Is the Web Closing?

NEW YORK – Within the tech community, there is much angst about whether the Web is about to be “closed.” Will it be controlled by companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google, or will it remain “open” to all? Will individuals be able to reach any content they choose? Will developers be able to serve users on any platform?

These questions are not new. Fifteen years ago, in the United States at least, it was America Online (now AOL) that was closing the Internet. Millions of people were relying on it for Internet service and content. Today, AOL’s purported control of the Internet looks like a joke, but it was considered a real threat at the time.

The threats nowadays come from both new companies and new models. (More about governments some other time!) Facebook is getting a lot of press, owing to its omnipresence and its pending stock offering. Increasingly, many people go online to use Facebook and little else, while Facebook encourages people to stay on Facebook to play games on Zynga, shop through Facebook commerce pages, and so on. Will Facebook control who gets to talk to us?

Likewise, Apple not only sells hardware; it controls, through its AppStore, what applications we can use on our iPads and iPhones. Amazon determines which books we read. Google, for its part, is filtering our search results – both by focusing our attention on what also interests our friends, and by excluding Twitter and Facebook results from what we see (mostly because Google and Facebook/Twitter cannot agree on whether Google should pay them or they should pay Google).