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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