Sergey Brin recently listed Apple and Facebook among threats to the open web. While Birn’s comments could be a case of sour grapes, there is not much of an argument that both Apple and Facebook do operate behind walled gardens. Brin noted that Google would never have come into existence if Facebook were dominant.
Information contained behind Apple’s apps and Facebook’s social platform, enable their enormous growth, while restricting data accessibility to those outside these closed ecosystems.
Facebook is now closing in on a billion users and Apple could well be the world’s first trillion dollar company.
However, this golden age for Apple and Facebook is drawing to a close. Evolutionary and socioeconomic trends suggest that the future of the web is going to be more open than closed. There are too many factors aligned against the status quo.
Here are my top 3:
1) Historical cycles – open vs. closed tug-of-war
The original vision behind the internet included lofty goals; providing citizens with access to free transfer of and access to information. Thus the earlier wave of technology initiatives like Arpanet, project Gutenberg, BBS, Usenet etc. centered around an open web.
The proliferation of web technology heralded the age of a more ‘closed’ web controlled by big businesses like AOL.
When the World Wide Web protocols were ready in 1991, it accelerated innovation. In order to offer more to their subscribers AOL had to buy and connect with other players; once again the web seemed to get more ‘open’.
Many companies like Yahoo, Google etc., rode the wave; up until the arrival of Facebook and a resurgent Apple. The web is now, once again, more closed than open. Both Facebook and Apple tightly control the activities and information on their platforms.
However, their current leading positions are destined to be a relatively small (but important) part of the continuum in this evolutionary push and pull between open and closed web.
2) Negative economic conditions
The uncertain economic climate has created the impression that consumer driven economic systems have failed the majority. With the effects of the band-aid response to the 2008 economic crisis wearing off, cynicism towards the status quo is increasing; fertile fodder for social disenchantment and unrest.
Even as governments and powers around the world try to stifle an ‘open’ web under seemingly benevolent guise, their efforts are being challenged by ever educated and connected masses. The backlash against SOPA/PIPA is one such example.
Restrictive policies, be they imposed by governments or corporations, are increasingly seen as an attempt by a few to preserve and build upon the old status quo and systems. A status quo which fails to support a paradigm shift demanded by socioeconomic conditions.
In such an environment, future innovators will be increasingly motivated to tap into popular demand and sentiment, challenging closed systems, and offering alternatives.
This could also force the incumbent leaders in tech to open up their own offering as it AOL once had to.
3) Evolutionary trends in technology
Windows 8 operating system, apparently tries to blur the distinction between a tablet and a PC. Evolutionary trends in technology also point towards similar device agnostic but even more open technology. While it remains to be seen if Microsoft succeeds in this gambit at recharging it’s diminishing clout in the technology sector, the trend towards device agnostic technology is likely to accelerate.
Popular sentiment and necessity could prod the rise of parallel internet systems; people’s infrastructure networks.
It seems fair to conclude that the future of online technology would lean towards citizen-centric open online ecosystems rather than consumer-centric walled gardens.
Do you think that the online ecosystem will continue on its current path of increasing commercialization and oversight? Or do you agree that evolutionary and socioeconomic trends will alter the narrative, towards more open online ecosystems?