The number of web pages on the network is at around 20 billion. The rate of growth of that number continues to rise. We describe the “space” that these pages occupy as a cloud. The number of travelers through the network cloud continues to increase as well.
The cloud is opaque. While everything is a click away; visibility is close to zero. The only visibility we have to other locations is through the presence of hyperlinks on a page. Were we to stand at the boundary of a collection of pages and attempt to peer in to the cloud to see contiguous space, we would see nothing.
Think of destinations and starting points on the network. Where do you start and where do you end up? A search engine that indexes all 20 billion pages can potentially link you to every possible destination on the network. A start page, or portal, provides a curated collection of links giving you visibility into the new and the popular. Sometimes the hyperlinks of a portal are only inward looking within its own small collection. Other times the links connect outward as well. While portals provide search, they are fundamentally different ways of looking into the cloud.
We are blind as we travel through the cloud; we cannot see beyond our current page. To understand the success of search engines as a business you must realize that they provide a sense of vision into the darkness. A third method of seeing is emerging, and its impact is growing daily. We are gathering as tribes on web sites that enable social networks within the cloud. When we want to know what’s out there and what’s worth traveling to, we ask our friends.
When confronted with a cloud of unknowing, do we turn to the absolute knowledge of the machine or our flawed set of human relations?