The real Web 2.0 shows its face

Isn't all this new stuff cool man Everyone is under the impression that this whole Web 2.0 thing that has a narrow section of the Internet world all a flutter is about freedom of data and living on the web full time with absolute transparency. The advocates of this electronic hippy movement float around the world content in their ideological bliss that everyone wants to share everything everywhere and all the time. Whether they be swimming in the river of news or paddling around tidal pools of noise while hooking themselves into the great world wide web talk show there is a shadow starting to drape itself over our illusions of electronic equality.

Without even paying attention to a world outside of their cozy terms of social media and incessant 140 character quips of their daily lives they don’t realize that there is a movement afoot that will slap them back to their electronic ashrams to wonder what went wrong. This movement is the real and breathing North American Web 2.0 and it is going to be run by those gatekeepers to the Internet – your local cable company and their brethren the equally greedy telcos.

While the rest of the world might glory in unmetered and constantly increasing speeds of their broadband lifeline here in the U.S.; and if it happens there trust me it will happen north of the border as well, we are seeing cable companies beginning to experiment with metered access. As well others since they got caught with their fingers in the traffic shaping cookie jar are now calling it protocol agnostic bandwidth management. Up here in Canada Bell just calls that deep packet monitoring and shaping but in either case it all boils down to the same thing – making the most amount of money for the least amount of service.

This is all happening at a time when the web is under the illusion that everyone has fast cheap access to the Internet 24 hours, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. It is through this imagined ubiquitous connection to the new world of electronic freedom that they believe things like free web software and common meeting grounds will change the world. Well it must be an illusion because we are being told by the real power of the internet that unless we are willing to pay up in increasingly larger amounts for even lesser access we can forget this dream world.

As this rolling wave of greed moves across the landscape there are many folks calling out for change suggesting that the web is now no longer a luxury but rather a utility that we can not live without. Others suggest that this model is nothing more than the death knell for cable companies going down that road and will fail. There are those that suggest that users will become pissed off because they have to constantly figure out what they have used and what is left.

The reality is as my fellow Canadian Mark Evans suggests that none of these moves should come as a surprise and that like Michael Arrington; along with Mike Masnick, believe that this move will do nothing less than kill off any future innovation. I have written before how I Web 2.0 - the boardroom version feel that the current idealistic version of Web 2.0 culture is something that will never happen as long as the cable companies and telcos hold the power over the very access to that new world.

That view is re-enforced on an almost daily basis as I see moves like the ones from Time Warner, Comcast and our own Bell to further erode the ability of all people to be able to access what has become the new utility. The real Web 2.0 has shown its face and it’s not about all the goodie two shoe nonsense being spouted around. No .. the real version is all about power and money.


  1. 03/06/08 at 15:31

    Steven, well written and you are right I believe. If we are to believe even half of the doom stories about the Internet breaking down over our social media consumption then someone is bound to start charging both providers and consumers to keep it alive. There is an obvious parallel here in the Mobile World.
    Then again, if I'm correct, one of the biggest and most influential infrastructure owners in the world might try to balance out this eagerness to create more revenues by force of the cable companies. It might come as a surprise to some, but I do believe Google has its tentacles out everywhere in the infrastructure. They own fiber cables, immense data warehouses, uncountable servers. I wonder if they would be able to fight of this threat or at least put in some counterweight, as they are in need of a free Internet to run their business model.

  2. 03/06/08 at 15:37

    I read the news earlier today about Time Warner's metered internet trial with some trepidation. I have to admit, the concept of an internet provider just arbitrarily stating 'your dime has run out' really doesn't sit well with me. If there was more competition in the retail space it wouldn't be so bad, I guess.. but unfortunately there's only a few big players in most places of America, and they are by and large in collusion, or at least, watching each other to see what they can get away with.

    All that said, though, I think the lesser of two evils is for a company to offer me the choice of paying more for unlimited bandwidth. In the case of Time Warner, apparently their top tier still isn't 'unlimited' but it's not much more than what I pay for internet right now anyway through them. And for people who just check their email, they could save a lot of money.

    The greater of two evils is definitely the Comcast-like, “well, we will just filter certain packets out and deny we are doing anything” line. To me that smacks of bait-and-switch.

  3. 03/06/08 at 15:42

    Actually Alexander Google's depth of involvement is no surprise to me at all. I've been following a lot of the stories about them since before their starting to buy up dark fiber. That is one reason why I am very concerned with any moves this silent monolith makes.

  4. 03/06/08 at 15:57

    The problem is; and it has been proven with companies like AT&T and Verizon, that unlimited doesn't always mean unlimited. It ends up meaning what they want it to mean and whatever will provide them with the most money. These are multi-billion dollar companies that will do whatever; and buy whatever laws they can, in order to screw the customer and innovation,

    In Canada anyone with Bell (DSL) is by now use to “questionable” service but consistently see their fees go up. I started out over a year ago having to sign up with them and I got one of their “introductory” packages for 29.95 Unlimited which was good for 'x' number of months after which it would go up to 39.95 per month except I look at my last bill and I see it is actually 45.00 per month. I would switch to cable but unfortunately being in the position I am this isn't a viable alternative so I am stuck with a provider who can do as they wish; which includes screw with my download speed which I have seen, and there isn't a damn thing I can do about it.

    The internet – or rather access to it – is not a level playing field and as long as we continue to let these access gatekeepers keep the control they do it will only get worse while the rest of the world passes us by.

  5. 03/06/08 at 21:37

    This is quite the gloomy scenario you're painting here, but I think there is a force you're discounting, the interests at the other end of the pipe from the consumers. Some of the most powerful companies in technology now rely on access models that don't insert artificial friction at the user end-point. If the Cable Companies and Telco's really start to meddle too much they risk invoking the wrath of this powerful group of entities.

    Just one player in that space, Google, has a strong vested interest in ubiquitous access (to move advertising inventory). Just to throw some numbers at this, the entire Time-Warner company (not just cable) has a market cap of 50 billion (US) whereas google has almost 180 billion (US) market cap. Beware waking the sleeping giant.

    I think the maneuvers by Google during the 700MHz spectrum auction here in the US were in some ways a warning salvo fired across the bow of the Telco's. “Careful or we will route around your restrictions”. Content is king, the pipes to get it are in some ways fungible (especially with the advent of wider area wireless).

  6. 03/06/08 at 21:43

    Didn't see this comment, but I made a point about google not allowing Cable Co.s and Telcos to kill the goose that laid the golden egg, so to speak. And it's not just Google, there are other, very powerful, players who also have an interest in unfettered access for consumers.

    Also, content is king, people could care less how they get it (via which pipes). If it becomes an issue, these players and/or the free market *will* route around the problem.

  7. 03/06/08 at 23:09

    Thanks for writing this Steven. I was pretty outraged too when I read the article about Time Warner metering. But I think it's going to play out about the same way that the gas crisis is. People will start getting frustrated enough that they find alternatives… And companies like Google (as mikepk pointed out) who have a vested interest in making sure that we have access to them will be waiting or willing to provide them when the outcry is bad enough.

    When you start messing with things that people consider utilities you're not going to be able to get away with it forever.

    It truly embarrasses me that my country has fallen so far back from the lead in technology. From our outdated mobile networks and lack of cheap bandwidth to banning genetic engineering that could save and better so many lives, to losing cred as the place to come for higher education in the sciences, we have lost it. I am hoping that once we get some new leadership in the White House some of that will turn around. But for the consumer issues, it's all a matter of how much we're willing to endure before we say it's enough.

  8. 04/06/08 at 12:13

    Even scarier is how much money has been slashed from fundamental research in the US. We like to think we get a lot of innovation from the free market, but a huge amount of the science for new drugs and other real breakthroughs happen from NSF and other government funded basic research programs.

  9. 04/06/08 at 13:13

    Even scarier is how much money has been slashed from fundamental research in the US. We like to think we get a lot of innovation from the free market, but a huge amount of the science for new drugs and other real breakthroughs happen from NSF and other government funded basic research programs.