Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Web is in Trouble

The Web is in Trouble

Tweeted about by the Guardian's Jack Schofield almost before the ink was dry we see that Bryan Appleyard, in today’s Sunday Times, is being controversial.

He says:
“The web is in trouble. Last week craigslist, a vast classified-ads site, had to abandon its “erotic services” category because of claims that it was an “online brothel” being used by sexual predators. And in France L’Oréal discovered eBay could not be forced to stop selling cheap knock-offs of its products.”
Well I never. Imagine.... Porn on the Internet. What is the world coming to?

This sounds like the crackdown on Bolton’s on-street vice trade which resulted in more than 150 prostitutes and 115 kerb-crawlers being arrested in the last two years.

As for counterfeit being trades on eBay it’s almost as bad as Hua Xue. He was stopped by police when he was riding his bicycle in Southbourne and was carrying some counterfeit films which had not been released in UK cinemas. Gosh! Is this what happens on the internet too?

Mr Appelyard was doing his best. The internet is giving newspapers a lot of grief. It is giving journalists more. They have to be very good to survive.

So Bryan dragged up the 2006 book by David Edgerton. He writes:

“The internet”, says David Edgerton, professor of the history of technology at Imperial College London and author of The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900, “is rather passé . . . It’s just a means of communication, like television, radio or newspapers.”

Edgerton is the world expert in tech dead ends. Fifty years ago, he points out, nuclear power was about to change the world; then there was supersonic passenger flight, then space travel. The wheel, he concedes, did change the world, as did steam power. The web is not in that league.

One great promise of web 2.0 was that it would lead to a post-industrial world in which everything was dematerialised into a shimmer of electrons. But last year’s oil price shock and this year’s recession, not to mention every year’s looming eco-catastrophe, show that we are still utterly dependent on the heavy things of the old economy. In fact, says Edgerton, we may, in retrospect, come to see coal as the dominant technology of our time. China and America have lots of the stuff and they plan to burn it. The web, like it or not, uses energy, quite a lot of it, and that will continue to be made with big, heavy, industrial-age machines.”

An excellent example of a specific viewpoint.

Because it is in the Sunday Times, it will have traction and notably already has online.

This week I, with Philip Young of Sunderland University launch our book (Online Public Relations – Kogan Page) which offers a countervailing view (Twitter #opr2ed)

There are two issues to consider.

The first is that, like coal, the internet offers mankind the opportunity to be more productive. That is, an ability to add intellectual properties to ‘things’ that make people more effective in their lives.

Coal does this by providing energy beyond the capability of human physiology to bring water, food, improved housing, health and facility. By using our big brains we can do this better than other species (none of which have come close to the human capability).

The internet, among other advantages, makes people more productive by reducing the time it takes to bring co-creators together by levering up the human need for social groups sharing common values and facilitates new ideas to extend our physiology in other ways. It extends knowledge freely available to mankind and provides much facility in the use an application of such knowledge.

There is a further advantage for the, still young, internet. It has the capability for very fast, human moderated evolution. A small proportion of the billion or so users of the internet are deployed in developing its capabilities not just in Open Source activities such as Linux or Wikipedia but in the capability to use Open Systems such as Yahoo! BOSS and other such ventures now becoming apparent from the likes of Google, Proctor and Gamble, IBM and many more.

None of these companies could afford tens of thousands of developers but, the Open Movement is harnessing the capabilities of hundreds of thousands.

Some of their inventions will make a big difference to many lives (an example is in development of mobile micropayments for India’s small farmers). Others will be shooting stars and most will have no significance at all.

Internet evolution and the evolution it offers other forms of individual, corporate political and cultural activity is very dynamic.

There is whiff of industrial revolution in this form of change.

Yochai Benkler tells us about these changes in spades and answers Bryan pretty comprehensively on the specifics of values and copyright.

As David Edgerton will remind us, that was a time of social change too and the attack on the rights of people was pretty dramatic too.

People, that is, the members of the species that adapts so well, will resolve the issues that arise including issues of privacy.