Is Facebook Really Killing the Web?

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On Monday, Tim Berners-Lee, the MIT professor widely credited with inventing the World Wide Web, published a 3,800-word manifesto on the future of the Internet. One of his primary concerns is the dominance of social networking sites like Facebook, which "provide value by capturing information as you enter it." As Berners-Lee sees it, these "walled garden" sites are antithetical to the open, link-based world of the Web. If one individual site were to become popular enough, the progress and innovation of the whole Web could be limited to the ingenuity of one monopolistic company:


Some people may think that closed worlds are just fine. The worlds are easy to use and may seem to give those people what they want. But as we saw in the 1990s with the America Online dial-up information system that gave you a restricted subset of the Web, these closed, “walled gardens,” no matter how pleasing, can never compete in diversity, richness and innovation with the mad, throbbing Web market outside their gates. If a walled garden has too tight a hold on a market, however, it can delay that outside growth.

This is a perpetually hot subject for Web enthusiasts. Here's how bloggers are reacting to Berners-Lee's piece:


  • Right On! nods Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing: "[It's an] inspiring, call-to-arms essay on why the web matters now more than ever, and what we must do to defend the principles of openness and interoperability at its heart."

Not everyone agrees... that Google or Facebook are actually monopolies in any kind of legal sense, although they are definitely dominant players. And while Google is clearly a web giant, Yahoo and AOL were once web giants too, and they are shadows of their former selves now, displaced by completely new players. Even Facebook, which is now seen as one of the companies to be afraid of, is threatened in many ways by Twitter — a startup that barely even existed a few years ago and is now reportedly valued at close to $3 billion.

  • He's Right: Open Source Social Networks Can't Seem to Compete with Facebook, writes Sam Dean at Ostatic:

It would be an outstanding thing to see an open platform challenge the Facebooks of the world. Without a doubt, smart purveyors of such a platform could leverage the openness, and potentially win users over with it. That idea already prompted our post "Why Does FOSS Development Lag the Innovation Curve?" The funny thing is, though, even though open source platforms and applications compete in so many other application categories, there is almost no real competition from the open source community in the social networking space. That needs to change.

  • Berners-Lee Has It All Wrong, writes Jon Henke at Silicon Angle:

I’m... somewhat mystified by Berners-Lee’s argument that “Some people may think that closed worlds are just fine“, but “these closed, “walled gardens,” no matter how pleasing, can never compete in diversity, richness and innovation with the mad, throbbing Web market outside their gates.”  This is another example of the unnecessary “either/or” approach to open and closed systems...

It seems fairly obvious to me that “open” technologies are useful in many ways, “closed” technologies are useful in others and people should be free to choose between the two.
The ability to send information to anyone, to link to content wherever it exists, and to publish almost instantly seems so commonplace now that we forget how important it is, in almost exactly the same way democracy itself is important. It’s good to be reminded, and Tim Berners-Lee is certainly the one who is best equipped to do so.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.