the Web

The End of Civilisation as We Know it. Oh, wait.. no.

November 25, 2009

I feel like the web, Web 2.0, Freemium, Twitter, AJAX and all that other crazy stuff we find ourselves mired in is about to implode. The backlash has begun. It’s likely because ‘normal’ people (also known as ‘the rest of us’) are now involved (as it should be). I also think that we’re on course for a two-tier Internet.

I love The Word magazine. It’s mostly about music, and a little about movies and other cool stuff. Much ‘old’ media, as much as I hate the term, but then Word has been around for a lot longer than Twitter and Facebook. But now they’re dead keen on podcasts, Twitter and in particular Spotify (naturally), but in the last couple of issues there have been angry opinion pieces against a couple of the things we geeks hold dear: free stuff, and hating Lilly Allen. I got out my pen and paper, and prepared to write a strongly Worded letter, but then luckily stopped. Word completely missed the point on both occasions. On the first they mistook Chris Anderson’s Free-based business model as some kind of impending law. OK, Anderson went out of his way to recommend musicians only charge for live performances, which I think is unworkable, but the journalist seemed very threatened by the possibility that he would be out of a job because his line of work was being devalued. Just because we can get words for free, doesn’t mean you can’t charge for the good stuff. Quality journalism is still subject to the economics of scarcity, even if journalism as a whole no longer is.

Anyway, enough of the defending of Free. The second Word article had a massive (and I mean MASSIVE) go at the oiks who railed against Lily Allen when she came out in favour of copyright. That journalist got carried away with poorly-concealed rage at these idiots on blogs. And of course the cover line for the article was ‘How blogs destroy debate’. Yes, of course, there is less debate when more people speak. But despite his hypocrisy (in support of artists when they’re in favour of copyright protection, but against Kevin McClure – an artist – when he’s defending the consumer), I found myself coming down on his side. God, we ARE coming to expect stuff – all stuff – for free! And we’re complaining in poorly-defended vitriol when those who try to make a living out of it complain! There are plenty of arguments (‘just charge for live stuff like artists always have’) but I feel deep inside, as a person who was completely taken in by these arguments for a long time, that we’re just trying to coerce people into releasing stuff for free, because we don’t want to pay.

But the real point I want to make is that those twats who came out so strongly against Allen (forcing her to take down her original blog post) are part of the problem, despite being in denial of it.

The internet started out as a serendipitous network between university research departments, and expanded that way for years before the World Wide Web took off. Many sites and technologies (Twitter, bulletin boards, discussion forums) were the domain of geeky early adopters before the masses discovered them. And I think they were better places to be before this… exploitation (of anonymity, no fear of backlash) took hold alongside mass adoption.

Bruce Sterling has recently had a bit of a prediction of doom regarding Web 2.0 (though he thinks something will replace it), and Stephen Fry caused waves when he threatened to become a Qwitter. Gary ‘Big Mouth’ Marshall of .net magazine amongst other places was right on the mark when he said that soon we’d all realise that this was a lot more pointless (though no less fun, I might add) than we were willing to let on. Iranian elections were being saved by Twitter until Michael Jackson died, then…

And if you are of a slightly webby/geeky bent, and find yourself travelling we well-known paths of the web news, you’ll find that the vast majority of people on social media sites are obsessed with discussing… social media sites and the great things you can do with them! I’ve been in plenty other situations like this, where the theory completely overcomes the practice, and takes place instead of it. Why don’t you actually get out there and DO something, rather than talk about it. OK, this is turning into a rant now, but there you go.

What I see happening is that the wider world gets sick of all this Twitter self-love, and all the skinflinty ‘consumers’ who continue to refuse to pay and yet blame the artists for wanting to earn money. The web as we know it will fall apart, but left in the steaming wreck will be the geeks who make best use of it. Perhaps forum trolls will be around forever, but I doubt it. The fun will wear off, the post-apocalyptic inhabitants will find ways to ignore it or block it, and the Net will calm down to the way it was years ago (before I got involved, so I’m not being too nostalgic here). We’ll stop theorising and start using these tools for other stuff rather than for talking about these tools. People will go back to paying for things, Google will still be indexing News International, and we’ll still be mashing up other people’s stuff to make our own (though I still won’t be reading News International content). Revolution will be over, the novelty will be gone, and we can all get on with incorporating the web into our daily lives, rather than incorporating our daily lives into the web.

Can’t wait.