Thursday, 2 August 2012

Truth from Dalton Caldwell, now what?

I believe that future social platforms will behave more like infrastructure, and less like media companies. I believe that a number of smaller, interoperable social platforms with a clear, sustainable business models will usurp you. These future companies will be valued at a small fraction of what Facebook and Twitter currently are. I think that is OK. Platforms are judged by the value generated by their ecosystem, not by the value the platforms directly capture.

Dalton Caldwell's open letter to Mark Zuckerberg

The Web 3.0 Lab fully suppers Dalton Caldwell idea here.  Social Media platforms should be utilities, like phone lines or water companies, that produce far far more wealth for the overall economy than they produce for the firms.  In earlier times, say the 1980s, Facebooks and Twitter practices might even be investigated and changed via government regulation, but we live in the age of Enron, Libor, and check the web for the latest Corporate corruption story for it will have likely changed before I have a chance to press publish.

But what Mr Caldwell does not give us, what none of the Internet gurus who dream of Cyberutopias has been able to give us is a road map.

It is time to start thinking in term of political economy.  What kind of world wide web are we going to get in a world dominated by corporation and profit motive?  Well we already know:

  • Junk content: Wikipedia has produced quality content by avoiding the profit motive, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and the web in general has a high trash to content ratio that gets worse and worse all the time.  I assume most people have given up on trying to learn things from the web that matter.
  • Monopoly distribution: a few firms with massive leverage will continue to try and control the entire market, and in the current atmosphere of ideological paranoia around all things to do with Capitalism it is hard to see regulation of Internet firms coming anytime soon, and certainly not breaking up larger firms like Google, Facebook and Yahoo in to smaller firms.
  • Chaos: The internet is at its core an engine of chaos.  It does this in many ways.  The Internet speeds the process of information and money flow to a point where it is impossible for a human mind to make sense of it.  The Internet breaks down established patterns of trust and community that work against self interests by creating here today gone tomorrow virtual communities.  The Internet makes fraud easier and spreads panic.

There is not question that the Internet on every mobile phone has opened a new world of communication to vast numbers of human beings, but what is lacking is the social regulation of this new system to ensure we get the social outcomes we democratically want.  Look at Egypt, the very people who used Facebook and Twitter so effectively to get global support for their cause were utter failures in getting votes.

Having a unregulated world wide web is not the same as freedom.  And what freedom a Capitalist Anarchy might provide users now will be quickly lost as massive players start to exercise political power to ensure their revenues streams.  Already file sharing and bitturrents have been made criminal.  Probably porn will be next.  In time Twitter and Facebook will likely give us a more regulated speech, where corporate sponsors will be able to control who can see our tweets and likes.  

The time to do something is not now, it was 10 years ago.  Lets hope it is not too late. 

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