No doubt many netizens of cyberspace were surprised to hear this week that the World Wide Web is on death’s doorstep while the Internet is alive and well and ready to be the platform for an electronic Camelot. That’s because for many folks the Web and the Net are synonymous. They use the words interchangeably in their daily lives, and they’re likely to continue using them that way even if the prediction of the Web’s fade from glory becomes a reality.
Let’s face it, all this talk of the Web’s rapidly diminishing importance is simply “inside baseball” palaver for many cybernauts who just want to get things done and don’t care about what enables them to do it. To them, it doesn’t matter that what they see in their browsers represents less than a quarter of the traffic on the Internet and is shrinking, or that most of the traffic is consumed by peer-to-peer file transfers, e-mail (90 percent of which is spam), corporate virtual private network traffic, machine-to-machine APIs, Skype calls, interactive online games, Xbox Live players, iTunes users, voice over IP phone calls, chatting, Netflix streaming movies, and so on.
Wired‘s Chris Anderson is absolutely right when he writes in his obituary for the Web: “Openness is a wonderful thing in the nonmonetary economy of peer production. But eventually our tolerance for the delirious chaos of infinite competition finds its limits. Much as we love freedom and choice, we also love things that just work, reliably and seamlessly.”
So the Web is dying. Why should we care? The answer to that question lies in the paradigm that will replace the untidy world created by openess and the nonmonetary economy. That world is not unlike the one that some say will be created by the Google-Verizon “framework” that’s predicted to destroy net neutrality on the Internet. It’s one that Anderson describes as inevitable. “It is the cycle of capitalism,” he writes. “The story of industrial revolutions, after all, is a story of battles over control. A technology is invented, it spreads, a thousand flowers bloom, and then someone finds a way to own it, locking out others. It happens every time.”
Will it happen again? That remains to be seen. But its inevitability is assured if the only response to the call that the Web is dead is, “who cares?”
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