Ronnie05's Blog

The web’s new walls

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on October 25, 2010

Adapted from an economist article by the same name.

Internet is now evolving into plural internets. As divergent forces tug at the internet,it is in danger of losing its universality and splintering into separate digital domains.

The internet is as much a trade pact as an invention. A network of networks, it has grown at an astonishing rate over the past 15 years because the bigger it got, the more it made sense for other networks to connect to it. Its open standards made interconnections cheap and easy, dissolving boundaries between existing academic, corporate and consumer networks. Just as free trade agreements increases size of the market and boosts gains from trade, so did the internet lead to greater gains from the exchange of data, and allowed innovation to flourish. But now the internet is so large and so widely used that countries and companies and network operators want to wall bits of it off, or make parts of it work in different ways to promote their commercial interests.

WWW is for Walled wide web.

There are three sets of walls being built. The first one is national. China’s “great wirewall” already imposes tight controls on internet links with the rest of the world, monitoring traffic and making many sites or services unavailable. Governments are tightening controls on what people can see and do on the internet.

Second, companies are exerting greater control by building “walled gardens”. Facebook has its own closed internal email system. Google has built a suite of integrated weg based services. Users of Apple mobile devices have tightly defined Apple services which do not talk to devices and services beyond Apple ambit. Apple is the gatekeeper to users right and priviledges on mobiles and internet.

Thirdly, there are concerns that telecom operators looking for new sources of revenue are striking deals with content providers that favour specific websites to show up in a violation of net neutrality. This could be a serious dampener to innovation on the open internet.

Thus the incentives that used to favour greater interconnection now point the other way. While the WWW is not certainly dead as many critics comment too far, the net is looking some or lot of its openness and universality.

The walled approach is not always bad as proven by Apple, whose harvests from its walled garden have enabled it to provide services and devices that delight its customers, who may be happy to trade a little openness for greater security or ease of use; if not, they can go elsewhere. However, restrictions imposed by governments are more troubling, and harder to deal with.Governments inclined to censor might be swayed by arguments that focus on the economic benefits of openness. For Instance, China could be reminded how much more its scientists could achieve if they had unfettered access to information.

Operators on the other hand who fragment the internet by erecting new road-blocks or toll booths stand to lose customers to rival firms. The live case here is Android which has gained in dominance over Apple basis its “openness” and “innovation”.

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