Is surfing the internet dead?

I saw a few people asking this on Twitter lately, but my views don’t quite fit into a tweet.  Ten to fifteen years ago, I remember the joys of just finding things, clicking links through to other links, and in general meandering through a thick, messy, exhilarating garden.

Today you can’t do that as much.  Many media sites are gated, a lot of the personal content is in the walled garden of Facebook, and blogs and personal home pages are not as significant as before.  Then there is the email subscription newsletter, whether free or paid.  All you can do in fact is visit and a few other sites and hope their proprietors have not been sleeping since you last stopped by.

That said, I do not feel that time on the internet has become an inferior experience.  It’s just that these days you find most things by Twitter.  You don’t have to surf, because this aggregator performs a surfing-like function for you.  Scroll rather than surf, you could say (“scrolling alone,” said somebody on Twitter).

And if you hate Twitter, it is your fault for following the wrong people (try hating yourself instead!).  Follow experts and people of substance, not people who seek to lower the status of others.  And if you’re really feeling the internet to be rather empty, head on over to Twitter search, still the most underrated single thing on the internet today (the MR search function is another underrated corner of the internet).  Type in words of interest, such as “Ethiopia,” and what comes up will be gold.

It’s a different method today, and it uses a more centralized portal, but no the internet is not in decline.  Not yet at least.


Well there is still Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is usually second rate and inaccurate when it is not actively hijacked by liars.

At its best it is a mostly biased source for bibliographical information.

Imagine having read, say, the Book of Exodus with understanding, and then, a month or two later, reading what the generic Wikipedian has to say on the subject.

The question answers itself.

Look I like prostitutes, some of the finest women in the world are prostitutes, but Wikipedia is to real knowledge what prostitution is to love between spouses.

If you do spend a few minutes on Wikipedia, do yourself an intellectual favor, don't be sloppy: for every ten minutes reading Wikipedia, read twice as many minutes straight from a good translation of the Bible, or of some really good work of literature in the Western tradition (unless of course you are capable of appreciating with similar truthfulness works in a non-Western tradition - odds of the people who can do so reading this comment are near zero, but one tries)

Outside of contemporary politics (and maybe politics in general) I've always found wikipedia to be pretty reliable, though usually basic. Do you have any examples of pages which are second rate or inaccurate?

I have it on good authority that many of the pages on especially technical concepts contain many gross inaccuracies that are undetectable to laymen.

Speaking only from my own field, pages on important but dull topics are often underbaked and badly glossed, commonly held positions are often represented as ‘truth’ (which is egregious), there is very often undue weight given to marginal viewpoints that are politically popular, etc.

I trust Wikipedia the way I trust cable news. If I know nothing, I might learn enough to begin learning more. But if my opinion is formed by it, I’m worse than ignorant.

Did you correct the pages that were as you say underbaked and badly glossed? Wikipedia, unlink say Fox News, allows readers to edit entries and add to the pool of knowledge.

also unlike say Fox News, Wikipedia allows readers to edit entries and subtract from the pool of knowledge.

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"commonly held positions are often represented as ‘truth’ (which is egregious)"

The same is true about my 1990 Britannica Encyclopedia set.

A very rare good point by Thiago. Well done, old bean.


Concur, it was a good point.

What can I say? A ming is a terrible thing to waste.

Wikipedia has ossified under a priesthood of senior editors, such that the ability of outsiders to edit its content -- and have that edit persist -- is now quite limited.

I think your point is true for larger, more popular articles, but you can still freely edit smaller ones without much scrutiny.

Tom T - " ... limited."

Isn't that a good thing? If you have expertise in a subject and you see an error, wouldn't it be a good thing for you to correct it?

My understanding of the idea behind a wiki is that eventually it converges toward consensus. However, consensus is not necessarily truth, the classic example being the certainty of global warming magnitude and impact projections.

Maybe we should question consensus.

I’m not a hermeneutician, but in my own areas of expertise, i’ve Found Wikipedia to be a solid reference; easily 2stdev above the average google search result.

I suspect this has to do with controversialness. On controversial subjects, Wikipedia becomes terrible in a different way from other sources; it fights within itself to resolve the dominant positions instead of presenting a single position which is coherent, supported by evidence, and wrong.

I remember the wikipedia and Senator Dianne Emiel Goldman Berman Feinstein truthfulness scandal. Apparently, the DF entry was somewhat fictional and Wikipedia was being used as a PR/marketing tool.

Speaking of those new service sector jobs, an entire industry has grown up around the idea of "managing" a person's internet reputation. It is a great opportunity for failed fiction writers - they can substantial cash writing reputation fiction while working on that great novel.

What can we believe is true anymore?

...they can "make" substantial cash ...


I read works from the western tradition like Das Kapital by Karl Marx, the Feminine Mystique by Friedan, the Autobiography of Malcolm X and yes, Wikipedia does not hold a candle to first hand sources.

"and yes, Wikipedia does not hold a candle to first hand sources."...
Almost as if it were, you know, an encyclopedia, not a substitute for first hand sources.

Lol, exactly.

But seriously who reads Das Kapital these days? I suppose good old Karl was cutting edge and interesting in his day and age, but if HE were alive he’d be debating Sam Harris and reading Pinker and John Gray, no?

Marxist topics are an especially tendentious weakness of Wikipedia.

I OD'd on John Gray YouTube videos last night. I read his book "Straw Dogs" a long time ago. The different formats for content aren't mutually exclusive. Why not use blogs, websites, Twitter, Wikipedia, books, newspapers, and YouTube?

Personally, I think YouTube is underrated by the intelligencia, especially for "how to" and DIY. You can even watch a real, bonafide debate! You can't even see that at an ivy league school anymore. YouTube is a great and free educational opportunity!

"Personally, I think YouTube is underrated by the intelligencia, especially for "how to" and DIY."

I find YouTube an amazing resource for how to and DIY information. Far better than the traditional route of reading the manual and then calling my nearest subject matter expert.

I replaced the fan unit on my HVAC unit a few weeks ago. And while it would have never been a complex task, it became a 2 hour task with the ability to review some YouTube videos and clarify the connections.

It was the standard kind of situation where the model ships and depending on the sub model code, you have to know to reverse the fan bolts and add a extender to the capacitor wire. That's the kind of item you can figure out over time, but your not sure and you'll probably spend a couple of days trying to confirm it.

Instead, I pulled up some Youtube videos on my phone and had my wife hold the phone while I was making the modifications.

Also, the Fan unit was ordered from Amazon, arrived in two days and was $100 cheaper than the HVAC technician quoted me.

"I read works from the western tradition like Das Kapital by Karl Marx, the Feminine Mystique by Friedan, the Autobiography of Malcolm X"

I'm sorry to hear that, Bjarne, I truly am. It must be rather depressing to think of all the good books you could have read in the time you wasted battling through Marx, Friedan, and Malcolm X.

I think criticisms of Wikipedia are pretty boring at this point, but here's a simple defense:

On any random topic, Wikipedia knows more than me.

Wikipedia is pretty good, which by today's internet standards puts it in the top 10% of information sources.

I've found inaccuracies for sure, and the occasional line that was obviously written by a pure partisan, but these are typically buried deep within a pile of useful, factual information.

Compare this experience to scanning the CNN or WaPo homepage, where you can usually find about five examples of outright lies or hyper-partisan opinions presented as fact -- in the headlines alone.

I cut the cable, and now when I occasionally see CNN's shouting panels I am dumbfounded by the stupidity of it all.

People tune into this everyday?

Wait a sec. Presidents tune into this every day.

Many people have CNN forced upon them in airports, taquerias, and other public places while standing in line bored to death. Humans are easily swayed when they are in a hypnotic and stupified state. CNN becomes reality.

I always bring two really good books and 1o audiobooks on my phone when I travel. There's nothing so stupifying as air travel. I do feel sympathy for farm animals in those interludes of suspended animation.

The burgers don't look so good. Bring your own nuts.

Depends on where you live I guess. I my region of the country the only thing you ever see is Fox News. The stupidity "forced" into the hospital waiting room is thick.

btw, I've cut the cable also. It's shocking to be reintroduced to this kind of garbage.

"Wikipedia is to real knowledge what prostitution is to love between spouses."

Some might take that to mean Wikipedia is filling in a very real gap in "real knowledge" given so many who seek such services do so to address a lack in their relationship with their spouse.

"Wikipedia is to real knowledge what prostitution is to love between spouses."

Yes, it is cheaper and more exciting. Maybe more dangerous.

Twitter? Alrighty then.

A previous link, The Invisible Asymptote, had some interesting things to say about Twitter. Basically that it is "for" infovores and news junkies. I guess I resemble that remark.

While it is much messier (both in terms of clutter and error rate) it has a couple advantages over RSS. It has much faster propagation, and "retweet" means that the expert/admirable people you follow can easily forward a wide variety of content.

I follow 165 people at the moment. I would say that I find half their tweets and retweets interesting, a quarter very interesting. That's a good ratio!

If Twitter could do something to improve their platform it would probably be some kind of questionnaire, or better yet game, that allowed new users to create experimental follow lists.

The right list for you is not easily discoverable in 2 or 3 minutes of clicking. It takes cycles, iterations.

BTW, no one has mentioned this "one cool trick." If you make a Twitter "List" of all your follows, you can look at that list and see the pure timeline, no bs.

You can also use a third party client, like Tweetbot or Twitterrific to have a non-algorithmic timeline (not to mention no ads)

I should probably invest a little time testing those kinds of things.

It seems there may be a conflation between the internet (infrastructure) and the world wide web (content platform). As long as we're talking bits and bytes, there is no decline, but to the extent that 'the web' consists of content linked (like threads in a spider web) from any point to every point, I think siloing in Twitter or facebook does represent the end of something least interesting and Hayekian, if not intrinsically valuable.

Conflation? Probably not, as it seems the very reality of TCP/IP and how it functions is beyond the understanding of the people who own this web site. As demonstrated each time either posts something about net neutrality.

Twitter is more like a peculiar index of the Web than a silo.

I'm perfectly willing to entertain the notion that I'm doing Twitter wrong, but I don't find this to be the case in my experience.

Maybe "running commentary" is more accurate than "index," but with the right people outward links abound. For the infovore that might be the deciding factor.

Maybe @FukuyamaFrancis as an example of a good follow? I don't enjoy every tweet, but he pushes good content, including things that I wouldn't see otherwise.


Oh no, the end of Twitter!

There is too much social pressure on FB to make it useful for interesting discussions, imho.

0 likes - book recommendation, wsj article

1-5 likes - kitty video

30-40 likes - photo of my son in BSA uniform, kids sports, family pics

Hopping from link to link is not really something that anyone ever did, except maybe on Wikipedia when reading about history or something. You start with Google and go from there. In olden times you might go to Usenet/dejanews first, but that's dead.

I never end up on Facebook, that might as well not exist. Twitter sometimes, but it's just a time waster, nothing more.

I'm guessing you were born in 1991, based on your experience of an internet that always had Google to 'start' at.

Yeah. For me it was 'Yahoo'. But Yahoo wasn't even really that good. People surfed because that was how you found stuff. There was no central web-crawling search engine that could get you any web page linked to anything. Younger people probably can't conceptualize the web when it was really just a web - a decentralized network of links that you would hop from one to another to get around.

Still using my RSS feeds as the starting point for most of the surfing. Follow the right sites and it works like a charm.

RSS is still alive and mostly well, and where I read the bulk of my daily content. Please never remove it Tyler.

Twitter is secondary in a good but still feels less fulfilling kind of way. It's mostly good but the completionist in me I think makes me waste far more time on it than is likely ideal, lowering my ROI.

Facebook I've long given up on, as it's only junk food

What RSS reader do you use? I'm trying to find a good one that not only gives me the content from the blogs I follow, but also the comments. Oftentimes, I learn more from the comments section than from the blog post itself. Any recommendations?

Feedly. It's not perfect (nowhere near as good as google reader as a pure, free RSS feeder) but I haven't seen anyone make a case for an alternative.

I use INOREADER. Seems a bit more robust than Feedly but it could just be a preference thing.

I am in the contingent who only went to Twitter because Google Reader died.

For a while I thought it was an inferior substitute, but now I'm not so sure.

Ok, maybe you need to enjoy a little snark in your news.

(This was surfaced in my timeline because Barry Ritholtz "liked" it.)

More seriously, here is a good tweet that uses just a few characters to remind us of context:

(That appeared in my timeline because Christopher Mims "liked" it.)

Never miss an opportunity to signal your TDS.

You nevah know, you might find a self-help group of like minded people, and you like like-mindedness.

Never miss your opportunity to signal anti-rationality.

At this point everyone on the high side of the rational scale knows Trump is a pretty perfect fool. How he got a scattering of votes from people significantly less foolish than him will be a question for the ages. Master's theses for 100 years!

He got those votes by being not-Hillary


Do you believe you are rational?


Listen to philosopher John Gray on the belief in reason and rationality:

Agreed. I built my own RSS reader, and I use it many times per day. I have noticed that more and more new sites (even blogs) don't have RSS feeds any more, which is a shame. I'd say they are still in the minority (at least of the ones I want to subscribe to), but still a disheartening trend.

I surf the blog net. Your daily link dumps are a decent starting point.

I also appreciate my good old-fashioned link dumps! MR of course, though Bookforum ( is probably the very best in terms of slow news and not missing out on anything significant at the global scale.

Another easy way to revel in the joys of traditional Internet surfing is to do some translation work (or shadow translation, ie. imagining that you are translating a document and investigating only the intricacies of the text). I end up with a dump of a few tabs per page and lots of great reading every single time.

I read several blogs that do similar link posts. It is shocking how many of the same links show up on all of them within a few days. I think it is because Tyler and everyone else is copy-pasting links from the same few Twitter influencers.

Yeah, I find this post mind-boggling. Surfing the net is still overwhelmingly common, and outside of the media and politics bubbles, no one uses twitter. Like, literally no one. Unless you're really into political correctness or watch the news for fun, you aren't on Twitter.

" (try hating yourself instead!)"


"Follow experts and people of substance, not people who seek to lower the status of others."

So, not @nntaleb ?

Twitter has a good way of exposing people's flaws, but that's not terrible. Nobody is perfect.

I would say follow people who are either expert or admirable in ways which suit you at this moment in time.

Those same people may say "stupid or annoying things" and indeed the ideal fraction is not zero.

'it is your fault for following the wrong people'

Well, if you say so. Because there is nobody I follow on twitter at all.

'the MR search function is another underrated corner of the internet'

If you say so. It is just a link to old MR content which can be just as easily accessed through a search machine using the terms one is searching for, plus 'marginal revolution' - thus providing not only the content MR wishes to present, but all content that the search machine found when surfing the web. It is also possible to use 'Cowen' or 'Tabarrok' instead of 'marginal revolution,' which can give a considerably wider scope in terms of responses, though less MR focussed.

Man, too soon.

Don't be complacent, enjoy surfing the web, without getting stuck in underrated corner of it.

I don't think I know how to effectively absorb information from Twitter. More specifically, I don't think I know how piece all the tidbits of information onto Twitter into coherent narratives in an efficient manner. Everyone tweets so much, and each individual Tweet is often so lacking in context and explanation, that I find that it is just too much information to digest. How should I improve my ability to scalp Twitter? Any suggestions? Perhaps it is just a matter of experience.

It's not just you. Tweet threads are annoyingly hard to follow, and context is absent from tweets by design.

Ask yourself: What do people who want to make a well-considered point do on Twitter? They either create a long-ass thread, or type something up and post a screen capture of it. Think about that for a moment. You want to share an idea as text, but the magical medium you're using forces you to take a picture of it, then shows a cropped verion of it.

So, what rises to the top on Twitter is pseudo-profound bullshit that gets mistaken for insight.

Twitter is for nitwits who hate themselves and love the illusion of intellectual communication, when all they're doing is wasting hours ingesting the pseudo-profound bullshit of other self-hating nitwits.

Tyler's arrogance is a bit much these days. Hope he gets his ego checked before the time he gets back from his cruise.

Maybe he could have a Conversation about it?

The one he wants, though, not the one anyone else might want.

'More specifically, I don't think I know how piece all the tidbits of information onto Twitter into coherent narratives in an efficient manner.'

Almost as if that was a feature, not a bug - where overwhelming the ability to organize information in an effective manner is a goal of the service, and not a mere byproduct.

Of course, one could also use a gamification framework, where a certain set of users is locked into meaningless repetition of their actions as a way to enhance the profits of a company.

There just might be a good book exploring twitter the way this author explores gambling - 'Most research on compulsive gambling focuses on the psychological, biological, or even moral profiles of gambling addicts—but the real problem may be the slot machines. MIT anthropologist Natasha Dow Schull recently won the American Ethnological Society’s 2013 First Book Prize for her new work, Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, which explores the relationship between gamblers and the technologically sophisticated machines that enable—and encourage—them to bet beyond their means. Schull, who spent fifteen years conducting ethnographic research in casinos, gambling industry conventions, and Gamblers Anonymous meetings in Las Vegas, explained to me over the phone, “Addiction is a relationship between a person and an activity, and I see my book as compensating for the lack of research into the object side of the relationship. With alcohol research, for instance, there has been a focus not only on the alcoholic but on the alcohol itself. With gambling, the focus is most often on the person. It’s essential to broaden that.”'

Slots are an excellent metaphor in a number of ways - twitter seems have an uneven reward system, and the action is itself pretty trivial - and thus easy to repeat.

I'm afraid the reason I dislike twitter has nothing to do with who I'm following (which at this point is nobody). Twitter is designed to cater to narcissists and those who fawn over them. It is good for self-promotion, but not much else.

" Follow experts and people of substance, not people who seek to lower the status of others."


I suppose I have never really surfed the internet. Instead, when I read something about a subject that piques my interest (and there are many posts on this blog that pique my interest), I will search on the internet for related articles, books, blogs, etc. This blog is the best blog in part because Cowen, when he addresses a point or issue, has all those links to related articles, books, blogs, etc. I go to the links and beyond by searching the authors of the articles, books, blogs, etc. Sometimes a "blind" search on a point or issue will produce good links, but I've found that my search is more productive by also including the names of the authors (Cowen having identified them for me, thank you very much).

I do most of my surfing via reddit. Create a list of subs you're interested in and stop in a couple times a day. There are always good links and discussion going on in the "top" posts.

I have to assume that this column is in fact intended as a tongue-in-cheek warning against the danger of following the wrong people. Recommending that people pursue the pot of gold at the end of Twitter that no one else has ever seen is like telling people to follow Mr. Tumnus. I'm sorry, but not everyone has access to your magic wardrobe.

For obvious reasons, serious technical discussions still take place in forums like stackoverflow and blogs like Packetpushers and not on Twitter.

The exception to this is the blockchain world, which uses Twitter+Medium (also Telegram and a bit of youtube). As a result there is very little constructive back-and-forth discussion about e.g. whether XRP or Lightning constitute viable payment solutions, or what the heck is's eos ...

Those early days of discovering new things on an enthusiast's website were a joy. Tunneling down the rabbit hole on Yahoo's link directory could whittle away the hours. The goal of web destinations today seems to be to keep you there, whereas in the past these sites included numerous links to other interesting locations.

You can make Twitter and Facebook useful if you unfollow (not unfriend) all your connections that have only rants and uninteresting things to post. There are actually interesting groups and people posting things there, but you don't get that if you let FB and Twitter take control.

To discover things, I tend to surf YouTube. Finding an interesting hobbyist or passionate enthusiast will often lead to links to websites and other videos, frequently on subjects that are new to me.

Google has an extension called "Google Similar Pages". If you've landing on a site that you like, clicking this button will give you a quick list of similar pages.

And, of course, I love all the linktastic posts here on MR.

More precisely, I would say the goal of most web sites is to GET you there


... and they don't care to seem to care very much about how they do it

For me, the internet as "joy of discovery" died around the time that all these robot sites came up, mainly comprised of auto-filled content and barely relevant junk essays written solely to fill space, and whose sole purpose seemed to be to attract you from Google to see all their stoopid ads.

Of course this eventually devolved into click-bait.

Utilizing the internet for interesting things has always been a skill and it changes constantly. Lately my rounds include MR, TheBrowser, HackerNews Forum, the occasional SSC link dump, and twitter. I am getting very quality material, but do feel a bit closed off in my garden.

Social media has, if anything, reduced the use of the internet for learning more on particular subjects, topics, and issues, as social media doesn't teach but inflames. People will read Twitter but not research papers or long-form journalism accessible on the internet. I don't doubt that someone already well-formed on a topic (Cowen, for instance) may learn something by reading other experts on Twitter, but how much can the uninformed learn from Twitter. Not much. I have been struck by how few readers of this blog take advantage of Cowen's links to read more about topics he raises in blog posts, as comments often reveal that the reader commenting has not bothered to read the link. Of course, that's not universal, as some comments reveal that the reader commenting has read the links. I suppose my point is that most users of the internet barely scratch the surface of what's available to them.

Reddit's Today I Learned, Mildly Interesting, Explain Like I'm Five, or Wikipedia's "Unusual articles"

I use an RSS reader to serve as my aggregator, which bypasses the bloomin, buzzin confusion of hundreds of thousands of people tweeting @ each other. When an interesting twitter exchange occurs, someone will usually blog/write about it, with everything nicely cleaned up. Much more efficient, as long as one doesn't have severe twitter FOMO.

"And if you hate Twitter, it is your fault for following the wrong people (try hating yourself instead!)."

Ouch Tyler. That one stings a little. ;)

Well how people approach the internet is certainly changing. While we all know the term "surf the internet" it's a rather ill-defined term as well. Is Twitter the new "internet" to surfed? Maybe. Maybe not.

Hope everything is okay with you, the summer is here and everythingh is savvy right? =)

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How does twitter decide who, of the people I've liked, they decide to show me?

I've tried to follow a large number of people who's thoughts I'd love to hear, but it seems like the local sports talk radio hosts dominate my twitter.

Its got to be weighed on who I interact back with right?

More incentive to ignore the trolls? What should the ratio of good tweets to bad tweets be before I un-follow?

Seems like that just enhances the bubble-ness of twitter

"Today you can’t do that as sites are gated,... personal content is in the walled ..., and blogs and personal home pages are not as significant as before."

My goodness you need to get out more. Go to the entrepreneurship center, college of science or Volgenau School of engineering or on your own campus and find a startup or project that you have no idea how their technology works and Surf the living daylights out of it. I spent 3 hours last night reading on various types of Electric Motors, the past present and future of them because a startups said "We are going to make EV motors 30% more efficient."

Literally there are things at your fingertips that you can get lost in.

Twitter seems to mostly live up to the definition of its root word.

Twit \Twit\, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Twitted; p. pr. & vb. n.
Twitting.] [OE. atwiten, AS. [ae]tw[imac]tan to reproach,

To vex by bringing to notice, or reminding of, a fault,
defect, misfortune, or the like; to revile; to reproach; to
upbraid; to taunt; as, he twitted his friend of falsehood.
[1913 Webster]

...But I'm not even on Twitter. I have no account and follow no one. I just don't have much patience for 140/280 characters. What if one hates Twitter because of the medium, not because of the content?

Wikipedia is free, glad to have access to it, but does this definition: [url][/url] help you understand what the term means?

ah eff, link posting fail, . . .

The problem is the "signal to noise ratio" has dropped drastically since the mid-1990s. If you go "surfing" today, you are highly likely to wind up looking at advertising, fake news, some data trolling site, or some SEO place that only exists to harvest ad hits.

Consequently, content really needs to be curated to be useful. Many services like Facebook can be construed of as content curation services. They protect you from the vast swamps of spam and present you with the information most likely to interest you.

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