Monday, January 23, 2012

The Internet Food Chain

Today in my ecology class we we talking about trophic levels... which talk about how energy is transferred between organisms in an ecosystem. (Most people call it the "food chain" but we biologists have a pathological need for obfuscation in all that we do) Naturally, it got me thinking about the trophic levels of information on the internet... only instead of energy the internet feeds off of information.

So for starters we have the autotrophs, or in our analogy the produces of content. An autotroph could be a piece of original music or text, or perhaps a movie or TV show. The next stage in the trophic levels would be the heterotroph, or the beings who don't make up their own thing, but rather feed and use the primary content for their own uses. The primary consumer would be the person who puts that piece of original content on the internet. The secondary consumer would probably be a news site that deems that piece of content worthy to be mentioned in their site, the tertiary consumer would be person who sees the News article and remixed the original content to you tube (The Book I'm reading for Digital Civilization would count that as a 'new' creation, but I figure we aren't making any new molecules when we eat our cheeseburgers so even if the content is in a new form , it's still the same content) the Quaternary consumer would be maybe a webcomic artist who sees the you-tube video and decides to make fun of it (albeit webcomics may be a hybrid of autotroph and heterotroph styles)and the quinary consumer would be the blogger who saw the webcomic and commented in their blog about it and so on and so forth... But as you see, with each new derivation the original content is skewed and lost... for example when a mouse eats a seed, they are only getting about 10% of the original energy produced by the plant that made the seed. And as the Snake eats the mouse the same loss of energy occurs. Which is why there are not very many big predators like tigers in the world. It is also why you have to be a careful consumer of information on the internet... the more iterations the information has passed through, the less like the original the information becomes.

One thing I noticed that in my ecology class that the top part of the consumers (or the apex predators) are usually only a couple of levels of consumption above others. (never more than 5-6 levels of consumption) This internet phenomenon of information trophic levels does not have that same restriction... there seems to be an infinite number of trophic levels for information consumption. It got me wondering who is the apex information predator in the net.  After trawling through lines of data, I realized that there was only one site that could claim to be the "Apex Predator" of this information world: Wikipedia. No wonder professors don't want you citing it, you never now where that information has been.

Anyone else have idea of what is the Apex predator of the information world?

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