If the web is dead is neutrality the next victim?
Wired editor Chris Anderson, famous for saying that the nature of digital abundance (as opposed to physical scarcity) would create a race to the zero-price-point has now come out proclaiming the web dead.
In a two pronged article for Wired, Anderson argues that users have killed the web in the search for sleeker interfaces that have been tailored for a device fragmented world. New contributing editor, columnist for Vanity Fair and Newser founder Michael Wolff takes a different view, arguing business and media are responsible in their drive to make the web profitable.
For all the hyperbole (‘The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet‘ proclaims the title) the article isn’t actually as controversial as it would have you believe. Anderson may have been banging the drum about the benefits of removing price from the purchase consideration process but he has also always conceded that ‘Freemium’, where a small proportion of users pay for enhanced access, is a pretty sensible compromise. The article also highlights that Wired itself heralded the death of the web browser as early as 1997.
In all honesty you do not need to be Editor-in-Chief of Wired to realise the decreasing importance of ‘the open web’, by which Wired really mean the world wide web and more specifically the web browser. Smart phones and tablet devices, with their tailored applications, are the most obvious example but let’s not forget the applications built on social media platforms and those that will shortly be appearing within a browser environment itself. And that is not all – probably the biggest revolution in the Internet will arrive when our televisions are hooked up by default. The Internet will eventually be less about the web and increasingly just the primary technology to distribute.
In fact, as Rob Beschizza of BoingBoing points out, the web isn’t in decline at all – quite the opposite, it’s growing but has been joined by other internet activities that are also growing, albeit at an even faster rate.
Wired’s accusatory finger pointing at the iPhone is actually a little unfair – despite the closed nature of the app store itself many ‘open’ principles exist within mobile applications on the device. Just look at the myriad of free applications, many of which have built in sharing facilities, and the increasing way in which services are layered across content. A classic example would be the brilliant way in which Instapaper is now integrated into so many other applications. It even exists within news readers themselves, making it possible to take your content elsewhere easily – even a Kindle or good old paper.
What ‘The Web Is Dead…’ really illustrates however is how important the Internet is becoming. It increasingly powers every way in which we communicate and consume. Net neutrality, the principle that users of the Internet should be able to use the it without ISPs or governments controlling content, sites or platforms, may seem dry and uninteresting to the average Internet user but the increasing dependence we have on the net clearly illustrates the importance. With Google and Verizon rapidly deciding which elements of the net should be prioritized without consulting with anyone else (and deciding that the increasingly important wireless services should be exempt at the same time) it really is about time to start taking the neutrality debate seriously.