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Tag Archives: free

As media became truly massive in the middle of the 20th century, many theorists discussed the degree to which individuals are powerless -e.g., McLuhan’s famous “the medium is the message.” In the last decades, the pendulum of dystopian versus utopian thinking about technology has swung far into the other direction. Now, we hear much about the power of the individual, how “information wants to be free” and, opposed to powerful media structures, how the world has become “flat.” The story is that the top-down Internet was “1.0” and now we have a user-generated “Web 2.0”. The numbering suggests the linear march of increasing democratization and decreasing corporate control.

The pendulum has swung too far.

I have tried to argue elsewhere (here and here and here) that Web 1.0 and 2.0 both exist today, sometimes in conflict, other times facilitating each other. On this blog, I have noted that sometimes “information wants to be expensive” and how the iPad marks a return to the top-down as opposed to the bottom up. Zeynep Tufekci and I have a paper under (single blind) review that discusses the iPad as the return of old media and consumer society by way of Apple’s Disney-like closed system.

Steven Johnson recently wrote a powerful op-ed in the New York Times titled “Rethinking the Gospel of the Web” that makes a similar argument. He portrays Apple’s closed system as incredibly innovative, stating that “sometimes, if you get the conditions right, a walled garden can turn into a rain forest.”

Opposed to the current orgy of writing about the powerful agent/consumer, Free, democratization, revolutionary potential, flat worlds and so on, let’s remember how structures and top-down corporate control remain important.

  • access is still unequal
  • how people use the web is unequal, something I’ve discussed as the post-structural digital divide
  • the “revolutions” of Wikipedia or open source are basically knowledge or software being produced by a few white men to now being produced by a few more white men (revolutionary this is not)

This world is not flat, and if the success of Apple is any indication, it is not getting any flatter. ~nathan

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by nathanjurgenson

My previous post centered on the implications of Google’s dominance in internet search. However, subsequent major news provides the possibility of a major restructuring of the internet search market. It also has implications on how “flat” and “open” the web really is.

One of the basic things all users of the internet do is search. Search is what makes the abundance of information usable. We assume that our search engine has access to the relevant information on the web. Most of us simply use Google to do this. These last two statements are impacted by recent news that Microsoft and Newscorp are in talks to have Newscorp’s online content (e.g., The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, The Times of London, The Sun in Britain, etc.) removed from Google and be hosted exclusively on Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

The magnitude of this news becomes clear given some of the possible implications:

1-While Google can well-afford to purchase exclusive content of its own, the very possibility of users having to go to different search engines for different types of searches so drastically changes the face of search that Google’s dominance could be unsettled. Will the users that so far have used Google out of habit continue to do so when they have to think about what engine to use depending on what they are searching for?

2-We may see a search engine arms race, where different engines gobble up different content, spreading information all around and making it far less usable for the rest of us. This creation of barriers to information and access is opposed to Friedman’s “flat world” hypothesis or the idea that “information wants to be free” (hypotheses that sociologists should be skeptical of in the first place). Whether this deal between Microsoft and Newscorp happens or not, we should remember that interested parties want information to remain expensive. ~nathan

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