I remember the internet. It was really cool – so many resources, all in front of you on your computer, and things called ‘search engines’ that had big lists of *everything* on the ‘net (because we affectionately called it “the ‘net”) and you could go to a search engine website and type in something you were interested in and they would return lots and lots of websites that had the information you were looking for.

But good times never last.

It started in late ’07, when the largest search engine, with the funny name ‘Google’ decided that they had more right to traffic than the sites they were indexing. They made a new rule that you couldn’t pay someone to link to your site without telling Google (admittedly, you didn’t have to fill in a form, or anything bureaucratic like that – they couldn’t have handled the work load of billions of pages anyway – you only needed to add extra markup to the page, called ‘nofollowing links’). You had to declare that you thought the link was worthless, because you had been paid for it, no matter what your actual opinion.

It wasn’t too bad, until they really got serious. When they actually stopped sending traffic to sites they arbitrarily decided had been selling links, a huge furore hit. Initially only the cognoscenti, the people who worked on websites knew about it, but pretty soon the mom and pop sites heard that you could lose your google traffic if they suspected you were selling links.

Of course everyone started nofollowing all their outbound links, whether or not they were paid links, rather than fall foul of the engines and lose their traffic. No one said that was what they were doing – everyone was hoping to gain some advantage over their competitors. Critical viewing of source while surfing the ‘net would have shown what was happening, but the few people who voiced concerns out loud were dismissed as spammers who were just trying to manipulate the algo.

Its all so obvious in hindsight, but I assure you WE DIDN’T KNOW WHAT WOULD HAPPEN!

Pretty soon the bots were crawling less and less, as there were fewer followable links.
Traffic started dropping as there were fewer and fewer results in the SERPs.
Eventually the engineers at the search engines realised what was happening and removed the nofollow requirements. But it was too little, too late. They had indulged in too much FUD in the past, and no one believed them this time – we were all so caught up, and no one could afford to ‘risk’ losing traffic.

Pretty soon the search engines failed, naively unwilling to break their own guidelines of not following nofollowed links and a deafening silence was heard across the Internet.

But worse – we didn’t realise how dependant we had become. The economic collapse that followed was worldwide. Stockmarkets closed. I still wonder how much of the world starved to death, but I’ll never know now that we have no communications.

Would you pass me another stick for the fire? Tomorrow I think we will hunt deer in what was the National Park.