The Web is not dead, but many wish it so

With an inflammatory headline and a misleading graphic, Wired has declared the death of the World Wide Web. This is nonsense, but many wish it were true, and the piece is worth reading as a starting point, just not a conclusion.

Plenty of publishers rue the invention of the Web. It has demolished barriers behind which publishers had built comfortable businesses. Customers have become competitors, business models have been demolished. The Web's empowerment of everyone has included bigots, hatemongers, professional and amateur liars, and terrorists. It's all so messy.

Those with power always seek to retain and increase it, so it should come as no surprise that corporations like Verizon and Comcast and individuals like Steve Jobs and Rupert Murdoch want to create a future where they can decide what's available, to whom, and how it works. Their digital future would be built on approved applications sold in controlled, closed-system markets, delivered over private networks prioritized by economic power, throttling independent voices and open competition. They have on their side armies of lobbyists and millions of dollars in political donations, so don't expect your elected representatives to leap to the defense of the troublesome Web.

One of the few advantages of getting older is historical perspective. I can remember when telephone companies wouldn't let you plug anything into "their" network. Not your own telephone. Not an answering machine. Not a computer modem. It took intervention by the Federal Communications Commission, acting on behalf of regular people, before that practice was stopped. It's not clear that the FCC has the inclination and the ability to take such action today.

Anyone who says the "invisible hand" of the marketplace ensures the rights of individuals in such matters is a fool or a liar. It simply doesn't work that way. Read the gray-ink fine print of your broadband service contract. Do you really have the right to use that connection, or just an obligation to pay for it? What does it say about operating a server? Are there vague and arbitrary restrictions on how much data you can transfer? If you've been sold a data speed rate, is there any guarantee that you'll get it? And if you don't like the terms, do you really have options? Is there an open marketplace? If there's an invisible hand, what's it doing?


BoingBoing illustrates why Wired's graphic is misleading: