To be honest, when I read your blogpost last December, I was somewhat taken aback by your candor, as you were resigned to the passing of the “Internet Dream…”
But in your closing paragraph, you held out hope… (highlighting mine)
We must see this, because even if it is too late to save the Internet dream, we can use our grief to inspire a renewed commitment to the openness that was its essence, to open information and open platforms. And so, even as we take off our hats to watch the Internet pass in all its funereal splendour, in our hearts we can have hope that its dream will live again.
And this was all before the Cambridge Analytica incident… even your follow-up blogpost in February predates the March 17 blockbuster reports from the NY Times and The Observer.
The CA/Facebook episode may very well be the “final nail in the coffin”, the very crisis that sets up the necessary pre-conditions to bring about reviving the Dream.
What gives me pause though is that the playbook that worked for the invention of the Web, may not very well work to reinvent it.
If you read the History of the Web, there are several things that stand out:
It was a “Vague but Exciting” project that TBL somehow managed to convince his boss to approve. Would any grant funder/VC using today’s benchmarks approve a proposal like that today?
would government/s fund such a project, that at its foundation, is meant to dismantle the current monopolists? Lobbyists would be all over such a proposal. Witness how “successes” like Net Neutrality and the Paris Climate Accord were turned back…
even the incumbents participated - all the proprietary networks of the 90s eventually enabled Web gateways, and over a relatively short time, deprecated their own networks and adopted the Web. With their overwhelming market power, the current incumbents need to be part of the solution, what combination of incentives/regulations will make Facebook, Google, et. al. participate? Will their shareholders with their quarterly horizons even allow it?
As you pointed out in your “mis-diagnosis” addendum, network effects naturally lead to de facto standards. To displace the incumbent standard, you need the new one to be markedly better for it to succeed in the marketplace.
IMHO, the Web succeeded not only because it was open and you didn’t need to pay licensing fees, it was also far better than the Walled Gardens of the 90s - Compuserve, Prodigy, Genie, MSN, etc.
Will the open solution of our New Internet Dream be able to cut the intertwined Gordian Knot of security, internet address space, malware, super cookies, DDOS, social media operating as utilities, identity, algorithmic profiling, etc. to take down today’s Walled Empires? Does it need to? IMHO, it has to have near “silver-bullet” capabilities (at least compared to what we have. As Brooks tells us - there is no SB) for incumbents to swallow the open platform bitter pill that comes with it.
The good thing is that there’s wide agreement that the Internet’s underlying infrastructure needs redress - not even the world’s richest entities, not even nation-states can protect their digital assets on the Web.
But will it be enough to lead to a fundamental change? We’ve been here before with Yahoo, eBay, Uber, JP Morgan Chase, Equifax, OPM, etc. And speaking of Equifax, its profits rose 20% in 2017, with net income rising 40% in the fourth quarter - the quarter after its massive data breach was revealed!
Sadly, the very information cacophony enabled by the Broken Web is giving us all short-term memory. Even trust and reputation mechanisms are starting to fail as we become inured to the latest data breach headlines or the blanket “fake news” dismissal…
As you put forward in your upcoming book - Open Revolution, it’s all about choice. But how can we ensure that most, if not all of us, Choose Open?