There’s a new catch phrase going around: The Web 2.0. O’Reilly already has a trademark on it.
Unfortunately, nobody quite knows what it actually is. Supposedly it’s new, more involving and more brightly coloured, includes AJAX, blogs and podcasts and is everything the web was alledged to be when it was still new.
And, of course, it includes collectively created content.
But what really gets to me is all those people who seem to think that we’re all set for a wikipedish future, were everyone creates, shares and participates. And sure, there are a lot of cool new applications that can only work (or be attractive) due to a large number of participants. Say eBay. Say flickr. Say del.icio.us. And even those “old-fashion” product review pages count here.
The thing is that all those services work by monopolising the market. They have to. Everbody is free to share content, but there are those who can decide how we share, and what we share. And those are a very few private companies; which aren’t controlled by the public.
Sure Google claims they aren’t evil. And GMail is much better than the web frontend on my own server. But I have not yet brought myself to letting them keep a copy of what amounts to virtually all my personal information.
Maybe they aren’t evil. But maybe they’ll disclose my life to whatever agency that asks hard enough. There’s no way for me to know, and they’re not exactly a transparent business. And China has shown that even the “no evil” people will go with the wind that blows.
Another example: del.icio.us is a much better tool for bookmarking than the stupid web-base thingy I use. All bookmarks of all users would be at my fingertips. But del.icio.us is owned by Yahoo! now, which means that by signing up you agree that Yahoo! may track your web usage through “Web Beacons”. Oh, you can opt out of this – on a per-browser basis.
At the moment I can see only two possible solutions to this dilemma:
The first option is that the “open” scene creates alternative to those services, which are transparent and become hugely popular. But somehow I don’t see that happening. Private companies have often be more inventive, and business with paying customers seem to be more interested in making their applications polished and attractive.
The other choice would be to tighly control services that deal with sensitive information. I’m not a fan of state intervention in general, but then: Banks are also tightly controlled to make sure the customer’s savings are safe. Why should the protection of confidential information be taken less serious.
Unfortunatly, a “free market” solution won’t work. At least not unless the rules are changed in a way that gives the players real incentives to be careful with all that data they collected. But at the moment there are only incentives for collecting all the data you want, and to neither care nor tell about what’s done with it.