We spent six years scouring billions of links, and found the web is both expanding and shrinking


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Paul X. McCarthy, UNSW and Marian-Andrei Rizoiu, University of Technology SydneyThe online world is continuously expanding — always aggregating more services, more users and more activity. Last year, the number of websites registered on the “.com” domain surpassed 150,000,000.

However, more than a quarter of a century since its first commercial use, the growth of the online world is now slowing down in some key categories.

We conducted a multi-year research project analysing global trends in online diversity and dominance. Our research, published today in Public Library of Science, is the first to reveal some long-term trends in how businesses compete in the age of the web.

We saw a dramatic consolidation of attention towards a shrinking (but increasingly dominant) group of online organisations. So, while there is still growth in the functions, features and applications offered on the web, the number of entities providing these functions is shrinking.

Web diversity nosedives

We analysed more than six billion user comments from the social media website Reddit dating back to 2006, as well as 11.8 billion Twitter posts from as far back as 2011. In total, our research used a massive 5.6Tb trove of data from more than a decade of global activity.

This dataset was more than four times the size of the original data from the Hubble Space Telescope, which helped Brian Schmidt and colleagues do their Nobel-prize winning work in 1998 to prove the universe’s expansion is accelerating.

With the Reddit posts, we analysed all the links to other sites and online services — more than one billion in total — to understand the dynamics of link growth, dominance and diversity through the decade.

We used a measure of link “uniqueness”. On this scale, 1 represents maximum diversity (all links have their own domain) and 0 is minimum diversity (all links are on one domain, such as “youtube.com”).

A decade ago, there was a much greater variety of domains within links posted by users of Reddit, with more than 20 different domains for every 100 random links users posted. Now there are only about five different domains for every 100 links posted.

Web diversity is nosediving.
Our Reddit analysis showed the pool of top-performing sources online is shrinking.

In fact, between 60—70% of all attention on key social media platforms is focused towards just ten popular domains.

Beyond social media platforms, we also studied linkage patterns across the web, looking at almost 20 billion links over three years. These results reinforced the “rich are getting richer” online.

The authority, influence and visibility of the top 1,000 global websites (as measured by network centrality or PageRank) is growing every month, at the expense of all other sites.




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App diversity is on the rise

The web started as a source of innovation, new ideas and inspiration — a technology that opened up the playing field. It’s now also becoming a medium that actually stifles competition and promotes monopolies and the dominance of a few players.

Our findings resolve a long-running paradox about the nature of the web: does it help grow businesses, jobs and investment? Or does it make it harder to get ahead by letting anyone and everyone join the game? The answer, it turns out, is it does both.

While the diversity of sources is in decline, there is a countervailing force of continually increasing functionality with new services, products and applications — such as music streaming services (Spotify), file sharing programs (Dropbox) and messaging platforms (Messenger, Whatsapp and Snapchat).

Functional diversity
Functional diversity grows continuously online.

Website ‘infant mortality’

Another major finding was the dramatic increase in the “infant mortality” rate of websites — with the big kids on the block guarding their turf more staunchly than ever.

We examined new domains that were continually referenced or linked-to in social media after their first appearance. We found that while almost 40% of the domains created 2006 were active five years on, only a little more than 3% of those created in 2015 remain active today.

The dynamics of online competition are becoming clearer and clearer. And the loss of diversity is concerning. Unlike the natural world, there are no sanctuaries; competition is part of both nature and business.

Our study has profound implications for business leaders, investors and governments everywhere. It shows the network effects of the web don’t just apply to online businesses. They have permeated the entire economy and are rewriting many previously accepted rules of economics.

For example, the idea that businesses can maintain a competitive advantage based on where they are physically located is increasingly tenuous. Meanwhile, there’s new opportunities for companies to set up shop from anywhere in the world and serve a global customer base that’s both mainstream and niche.

TikTok users record a short video.
Innovative global products and services, such as TikTok, Klarna and SkyScanner, continue to emerge from a range of creators around the world.

The best way to encourage diversity is to have more global online businesses focused on providing diverse services, by addressing consumers’ increasingly niche needs.

In Australia, we’re starting to see this through homegrown companies such as Canva, SafetyCulture and iWonder. Hopefully many more will appear in the decade ahead.




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If it’s free online, you are the product


The Conversation


Paul X. McCarthy, Adjunct Professor, UNSW and Marian-Andrei Rizoiu, Lecturer in Computer Science, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Algerian Christians Acquitted of Eating during Ramadan


Judge throws out case against men arrested during Islamic fasting period.

ISTANBUL, October 5 (CDN) — An Algerian court today acquitted two Christian men of eating during Ramadan in spite of a prosecutor’s demand that they be punished for “insulting Islam.”

Authorities on Aug. 12 arrested Salem Fellak and Hocine Hocini for eating lunch on a private construction site where they were working. Ramadan, Islam’s month of fasting during daylight hours, started this year on Aug. 11.

The incident took place in Ain El-Hammam, a town in the province of Tizi Ouzou about 150 kilometers (93 miles) east of the Algerian capital. Tizi Ouzou is part of Kabylie, an area of Algeria where the country’s Protestant church has grown with relative freedom in recent years.

Officers at a nearby police station saw the two men eating and confronted them for not fasting. When police realized the two men were Christians, they accused them of insulting Islam, according to local French-language press reports.

“I do not apologize for anything, and I regret nothing,” Fellak said before the verdict, according to Dernieres Nouvelles d’Algerie. “I have the right to not fast. I am a Christian, and until found guilty, the Algerian constitution guarantees respect for individual freedoms.”

The Algerian Constitution gives the right to all citizens to practice their faith, although it declares Islam the state religion and prohibits institutions from behavior incompatible with Islamic morality. Proposing other faiths to Muslims is also forbidden.

After police arrested Hocini and Fellak, authorities interrogated them for two hours and “admonished” them, according to a French-language news site. Authorities took them to court, where a state prosecutor questioned them. When the men explained to her that they were Christians, she said that Algeria was a Muslim country with no room for Christians and that they should leave the country, according to a local news site.

Today the judge at the court in Ain El Hamman, however, dismissed the case since “no article [of law] provided for a legal pursuit” against the two Christians, according to the BBC.

A small group of Christians standing on the steps of the courthouse reportedly shouted “Hallelujah!” when they heard the outcome of the case. After the verdict, Fellak said he was happy and that he had done nothing wrong, according to Reuters.

Local media also reported cases of Muslim Algerians arrested for eating during Ramadan.

 

Worshipping without Permit

The charges against the two Christians and a case of four Christians on trial for worshipping without a permit in Tizi Ouzou Province have some wondering what has caused authorities to turn their attention to this small community.

This Sunday (Oct. 10), the four men will appear in court for holding Christian meetings at a residence without permission. One of the men, Mahmoud Yahou, has told a local newspaper, “This story concerns all Christians in our country. We are a community intimidated around the country.”

Yahou cited other recent cases of persecution, including that of Habiba Kouider, who in 2008 was tried for practicing Christianity “without a license.” Her case is still pending. Another Christian, Rachid Muhammad Essaghir, has three court cases against him, all in appeals process since 2008.

In most cases, Christians have been charged under a presidential decree from February 2006 that restricts religious worship to government approved buildings. The decree, known as Ordinance 06-03, also outlaws any attempt to convert Muslims to another faith.

“This law of 2006 is contradictory to the constitution,” said a regional researcher who requested anonymity. “It creates a gray zone in which the government and police have room to act against the church. This law gives permission to the government to condemn believers for their faith or illegal worship even if the constitution guarantees religious freedom.”

Also in Tizi Ouzou city, church leaders who were expanding their building to fit their growing congregation received a letter in August from the governor of the province ordering them to stop all construction and demolish the extension.

Algerian Christians and observers say that the two court cases, along with the order to the Tizi Ouzou church to cease expansion of their building, are unusual because they happened in such a short span of time and because the region is regarded as more tolerant of Christianity.

“Perhaps a new wave of persecution is coming,” said the regional researcher. “It’s difficult to know, but in a few weeks we encountered a few problems.”

An Algerian church leader told Compass the government is finding more subtle ways to pressure Christians.

“I think they don’t want to do anything openly,” said the leader, who requested anonymity. “So they are using opportunities they can find, like not giving authorization to build the church in Tizi Ouzou, [and the men] not fasting during Ramadan.”

Report from Compass Direct News

VIETNAM: AUTHORITIES RAID, THREATEN HOUSE CHURCHES


Christians note increase in government harassment – some of it violent.

HANOI, Aug. 6 (Compass Direct News) – Local authorities in Vietnam have balked at registering house churches, contributing to a recent uptick in sometimes violent harassment of congregations.

Four police officers and two government officials broke up the Sunday morning worship service of a house church in Tran Phu Commune in Hanoi on July 26, announcing that it was illegal to worship and teach religion. The police chief of Tran Phu Commune in greater Hanoi, Dang Dinh Toi, had ordered the raid.

When Christians under the leadership of Pastor Dang Thi Dinh refused to sign a document admitting they were meeting illegally, an angry police officer shouted, “If I find you meeting here next Sunday, I will kill you all like I’d kill a dog!”

Officials had previously refused to grant the church’s application for registration. Pastor Dinh and the national leader of the Ecclesia Revival denomination, Pastor Vo Xuan Loan, appealed to commune authorities the following day – again trying to register the church according to the Prime Minister’s 2005 Special Directive Concerning Protestants.

The commune head angrily proclaimed, “There are absolutely no Christians in this commune!” and then shooed them away, church leaders reported.

In nearby Hung Yen province, an Agape Baptist house church led by Pastor Duong Van Tuan was raided several times in June (see “Police Attack House Churches, Jail Leaders,” June18). Since then Compass learned from Pastor Tuan that his wife Nguyen Thi Vuong was badly abused on June 21. A group of policemen roughed her up, and then two of them seized her by her arms and repeatedly banged her head into a wall, he said.

When she fainted, Pastor Tuan said, they dragged her out and dumped her in a nearby field. Fellow Christians took her to medical care. The church situation remains unresolved.

Also in the north, in Viet Thuan Commune of Thai Binh Province, commune police broke up a house church meeting of the Vietnam Good News Mission Church on July 25, seizing seven hymnals and summoning Pastor Bui Xuan Tuyen to the police station for interrogation. In a letter to his superiors, Pastor Tuyen complained of police cursing and scolding him.

They confiscated his motorbike and sent it to a distant district office. In spite of such pressure, he refused to write a confession for what they termed his “crimes.” He was held until 10 p.m. before being released to collect his motorbike.

Southern Troubles

The situation is not better in the south. On Friday (July 31) Vietnam Good News Mission Church Pastor Mai Hong Sanh was subjected to a public denunciation and trial reminiscent of 1950s-style communism in the town of Ea Hleo, in Dak Lak Province.

He was sentenced to three months of “local re-education” for expanding his house without permission and giving religious training without permission – both practically impossible for Christians to obtain – and “causing social division.” This was the government’s answer to his church’s aspirations and attempts to provide training for ethnic minority church workers at Pastor Sanh’s home.

As a result, he can go nowhere without prior permission and must submit to political indoctrination courses at the whim of local officials. About 120 people, mostly town officials and police, attended his “trial” – Pastor Sanh was not allowed to defend himself, and authorities marshaled people they said were members of another church to accuse him, Christian sources said.

On Sunday (Aug. 2), some 15 policemen barged into a house church worship service in Xuan Thoi Thuong Commune, Hoc Mon district, Ho Chi Minh City. Brandishing batons and electric prods, police demanded that people leave immediately, according to local sources. Two new believers fled, they said, but most of the small congregation remained.

In a show of force, police officers also lined up outside the house and announced to curious neighbors who had gathered, “If anyone of you come to Chinh’s house and believe in his God, you will be in deep trouble,” according to the sources. Nguyen Van Chinh, leader of this independent house church, had been receiving such visits and threats by security forces since January.

Following the advice of local authorities, he had tried to register his house church as provided by Vietnamese law, but to no avail. At midnight on July 24, five police officers beat on his door demanding to be let in “to check IDs.”

Though he had submitted a registration application months before, they told him that “future zoning would not allow religious activities” and that he must permanently cease church meetings, sources said. When his congregation continued meeting, he was issued an “administrative fine,” which he appealed. His house church continued worshiping, leading to Sunday’s raid.

Church leaders said such incidents are representative of many others not reported for security reasons. Asked about the reasons for this uptick in harassment, church leaders strongly agreed that it is a firm though unwritten government policy to try to stop any expansion of Christianity. They said the harassment was so widespread that it must have approval from the top level of the central government.

All of the churches in this report tried to register according to supposedly clear government guidelines but have been denied without a legitimate reason.

Christian leaders also observed that Vietnam, having achieved its goal of getting off the U.S. religious liberty black list and won accession to the World Trade Organization, no longer worries much about international opinion. Others added that authorities, who retain a special suspicion of Christianity, are trying to suppress any expressions of the widely growing discontent with Vietnam’s government and the Communist Party.

At the same time, Catholics have been involved in larger clashes with authorities and with gangs of thugs widely believed to be hired and stirred up by the government. The government-backed gangs have beaten Catholic families. A fierce clash between Catholics and the government flared up in Dong Hoi City, in central Quang Binh province, on July 22. Police and hoodlums interfered with some 200 faithful trying to rebuild part of the bombed out Tam Toa Cathedral.

Reminding Catholics of the heavy-handed ending to church property claims in Hanoi last year, this incident quickly got the support of Catholics around the country. Some estimated that up to 500,000 Catholics nationwide participated in prayer vigils the following Sunday.

According to a long-time Compass source on Vietnam, the legally registered Protestant bodies are no more optimistic than their Catholic counterparts. Their leaders complain of unending bureaucratic blockages, harassment and interference.

“Overall, there is more pessimism today than four or five years ago, when people had hopes that new religion regulations might lead to steady improvement,” the source said.

“But it was not to be. Hence trust in government promises to improve religious liberty is at a very low ebb.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

VISION FOR MORE OUTREACH DESPITE PERSECUTION IN INDIA


Christians are suffering increasing amounts of persecution across India. Some suggest that a Christian is brutally attacked by a Hindu extremist every other day. There doesn’t appear to be an end to the violence. However, this violence isn’t stopping the evangelical church from expanding their work, reports MNN.

President of Serve India Ministries Ebenezer Samuel says they are currently supporting 400 pastors who are also missionaries and church planters. Each pastor has a mission, he says, “to reach out to five unreached villages through the church he’s already planted.”

Samuel says these pastors and their congregations also have a new vision to reach the lost. “They have a vision of reaching out to 100,000 villages through 20,000 native works in the next 15 years.”

While Serve India supports 400 pastors, even that number is changing. “We have 400 pastors at this time. This year, 2009, we’re praying to double this number. We’re not concerned about numbers; we’re more concerned about the needs on the field. I’m constantly receiving calls from these unreached communities of India,” where church planters and missionaries are needed.

They have a few pastors to help with these needs, says Samuel. “Right now we have at least 100 pastors who are part of the ministry who have no support. And we’re also setting up many more mission fields. So in the next two months, we’re going to be having at least 200 more pastors who are going to need support.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph