Sunday, November 22, 2009

How social networks may drive us towards Microsoft-type monopolies once again

And here I was thinking that socialising networks would release us from the monopolistic attentions of capitalism - only for the natural algorithms that underlie their behaviours to bring me sharply to my senses.  John Naughton writes this today in the Observer:
[O'Reilly's] argument is that since Web 2.0 services get better the more people use them, so they have a natural tendency towards monopolistic specialisation. So he thinks we're headed for "a world with one dominant search engine, one dominant online encyclopedia, one dominant online retailer, one dominant auction site, one dominant online classified site, and we've been readying ourselves for one dominant social network".

It's difficult to argue with this analysis. And each of the network's local monopolies is doing everything it can to keep us inside its walled garden. Google executives, for example, constantly blather on about how they value the "open" internet, freedom of choice etc, while at the same time frantically constructing an online environment which provides a cornucopia of services sufficiently rich to ensure that subscribers need never leave the Google embrace. The same is true of Amazon, Facebook and eBay.
The truth of the matter is that if you don't own the means of production, you don't own anything.  We're back to the same sad truth time and again.  I truly believe in an open Internet.  But I'm beginning to truly believe in neither governments nor corporations.  As Naughton caustically adds:
[...] common sense, not to mention bitter experience, tells us that the company that voluntarily turns its back on the prospect of monopolistic power has yet to be incorporated.
More here from Naughton.

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