An old book and today's web
In a recent email conversation with Manuel, I mentioned this artifact from my youth:
This book was was edited, printed and marketed by a reputable German publishing house and bought by my mother in 2000. Neither production, nor purchase involved any kind of irony or hipster humor. And more than that tells something about some generational viewpoints and tendencies, it tells a story about a web that felt and was different than today's web: The dot-com bubble had not burst at that point in time. Neither was Wikipedia founded, nor had Google yet become an eponym for search. Search results were incomplete and lacking. Finding information was far from feeling like a solved problem.
Fast forward only a few years and everything had changed. Search quality improved to a point, that I started to form the assumption that I won't ever need bookmarks anymore, for I will be able to retrieve any information I want with a simple query. Just, that wasn't quite the end of history. Today both retrieval and content discovery seem to be problems that are look for a new solution. For the open flank, in the light of the stellar rise of capabilities and general availability of Large Language Models and the perverse incentives of SEO, is trust.
There is infinite storage for content, but the time to wade through it is quite finite. So whose recommendation do I trust? The service that delivers results that are okay-ish, just good enough capture my attention and promptly sell it to the highest bidder - or a person I can converse with, that might have a reputation to lose and who probably has already demonstrated their sense of taste and style to me in their writings?
Certainly, from the demise of Yahoo's directory we can draw a lesson that human edited directories don't scale with the amount of content available (which is of course trivially true). But why on earth would a sane person be interested in the whole web? What I want to see are the parts that still are a labor of love and conviction.
If I were to create a directory, my first editorial principle would be that the content must be be worth my time. The second principle would be, that visitors shall be treated like humans, and not as a bunch of suckers from which one might be able to extract a few cents (as beautifully illustrated here).
Coming back to this little web directory in printed form, with 23 years of hindsight, it still manages to convey two things to me: one is that preservation of digital artifacts is a hard and pressing issue (itself serves as an example in two ways, as you see: the big Yahoo directory is gone for good, this book is still there, and of course it is largely useless for as many of its URL have rotten away) and secondly, content curation is an act that creates value. Albeit, if the price tag of 29,95 DM was an appropriate expression of that value might be a point for a whole different discussion.