Is the open Web on the way out?

What if the “open Web” were just this sort of parenthesis? What if the advent of a (near) universal publishing platform open to (nearly) all were not itself a transformative break with the past, but instead a brief transitional interlude between more closed informational regimes? #

Per Tantak Celik, the Open Web allows us to #

  • publish content and applications on the web in open standards
  • code and implement the web standards that that content/apps depend on
  • access and use content / code / web-apps / implementations
Which requires: #

  • open formats for freely publishing what you write, photograph, video and otherwise create, author, or code (e.g. HTML, CSS, Javascript, JPEG, PNG, Ogg, WebM etc.)
  • domain name registrars and web hosting services that, like phone companies, don't judge your content
  • cheap internet access that doesn't discriminate based on domains
For Rosenberg, "it’s hard not to conclude that today we’re seeing the strongest challenge to the open Web ideal since the Web itself began taking off in 1994-5." #

The trend-line of today’s successful digital platforms is moving noticeably towards the closed end of this spectrum. We see this at work at many different levels of the layered stack of services that give us the networks we enjoy today — for instance: #

  • the App Store — iPhone apps, unlike Web sites and services, must pass through Apple’s approval process before being available to users.
  • Facebook / Twitter — These phenomenally successful social networks, though permeable in several important ways, exist as centralized operations run by private companies, which set the rules for what developers and users can do on them.
  • Comcast — the cable company that provides much of the U.S.’s Internet service just merged with NBC and faces all sorts of temptations to manipulate its delivery of the open Web to favor its own content and services.
  • Google — the big company most vocal about “open Web” principles has arguably compromised its commitment to net neutrality, and Open Web Foo attendees raised questions about new wrinkles in Google Search that may subtly favor large services like Yelp or Google-owned YouTube over independent sites.
Regarding the App Store, I note that Steven B. Johnson (Where Good Ideas Come From) was quoted Monday as saying that on the spectrum from open-source to Willy Wonka, Apple was "extreme Wonka". #

For me, one of the heartening aspects of the Foo weekend was seeing a whole generation of young developers and entrepreneurs who grew up with a relatively open Web as a fact of life begin to grapple with this question themselves. And one of the questions hanging over the event, which Anil Dash framed, was how these people can hang on to their ideals once they move inside the biggest companies, as many of them have. #

Indeed. I still sometimes marvel every time I open a YouTube video — I know that service has a hard time paying for itself, so I often wonder how long it will be available; we don't control most of the tools we use. (That also goes for Blogger, WordPress, and social-media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.) I'm glad some smart folks are working on the problem. #

Post Revisions:

This post has not been revised since publication. #


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