I’m quite young — 18 years old, but still quite young. Nevertheless, I was also introduced to the Internet and the Web at a very early age, so I can personally say I have grown up alongside it all.
I remember way back when there was no Twitter or Facebook or even Wikipedia. Google was not the mainstream search engine (when I began using the Web, Yahoo! dominated every area of the Web you might have looked). I remember our family initially subscribing through NetZero dial-up (the company still offers it today, which is a scary thing to think about), and moving on to SBC DSL when we started seriously using the Internet (which, for the most part, meant my dad needed it for work).
Anyways, back then when you wanted to look something up, you typed a query into Yahoo! or AOL, then scrolled through the listing to try to find what you were looking for. Yes, I actually remember scrolling through multiple sites to find what I needed to know, whereas nowadays, Wikipedia articles are typically the top results for most simple queries.
The websites back then were hardly as stylish as the Web is today. CSS barely had any real adoption; for the most part, Web pages were built entirely out of raw HTML. I remember operating my own GeoCities site, dabbling in the magic that was hypertext markup. I had not realized it then, but the majority of the Web was pretty much as unglamorous as my GeoCities site was.
But there is a problem with the state of the Web as it is today. When people produce content on services like Twitter, Facebook, or Google+, it is located only on the servers of Twitter, Facebook, and Google. WordPress-hosted blogs store all their content on the WordPress servers. Flickr photos are stored on servers operated by Yahoo! The people creating the content aren’t actually the ones serving it.
But all of these services are doing content producers a favor, right? They offer to host all of your wonderful content for what appears to be absolutely free on your part. But is it really free?
In reality, all of these services make money from your content. Either they serve advertisements next door to your content or they are targeting advertisements towards you, specifically, depending on whatever it is that you are sounding off about on these services.
And what’s more, what would happen if, all of a sudden, these services just ceased to exist? Where would all your content go? Google allows you to download most of your data, but it obviously has to still be online to do that. What if these companies go bankrupt, are subjected to a malicious hack, or become overrun by a software malfunction? All of your content, which you might have spent years pouring yourself into, could be gone in an instant.
Back up your data? Sure, it’s a nice thought. But no one really backs up the data they care about in the end.
That is why, friends, I want Web 1.0 to make a comeback. I want users to take back control of the data they are producing. It’s your content, after all, and you should be able to call first dibs on being able to gain from it.
Services like Twitter and Flickr don’t have to go away, though. Rather than being the means through which you produce and distribute your content, these services should simply assist you in formatting and relaying your content to a broader audience.
Am I suggesting that every person who wants to produce content as simple as a 140-character status update set up a Web server in their own home? Perhaps I am. Does that sound like a step backwards? It might to the few who have become reliant on the services that dominate the Web today, who see no other alternative nor are ambitious enough to give something else a try. Maybe it could be as simple as having your own slice of the cloud, where you let a service merely provide the pipe through which your content makes its way to the rest of the world.
My point is, I believe we are headed in an awkward direction for the Web. Unless something is done about it, we might just get stuck with a few dominating corporations that exist solely to monetize and monopolize your creative expression and intelligent thought on the Web.
CC licensed Flickr photo by believekevin