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Open Web is dead? Debate rages on economics versus openness of digital content

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Have we entered an era in which high-quality content is walled off through premium access and app stores? Or does the 'great dance' between open and closed continue?

With the rise of specialized devices for content, app stores, and premium services, many observers say the idea of the open Web is dissolving. A couple of months back, Virginia Heffernan speculated that the Web was becoming a series of walled communities, with premium, paid services separated from the riff-raff of the open Web.

Do leading Internet thinkers agree this is the course things are taking? Have we entered the "Post-Web" era?  Wired magazine just published an insightful debate between on whether the open Web, at least as we've known it, is "dead."  Wired editor Chris Anderson engaged with two of the leading Web 2.0 proponents of our day, Tim O'Reilly and John Battelle, on the discussion.

It's a long discussion, but worth the read, and here are a few snippets:

Chris Anderson: "The Web has had nearly twenty years to provide a viable business model for content, and so far it has failed to do so...  the advantages of high-production content are lost in the browser-centric marketplace, where all content looks more or less alike, context is lost, session times are measured in seconds, and brands are blurred in a river of atomized text and pictures."

Tim O'Reilly: "The competitive action has always been on the Internet as transport, with data-driven services as the back end.... It’s not APIs on the phone, it’s not Objective C or the iPhone OS, it’s still the data back end that gives even Apple its leverage."

Anderson: "There’s another term for 'points-of-control': monopolies. From Facebook to iTunes, we are seeing more and more Internet applications that are ruled by Terms of Service and invisible to Google’s crawlers...  Today’s post-Web applications and services are built around artificial scarcity and raising the barriers of entry to competition."

O'Reilly: "Open and closed are in a great dance, always have been. Openness is where innovation happens; closedness is where value is captured. And then it all begins over again."

John Battelle: "The 'open, searchable, common platform' is not dead, and no one should be planning a party on its presumed grave. It’s simply the most elegant approach to creating the most good in the world, and heralding its end strikes me as not only premature, but also shortsighted."

O'Reilly: "It’s far too early to call the open Web dead... I predict that those same big media companies are going to get their clocks cleaned by small innovators, just as they did on the Web. The big winners are going to be the platform companies, just as they were last time around, and the time before that, and the time before that."

The bottom line, which Battelle and O'Reilly seemed to be in agreement, is that the open Web always will find ways to get around attempts to close off components, and in the process, create new business models and innovations.

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure