The other day, I was IM-ing with Phil, and we started the game of exchanging the "sites that look alike". Before long, we realized that there is way too much of that stuff going on. What we thought was a trend secured for photographers' portfolios online, in fact got spilled out to other areas as well (most notably, agency sites). Here are some of examples of the variation of the theme above: this, this, this, and this. (Note: I am not going to get into who came up with it first; I am more interested in why there is so much replication?)
So now the question is: in the domain that is the Internet, which is lauded for its diversity, tending to niche tastes, and variety of content and distribution formats, how come that a lot of people are doing the same thing?
The simple answers are: a) don't change the format that works; b) it's cheaper to copy than to innovate; c) everyone else is doing it; d) it's fashionable; e) no one wants to be an oddball.
While all of the above are probably true, I am most interested in c). In the uncertain and unpredictable environment - or, at least, in the environment where likelihood of knowing what is going to succeed is hard to calculate - people usually rely on what others are doing. And since the Internet is a densely connected network, news/ideas travel faster and get more people exposed. So, if something seems to as a good idea, the likelihood that more people will think so are higher (and consequently, the chances that someone will try to replicate it increase).
So, is it possible that, instead of diversification, the Internet actually encourages replication? Or, does it just make the Power Law more apparent?
At the end of the day, the Internet is a network of people, tools, and content. It displays characteristics of any community: learning, influence, and imitation. And why we imitate? Because it's critical part of social learning. No one has time to figure out the world all over again; it's much quicker (and more adaptive) just look what worked for others in the past. (Otherwise, we would just be inventing hot water over and over again. Well, some of us still do that).
Then, without people having some things in common there would be no "community". In this particular case, what the sites above have in common is a message that their owners work in a digital industry; that they understand a thing or two of how people browse the page and what they pay attention to (big slideshow in the middle, 3-4 categories of links at the bottom, name in the upper left corner); that they will apply the same kind of knowledge to you - their clients. Which, in turn, just further replicates the same format ...
On the other hand, having this kind of sameness is perhaps a good thing. It allows us not to spend to much time figuring out what the brand/agency/individual is about. If we are so used to the format, the novelty of it has worn off, and we actually can direct our mental resources to other things. If Gitte Lindgaard is correct, we spend about 50ms deciding if we like a site or not. If that's really the case, then having to repeatedly deal with the same thing is almost a blessing.
I still think it's sorta boring.