“THE INTERNET IS DEAD”
(For Big Business, that is.)
Such is the claim of a controversial article published by Wired Magazine last August. Almost two decades after Timothy Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web went live on December 1990, the reckoning is that it is too late to try to make business selling content. “The World Wide Web,” Berners-Lee recently wrote in an article published in Scientific American, “is a project that was never finished.” However, the failings or deficiencies of the web are perceived in a very different way by Berners-Lee and and by Big Business and media conglomerates. The truth is that the WWW seems to be in the middle of a struggle that is as much about economics and technology as it is about class and democracy, and indeed, about the very soul of the whole interprise.
According to Berners-Lee the universality of the WWW is being threatened by monopolies:
“Cable television companies that sell Internet connectivity are considering whether to limit their Internet users to downloading only the company’s mix of entertainment. Social-networking sites present a different kind of problem. Facebook, LinkedIn, Friendster and others typically provide value by capturing information as you enter it: your birthday, your e-mail address, your likes, and links indicating who is friends with whom and who is in which photograph. The sites assemble these bits of data into brilliant databases and reuse the information to provide value-added service—but only within their sites.”
According to Berners-Lee, the WWW: “… evolved into a powerful, ubiquitous tool because it was built on egalitarian principles and because thousands of individuals, universities and companies have worked both independently and together as part of the World Wide Web Consortium, to expand its capabilities based on those principles.”
And this is precisely the problem for Big Business and media conglomerates. To them, the WWW’s big failure is the lack of a single model to make money out of it certainly points to its failures. Now we have the two extremes: either sophisticated information from news media that charge for their content, like The Economist, The New York Review of Books, or the Wall Street Journal. Or, free content provided by anyone with a computer, extremely unreliable and not subject to any kind of supervision or quality control, except for the a mainly unsophisticated audience that vote with their clicks.
THE “ORIGINAL SIN”
When newspapers started launching their digital editions in the late 1990’s, they tried at first to charge for them. However, seeing that their was an increasing number of news sites that would offer their content for free and readers were reluctant to pay to read online, they stopped charging hoping that in such a way they would attract a wider audience, and the advertising revenue would increase in proportion. This error, now referred to as the “original sin,” was catastrophic for the media. Pint subscriptions began to fall: it was no longer necessary to buy the newspaper if you could get it free online. Advertisers also moved with the readers and advertising moved to online ads, which charged much lower prices. Such is the case of The Huffington Post, Salon.com and The Daily Beast, whose contributors offer their content for little or no money.
“The center of interactive media — increasingly, the center of gravity of all media — is moving to a post-HTML environment,” Wired announced in July 1997. The magazine foresaw the future in “Push!” cover story, which suggested that it was time to “kiss your browser goodbye.” The argument then was that “push” technologies such as PointCast and Microsoft’s Active Desktop would create a “radical future of media beyond the Web.”
Is the new trend of the iPhone model of mobile computing a reckoning that it is too late to try to snatch the internet back from the “people.”? The semi closed platforms that use the Internet only for transport is according to Wired, “the world that consumers are increasingly choosing. The screen comes to them; they don’t have to go to the screen.” Are Big Business and media conglomerates moving the game to another playfield, to soil that is more fertile, leaving the internet like a barren land, a ghost town where only rats will roam around? Only time will tell.
SOURCES NOT MENTIONED IN TEXT
RFC 2235Hobbes’ Internet Timeline: http://www.faqs.org/rfcs/rfc2235.html