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The Open Web (1990-2020)

I’ve just received this story from the future in my inbox.

INTERNET – The open web, which allowed an explosion of creativity and befuddled many corporations and governments died at 12 a.m. on the morning of March 1, 2020. It was just short of its 30th anniversary.

The cause was cancer, according to open standards advocates. While it suffered from failing health since the introduction of the iPhone, and the success of closed systems like Facebook or Twitter.

The offspring of Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau, the open web showed early promise by simplifying how content on the internet could be accessed. Its birth heralded an explosion of creativity that democratized content distribution and allowed large amounts of people to share their knowledge and interest with like-minded individuals.

In the 1990s, the open web experiences a turn as rock star as it helped create millions of new jobs and generated new wealth for many individuals.

But two recessions took their toll. It was blamed for the first one and forced to go mostly into hiding for a large part of the first decade of the 21st century. During that time, the open web reformed itself, focusing on making itself even easier to use, and birthing blogging, podcasting, video and photo sharing. These concepts and sites related to them allowed millions of people to post content ranging from the inane to the highly intellectual.

The second recession, however, helped improved the open web’s reputation as people realized that speculators were the guilty parties in both recessions. With its reputation rehabilitated, the open web started flourishing again in the late 2010s.

Unbeknown to it, enemies of the open web were gathering strength and planning its demise.

In 2008, Apple introduced the iPhone app store, providing a sanitized sub-set of the content available on the internet. Through 2010, Apple would continue its attack on the open web, highlighting that iPhone apps were a better way to consume content on the internet, while keeping those apps under tight control through an opaque approval process. While many open web advocates screamed, the general public seemed perfectly content with the more restricted approach.

Meanwhile, companies like Twitter and Facebook created walled gardens on top of web technology, closing up access to content that was created or used on their services. Centralized on their own platforms, the services allowed to “simplify” user interaction with the internet, while requiring registration and tightening control as to what users could and couldn’t do with those services.

For the next decade, the number of walled gardens increased and the web became increasingly balkanized. By 2020, the open web was limited to a group of roughly 1,000 web sites that were not accessible to the majority of internet users.

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8 Comments. Leave new

Watch out, you’ll be branded an Apple-basher for criticizing the App Store :o)

Personally I’m more concerned with the closed-door net neutrality negotiations that would lead established firms like Skype to lend their support to ISP restrictions as long as their apps are allowed to operate within them. Basically an application of the “got mine, f— you” attitude that seems to permeate American thinking at the moment.

    We’re long past the point where I should be worried about being branded as an Apple basher (my recent series of post should have gotten the point across that I’m worried about the iPad as a replacement for regular computers.

    But it’s true that the net neuter-ality (not a typo, just trying to be funny) are also cause for concern.

I can’t believe Jon Connor wasn’t there leading the free web whilst the moms and pops worry about keeping their kids away from it. Did your news flash contain no hope for mankind. Hoping you get another flashfwd with better news soon.

    Tom,

    That’s because the T-10000 finally went back to before his great-grandparents were born and prevented their birth (it was all in the western/ sci-fi mashup Terminator 10k)

Ted shelton
June 28, 2010 9:52 pm

The history of radio offers a useful history lesson in an open medium becoming closed. Will “security” be the new “limited airwaves” that compels us to build back the walls again? I sincerely hope not. But to roughly paraphrase our founding fathers in the US “the price of an open Internet is eternal vigilance”

    Ted,

    I’d love it if you were to elaborate on the radio simile since I’m not familiar with that history. I do agree with your paraphrase, though 🙂

Check out this brief article in Wired from the “why things suck” series on Radio:

http://www.wired.com/culture/culturereviews/magazine/16-02/su_radio

Back in the early days of radio there was limited control of radio frequencies — even after the FCC was established and licenses were being handed out there was little enforcement. So anyone could set up a transmitter (website) and broadcast (host) content for their local (global) community. But there was a concern that stations would overlap with each other so when I was trying to tune into the show I wanted, I might accidentally get a different one. So in came regulations and expensive licenses. Then came media ownership rules that allowed economy of scale to put these stations in a small number of hands.

Could something like that happen with the Internet? Between security concerns and piracy concerns, there are certainly lots of “reasons” to have more control over who has a website. But personally I think this genie is too far out of the bottle. Anyone trying to stop the Internet now simply makes their country (state, town) less competitive then other places in the world.

And there will be a lot of well argued resistance to such a path. But we should remain vigilant!

    Ted,

    Thanks for the extra details and the link. Part of the problem is that it’s not so much stopping things as much as slowing things down. We might see small steps towards a more censored net over time, each of them not much of an issue when looked at alone but, in the aggregate, ending up with a substantial change in the wrong direction.

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