James Boyle wrote that this month marks the 15th anniversary of the creation of the first web page on the World Wide Web. He pointed out that what makes the Web so great is what people have built on it over the last 15 years. An obvious statement perhaps, but it's worth highlighting because the most often-cited definition of Web 2.0 is using the Web as a platform. Web 2.0 in a lot of ways is a continuation of Tim Berners-Lee's original vision for a read/write Web - where users create and collaborate, and not just consume.
It's a nice optimistic picture isn't it? Let me put this to you...
The Web was built on open and decentralized formats and standards, but there are signs that closed networks and centralization are still a threat. And I'm not talking about Microsoft's domination of the Web browser and vanquishing of Netscape in the 90's. Because in the Web 2.0 era, there are more subtle examples going on. Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! are all in a race to get as many people to use their portal or homepage offerings as possible. But much of their offerings are what's been termed roach motels. The user data goes in, but it can't check out. In this current era of the Web, control and centralization is still happening - but instead of the browser being the main unit of control, it's now user data.
I thought TechDirt had a nice analysis of James Boyle's article, but take this extract:
"Despite what media companies (and connectivity companies) would like people to believe, they don't own the internet. They came and joined the party because that's where the people were. They didn't create it, and they don't get to control it."
Well that's the rose-tinted glasses way of looking at it. It's correct to say that media and Internet companies joined the party because that's where the people were (and increasingly are). But I would suggest to you that Microsoft, Yahoo and Google are all in the business of attempting to control your Web experience. Not overtly, but subtly. They want you to put your data into their systems, but they really have no intention of letting you own it or take it back.
APIs are the same. Have you noticed how many restrictions are placed on many big company APIs? Sure you can build new applications and remix content, but in most cases you don't own the data.
Something to think about. Is the Web nowadays really as decentralized and uncontrolled as we like to think it is? Is it getting better, or worse?