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The magic of the Internet

Posted: February 24, 2010 at 9:48 am 2 Comments »

Two weeks ago, a few (many) of us were lucky to witness a rather bizarre event taking place on the web: the know-hows and the illiterati had accidentally come together.

A simple post about Facebook’s partnership with AOL published in ReadWriteWeb, a popular technology blog, suddenly flooded with thousands of internet users mistakenly taking the blog for Facebook’s new interface. Thanks to a peculiar formula in the search engine optimization (SEO) wording, Google’s algorithms were accidentally tricked into pushing RWW’s post to the first position of a simple Google search of “Facebook login”. As a result, Facebook users with very little knowledge of the internet and accustomed to logging in to the social website via Google searches ended up in ReadWriteWeb looking completely baffled at the new design and wondering how to log in. Following their instincts, they clicked on the only feature they could recognize on the page – a Facebook logo.

The result was a long stream of comments saying things like “I just want to sign in…….” or “The new facebook sucks> NOW LET ME IN”. A collision of worlds became inevitable when the normal readers of the blog found out what was going on: people with practically no knowledge of the internet had ended up in the same place as the very technologically savvy.

The ensuing 1836 comments (at the time of writing) turned into a tragically funny mix of befuddled Facebook users and disbelieving RWW readers. The post went viral and was quickly being retweeted and posted in popular websites such as Digg, Reddit and Fark. As Mike Melanson, the writer of the original post, admitted with certain pride and incredulity, an Internet meme had been born.

Fortunately it was not all point and mock from the geek side and some very interesting points were raised in the brainstorming that followed. Is the “real-time” hype forcing Google to skew its results towards the recent instead of the relevant? Should software and hardware designers pay more attention to the needs of basic users? Is the grade of computer illiteracy as alarming as these comments seem to indicate?

Perhaps we just need to accept that there will always be certain sectors of the demographic for which Arthur C. Clarke’s premise holds true – any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

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