Whatever became of the World-Wide Web?

The only certainty in life is change.  If things are bad, the only certainty is that they will be different soon.  If things are good, the only certainty is that they will be different soon.  This can be a comfort, or a warning.  But it is a fact.

What brought this on, you may ask?  Well, I write this blog on WordPress.  I don’t use most of the features.  But one that I do use is the “Jetpack Social”, which automatically posts a notification to a couple of twitter accounts when I write a new post.  Or it did.  This post is the first where it won’t work.  Why?

You currently have 0 shares remaining. Upgrade to get more.

That’s right.  On the right of my working area, some words have appeared: “You currently have 0 shares remaining. Upgrade to get more.  More about Jetpack Social”.  By “Upgrade”, of course, they mean pay them money every month for the same service that I enjoyed for the last 10 years for free.  No thank you.

This is an example of the good old, bad old commercial habit known as predatory pricing.  You give your product away, create a monopoly – after all, nobody will bother to produce an alternative – and then, once you have the monopoly, you start charging them for basic functionality.  It’s illegal in many countries.

This leads me to some rather rueful reflections.

I started contributing to the World-Wide Web in 1997, writing HTML pages.  This I did for very many years.  I came very late to the blogging world, and missed the boom entirely.  But I’ve found the format very useful, and I have blogged for about 20 years now, using WordPress.

The web exists because it is trivially easy to knock up a few webpages in basic HTML.  Or, at least, it was.   Now it is very very difficult to do without something like WordPress to do all the formatting for you.  The result is that around a third of the web runs on WordPress.  The practical effect is to exclude, to place the power in the hands of a handful of privileged individuals who control the platforms.

Blogging platforms were adopted because they were free, and even easier to use, and looked better.  Or, at least, they were.  WordPress too has become fearsomely complicated.  The default writing editor is now too complicated for me, and I use the old one.  And because it is so complicated, it has to have constant security updates.  So, although the software is open-access, in practice you must use the latest one.  The practical effect, again, is to centralise power.

Google exists because it was such a great search engine compared to the others.  At least, it was.  Now all you can find is advertising for commercial products.  Because Google holds the monopoly, they show you stuff that makes them money.  That means that stuff that is free is not their priority.  So, in practice, Google is not a search engine any more, but a portal.  So where do you go when you need a search engine?

Monopolies and cartels are evil things.  Yet here we are.  The free, open world-wide web, where anybody could contribute, and anybody could say anything, has gone.  The world-wide web looks very like the offline world.  It is controlled, monetized and taxed by people who contribute nothing to it, but demand total control.  They have not hesitated to abuse this power for political purposes, just as broadcasters have done for all the years of my life.

I miss the old web.  I don’t want this commercial, despotic monster, controlled by people whom I should not care to know.

But where do we go now?

I have no idea what the answer is.  Change is the only certainty.  All the same, I miss the old web.

PS.  Apparently this will be my 4,445th blog post.  According to WordPress.

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2 thoughts on “Whatever became of the World-Wide Web?

  1. Interesting post Roger. Indeed, we are trapped by monopolies/cartels in the virtual digital wrold. The goings-on at Twitter are such the “Feeds” are now altered by Algorithms, such that people active in certain areas or ways are becoming polluted by Tweets from people they would not usually follow in a million years. Stopping it is tricky. FB is somethinng which is pervasively horrible in what it has done. I feel sure the rest like Instagram must be the same.

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