While the editors here at 24 have been updating our archives, I have been somewhat off-duty in my coverage of the Internet and student life. Instead. I’ve been busy pondering similar Web 2.0 issues for older folk at BusinessWeek magazine.

There the conversation has been all about how the Internet forces people to “nichify.” Which means it’s really hard to be mainstream and reach EVERYBODY when people are decentralized all over the web. You can spend all your time on a website devoted exclusively to people who have been fans of X band for over 10 years. Or a website just for people who work in public relations in Stockholm.

A fellow reporter tells me formerly mainstream brands like WetSeal (in the UK, think of TopShop) are having a hard time, because no one wants to be generic anymore. It used to be cool to fit in with the trends; now it’s cool to shop at thrift stores.

Students are getting fed up with Facebook because it’s not niche enough anymore since it’s not just students. A handful of smart entrepreneurial students are starting rival networks just for the university world .

All this has me scratching my head—whatever happened to all the buzz that the Internet would connect everybody to everybody, “flatten” our world , so that the mainstream would swallow up the little enclaves into one interconnected mass?

The Facebook News Feed is a good example of this conundrum. I find out that “John is sad because of the election result in [insert country I’ve never heard of]” and that “Elise is happy that [insert fashion brand I don’t buy] has a new fall line.”

One the one hand, this is niche information for niches I’m not part of. On the other hand, it’s spreading to a mainstream audience (me). But it spreads without losing any of that niche specificity, because it’s a News Feed from users, not a news broadcast from an editor who might cull the information down to something everyone could understand.

What do you think? Will we use the web to connect to more diverse groups of people? Or will we use it to more easily track down people with shared niche eccentricities?

Is my world getting bigger, because I can now read newspapers from Malaysia and Mexico at the same time? Or smaller, because I can spend all my time on websites for fans of sports teams from Melbourne?

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