Have you tried search lately? I am not talking about a search for a local business or a product you want to buy, but searching for a topic that interested you? Did you find your results were limited to just a handful of sites? How many of those were related to ecommerce? For many of us, search has become a necessary but mediocre part of life. We learn to add Reddit to our search terms, or we go straight to sources like YouTube or TikTok hoping to bring us relevant results more quickly.

Search is terrible, and we can point the finger at a lot of different web trends. But really, the majority of the blame can be heaped upon Google. Yes, at one point they had a search engine that was so revolutionary that it became synonymous with search. Those days are long gone. Google is still the top dog, but it maintains that lead by locking people into a search engine by sheer force of money.

Cory Doctorow sums it up best when talking about the enshittification of Google:

In the enshittification cycle, companies first lure in users with surpluses — like providing the best search results rather than the most profitable ones — with an eye to locking them in. In Google’s case, that lock-in has multiple facets, but the big one is spending billions of dollars — enough to buy a whole Twitter, every single year — to be the default search everywhere.

Google doesn’t buy its way to dominance because it has the very best search results and it wants to shield you from inferior competitors. The economically rational case for buying default position is that preventing competition is more profitable than succeeding by outperforming competitors. The best reason to buy the default everywhere is that it lets you lower quality without losing business. You can “ignore the demand side, and only focus on advertisers.”

Cory Doctorow

We keep using Google, not just because we are locked into it, but also because the competition all tries to base itself on the paradigm that Google established. So we have Google knockoffs that have a hard time monetizing a model in a way different from the way Google did. We have seen some interesting attempts by companies to at least preserve privacy, like DuckDuckGo, or those that allow you to control personalization, such as You.com. These have been helpful, but a bigger change to search has been percolating over the last year.

With significant resources being poured into AI, Bing and Google are starting to serve search results powered by their AI efforts. The results can be fine, but they have a ways to go until they can be trusted and meaningful.

As bloggers, what does this mean for us?

How does our writing, which in many cases, has helped build these models, get surfaced in this brave new world? As a reference link? Would anyone ever click through? How will the content be vetted or weighted to appear? If that is all that is served up from your writing, is it even worth writing on the web?

Unless something changes, independent bloggers are going to get squeezed out of the web completely. Which I would argue is long overdue. We are already at the whim of powerful companies making decision that are beyond our control.

What happens next can be the end, or it could be the start of something great. We are either driven off the web completely or forced to embrace new, smaller paradigms. They already exist, but they are run by companies that are going down the same path that Google blazed.

Imagine moving to platforms that aggregate or serve up their material via email newsletters while still being available on the open web. Yes, these exist already, but picture one where Substack is not controlling them, you are.

These aggregation platforms will become islands of content that find audiences for writers outside the existing search ecosystem. To that end, it is important to start thinking about what these type of communities might function, and how can they be democratized and connected to one another? Not only do we need freedom to connect with an audience, but the ability to decide who sees and interacts with what we create.

A model already exists with federated platforms like WriteFreely, but more variation and participation is needed. As we venture into this new era, the call for innovation beckons us to not only embrace existing platforms like WriteFreely but also to pioneer the development of new ones that champion the principles of decentralization, privacy, and community governance. This diversification of platforms will not only provide more options for content creators to share their work, but also empower users to curate according to their preferences and values.

Navigating the internet’s evolving landscape presents daunting challenges for bloggers and content creators. The dominance of a few platforms, led by Google, has reshaped the way we search for and consume information, often to the detriment of independent voices. However, amidst this landscape, there lies a burgeoning opportunity for innovation and the reclamation of the web’s democratic ethos.

By moving towards alternative independent platforms and embracing models that prioritize community, privacy, and direct engagement, we can carve out new spaces for meaningful discourse and connection. The road ahead is uncertain, but it is ripe with potential for those willing to explore and redefine the boundaries of content creation and distribution.

This could mark the overdue end of an era or merely continue the slow decline in open web quality. But for change to happen, action needs to be taken. We have a chance to build a more inclusive and diverse online world, where every voice has the chance to be heard, and every story has the space to unfold. The future of blogging and content creation, promising a space where creativity and community thrive, may differ from the past, free from yesterday’s constraints.