TL;DR: LLMs destroy search which destroys discovery which destroys online publishing which destroys advertising for everyone except major players (along with everything else)
Here’s how discovery on the internet currently works for most of us:
We search from our browser.
We get a Google search results page.
This page has links to 10 websites bordered by perhaps another 10 paid ads.
10 advertisers have paid in hopes of getting your click so they can sell you their product.
10 websites have paid to develop content in hopes of getting your click so they can sell you their product, or make money from helping someone else sell you a product through affiliates or other advertising.
Want to find the best robot vacuum cleaner under $500? You see 20 people throwing money at you, with hundreds more hoping you’ll look beyond the first page.
What happens when the answer to that query is a list of 3 models along with their pros and cons, a summary created by an LLM spitting out the answer that is statistically most relevant?
Whose ad gets shown next to that? How many ads can you fit around a single answer?
The LLM generated the answer out of the entirety of its model, built from all the websites and forums and books that it ingested. There are some websites incorporated into the model that sell or review robot vacuum cleaners. Which websites get linked? Do any of them?
This isn’t boo-hoo SEO. This is boo-hoo search engines and the imperfect ecosystem of online publishing that has grown up around them.
Why visit yet another website plastered with ads and affiliate links when you can get the answer you want right away?
If no-one’s visiting websites why build them?
If no-one’s visiting websites where do people advertise?
There’s not enough ad space on Google or Bing.
Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok and Youtube?
Can you afford to bid against Sony, Nike, Proctor & Gamble, and other big players for a slot on Instagram? Do you think there are enough influencers with enough followers that when you can book one your CAC isn’t going to be ruinous?
It doesn't stop at at discovery and advertising. The collapse of online publishing would be followed by the collapse of affordable hosting and the collapse of the myriad of services that websites use, from avatar to plugins to zapier. With a smaller market for everything comes higher prices for everyone.
And if you want to tell me it’ll never happen because it takes weeks to months to update such a large scale model so search engines will always be relevant, researchers are already working on making LLMs continuously updatable. Like a search engine. How long will it take? How much time do you think you have? One year? Three years?
Silicon Valley accidentally built the biggest shared funnel to ever exist. It sucked and we hated it. But no matter who you were, or how small you were, you could get out there onto the playing field and carve out your niche and make a good living. Or growth-hack your way up the funnel to become a unicorn.
Ironically, Silicon Valley is now going to destroy that funnel. Your website, your little ongoing business on the internet, it’s going to contribute 0.00032 to the weight of the word “newsletter” in an LLM’s statistical sampling of all the content in all the world it pulls its answers from. Maybe hipsters that use that open source federated search engine will find your website a couple times a week.
What to do? I don’t know. Attend more conferences. Shake a lot of hands. Start working on your print collateral. Get some street addresses into your rolodex, I mean CRM. Work out which of the SaaS you use are essential but are likely to fold as their growth flatlines and find desktop or self-hosted alternatives. Wear flannel shirts. Listen to Nirvana on a vintage CD and pretend it’s 1993 again except everything’s worse.
Tell me where I’m wrong. Tell me how I’m too optimistic. Better yet, tell me what you think is going to be the winning playbook going forward.
If that's too bleak, try some gritty epic fantasy for an escape.
Addendum: MicroSoft always hated the internet
I don't think MicroSoft are interested in making Bing better than Google, or even simply make Bing more popular than Google. Based on the history of their actions, they want to destroy Google. I have no doubt they're aware of the repercussions of that, as outlined earlier.
But they'll have ChatGPT integrated into their browser, which functionally means into their operating system. Which already supports advertising. The same operating system that will soon be able to answer any question you have. Who needs the internet anymore, that abandoned strip mall on the outskirts of a ghost town?
Maybe publishers will agitate for a law or two
All it may take to thwart LLMs extracting all the value from centuries of print publishing and decades of online publishing, the great public coalescence of knowledge and experience, and hoarding it for themselves, is to ensure they remain a year or two behind.
ChatGPT is stuck in mid-2021. Maybe it can have quarterly updates, but remain in society's rearview mirror. Maybe it can follow <meta name="robots" content="noai"> directives so publishers can opt out. For those that opt in, maybe it can do the most coin-shaving allocation of publishing royalties the world has ever known, distributing pico-cents across the millions of sources it has ingested.