well covered by the likes of JavaScript gurus Douglas Crockford and John Resig. However, the concept extends well beyond this specific topic. When a person develops a deeply technical knowledge on a new topic, his knowledge will be lost to the internet until enough people have developed the same knowledge to recognize the first guy’s contributions. Once there is a big enough base, all these people can cross reference each other and gain critical mass on google. Then, finally, the topic can hit the mainstream. The problem is, the necessary knowledge for a less technical person to get into a topic was there months, or even years ago. It was just impossible to find.

Solving this problem is really, really hard. Ideally, a search engine could capture the meaning of an article and register that it is something original, something that explains something generally not known. It would then have to infer that a person searching wants something more technical than what he has found so far. I would go as far as to say that today, that’s impossible. Instead, the “semantic web” is probably the evolution that has to happen to make this work. With quality tagging, I should be able to indicate that an article is about JavaScript, inheritance, and that it is not for beginners. I should be able to indicate that links to other articles about JavaScript inheritance are not just random links to things I’m discussing, but are references to articles that deal with the exact same issue. I should be able to indicate which references explain things at a higher level and which give a more general overview. I should be able to qualify how the rest of the body of knowledge relates to my small contribution.

This, in my mind, is the promise of the semantic web. The problem is, of course, that it requires a lot more work. As an author, I have to describe how my contribution fits into the rest of the web. As a search engine, results are less a linear ranking, and more a web of how topics interrelate. Designing an interface that pulls in all the relevant information and is still easy to use will be difficult.

Someday somebody will figure out how to achieve similar results without the up front effort. Otherwise, my dreams will probably never be achieved. Until then, however, I’ll continue to watch as baseless opinions win the day and potentially new knowledge is lost in the sludge somewhere near the end of Google’s long tail.

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