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The Web 2.0 open/closed debate explodes

explosion.jpgA simmering debate about how much companies like Google and Oodle are allowed to duplicate from other sources has exploded into full force.

We woke up this morning to an emotional torrent on multiple sides. The significance of this stems beyond Google and Oodle and infects the entire information economy. How it is resolved will have major consequences for the economy -- destructive for some, constructive for others. Some say interests of individuals are being relegated to those of a few big companies. But there is no arbiter in this battleground. This is vicious trench warfare that will be pretty bloody for sometime to come.

The issue has been burning hot on the back burner for a while. Google has been prodding publishers to allow Google to scan content, so that it can provide search results to its users, but publishers have balked, fearing what it could mean to control of content, and their ability to...

charge for it. Google argues back that its results won't provide the full content, only excerpts -- and this would expose creative work to a greater number of people.

Meanwhile, a slew of companies like Oodle are "scraping" information from other sites, such as Craiglist for job listings or real estate listings. As we mentioned earlier, this has finally just pushed Craigslist, once considered a paragon of community-friendly, even hippy and anti-corporate philosophy, to ban Oodle from such a practice. This has sparked a fired up discussion at Oodle's Web site.

And eBay, another company known for relying on its community, has now made PayPal its only payments processor, citing the business interests of other companies as one reason it is shutting out others, writes Yannick Laclau.

What's happening? We're seeing the issue develop into a more widespread intellectual backlash against the whole idea of openness -- where worship of open source and democratic participation are the holy tenets of the supposed Web 2.0 era.

The backlash spreads beyond the "scraping" issue. Check out this essay by Nicholas Carr, titled the Amorality of Web 2.0. It is a remarkable criticism of those who are trying to turn Web 2.0 into a sort of religious, rapturous destiny. He is particularly scathing of some articles by Wired (here and here), which he says is a chief contributor to this idea that the "Web will grant us not only the vision of gods but also their power." He is contemptuous of those who make the amateur the central actor in the Web 2.0 era, and who say open companies like Wikipedia show us how the Web is allowing us to pool our "individual brains into a great collective mind."

But at a factual level [Wikipedia is] unreliable, and the writing is often appalling. I wouldn't depend on it as a source, and I certainly wouldn't recommend it to a student writing a research paper.

He then goes on to rip examples of Wikipedia entries, including for Bill Gates and Jane Fonda.

By the way, Carr is the guy who pissed off many in the valley with his essay, "IT Doesn't Matter," a couple of years ago.

Meanwhile, Om Malik provides a great overview of the open/close debate unfolding, and what it means for the individual. The individual is supposed to be empowered, but is that really happening?

I wondered out loud, if this culture of participation was seemingly help build businesses on our collective backs. So if we tag, bookmark or share, and help del.icio.us or Technorati or Yahoo become better commercial entities, aren't we seemingly commoditizing our most valuable asset - time. We become the outsourced workforce, the collective, though it is still unclear what is the pay-off. While we may (or may not) gain something from the collective efforts the odds are whatever "the collective efforts" are, they are going to boost the economic value of those entities. Will they share in their upside? Not likely!

Take Skype as an example - it rides on our broadband pipes, for which we a hefty monthly charge. It uses our computers and pipes to replace a network that cost phone companies billions to build. In exchange we can make free phone calls to other Skype users. I have no problems with that. I had no problems with Skype charging me for SkypeIN and SkypeOUT calls as well, for this was only a premium service only to be used if and when needed.

And Jeff Nolan, a venture investor and though-leader for the giant software company SAP, has come out and challenged the thoughts of people like Jeff Jarvis, the blogger and supporter of open media, whose views have become widely read -- and accepted by many -- over the past year. In particular, Nolan questions the notion that companies should rely on outside participants -- their "community" influencers -- to help develop products for them, as Jarvis advocates.

The links are numerous and growing. The comments on these are enough to keep your reading for a bit.

http://www.clipperz.net/users/marco/blog/2005/10/17/freedom_of_scraping_the_new_battleground
http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/002891.php
http://cheesman.typepad.com/seo/2005/10/craigslist_bloc_4.html


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Comments

All we're seeing is the chaos as older non-Internet business processes are transformed to engage Internet transactions. At this point, extremes battle over "open" versus "closed" models, as if this bears any reality to how people interact with each other.

I've been a part of the workstation, open source, fabless semiconductor, and Internet services businesses in Silicon Valley. All these businesses relied on a massive restructuring in how the business created / sold products. We used Unix on microprocessor-based workstations instead of OS/370 on VM mainframes. We used open source applications, OS, and tools instead of proprietary software. We used advanced CAD software, FPGAs, and bid out the fab to build entire new families of semiconductors. And now we're using the 33 year old Internet to finally build and transform entire industries from publishing to software.

But here's what you still need - in publishing, you need the journalist who really can write or speak or send smoke signals about a story that connects. You need editors who know what the reader wants. You need publishers to build communities of readers with like desires. So they are in the business of selling pleasure, like Nolan says. And pleasure means talent is paramount.

Tony DeRose of Pixar said it best - he doesn't want to get rid of animators. He wants to make them more creative. And if they're not creative, we won't watch those movies.

There's always the temptation to build a walled garden, keeping competitive technologies out. But it is equally flawed to think that letting just anyone tramp on the grass, until it is brown and dead, is better. What you let into your house and life depends on a lot of other people's ideas, work and values. That has been the case, and will remain, when the Internet becomes just another utility.

Lynne Greer Jolitz
Chief Technology Officer
ExecProducer / CoolClip Network

Lynne Jolitz on October 18, 2005 12:55 PM
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Lynne makes good points, some. I do think however, that, the whole Web 2.0 movement is just another example of the technologists fascinated by the technology and forgetting the main tenet of the business, which is, it has to solve a problem in a profitable way.

If we concede that this Web 2.0 is really only a conversation between a bunch of techno-geeks and nothing more, then that's fine. But to delude oneself into thinking that this is some kind of next big thing is laughable.

It's been nearly ten years that we've been buzzing about internet business processes, the new era brought on the web and to this day, I still can't get a single service that consolidates all my monthly bills. We have crazy number of software packages that don't talk to each other, and yes I do mean also that increasingly irrelevant sector called EDA and the best software that works and works really well is still the email application. Take a read at this recent New York Times article to see what I mean. I've turned the link into Tinyurl to avoid text-wrapping problems.

http://tinyurl.com/7tmmh

It seems to me that all Web 2.0 is interested is in solving chicken scratch problems like social networking etc., and is in head over heels with this mediocrity called blogging. This Web 2.0 is more fascinated with it's own image in the mirror (there's a word for it) as reflected in the conversations it engages with itself with glee.

Come on guys, there are over 6 billion people living on this planet, a majority of them in dire poverty, lack of food and care. Technologists and folks who trawl the internet on a daily basis, like me, are in the minority, so please don't think we are the center of world. That hubris can kill you.

The day we have something that helps avoid another tragedy in the aftermath of Katrina (via superior open sourced social supply chain and people network), another Darfur, mitigate another earthquake damage, regardless of where it occurs, I've heard somebody say Web disintermediates geography, that is the day when you can say we've solved a problem. Until then, leave the big heavy weight problems to heavy weights like UPS, Wal-mart, GE etc., who have the infrastructure and the profit motive to be there first.

All this talk of open invitations to everyone to communities and cream rises to the top talk is naive. Cream doesn't rise to the top unless there's someone with a stick stirring and shaking it.

SimplyTired on October 18, 2005 3:12 PM
Comment link

To say that Web 2.0 is amoral implies that it had a morality to begin with. This morality could only be that of it‚s participants. And to call all of it‚s participants amoral, in my opinion, can only be a generalization drenched in fallacy. That said, I do understand and share Carr‚s caution of venerating the amateur and distrusting the professional. After all, there is a reason why the pros are pros. I would never want to help propagate false or inaccurate information.

I wonder though, at what point did this shift occur? At what point did the amateur opinion ever come close to trumping the professional‚s? My only supposition that I‚ll enter into the fray is that of Marshall McLuhan: The medium is indeed the message. Has the medium so radically changed whereby the message of the amateur takes on equal weight to that of the pro? Has the medium brought about a social paradox whereby social intelligence and „the hypeš eclipse and overshadow the clout of the seasoned individual? Is there a reversal mechanism in play now, or will there be in some not-too-distant future? More questions than answers here.

I'm writing more about it here.

Andrew Lin on October 25, 2005 8:05 AM
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