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Online Communities on the Web

The first version of the Web wasn’t about connecting people to one another; it was about connecting people to information. It was a universal system for information retrieval, where everything was interrelated by hyperlinks. It followed ideas established in text-based linked directories such as Gopher.

At that time, there were other protocols and applications for communication, from email to chat rooms to instant messaging, so the Web was more focused on information retrieval. The Web’s first destinations were directories and search engines, such as AltaVista, shown in its early form in Figure 11-4.

Deciding What Mattered

Directories weren’t enough. Once the world had tasted the Web, and found it good, it needed tools to make it better. As the number of destinations on the Internet grew, users needed ways to find out what was interesting. Search engines based on relevance algorithms (such as Google’s PageRank) provided better, more up-to-date results than static directories.

Eventually, communities emerged that could suggest good content. As we now know, groups of web users are great at figuring out which destinations are interesting, because they can quickly flag bad sites and throw the weight of their numbers behind good ones. Slashdot, Reddit, and Digg, shown in Figure 11-5, are examples of dominant aggregation communities today.

Community recommendation reflected a shift in how the Internet worked. Instead of users deciding what they were interested ...

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