How Did We Let the Open Internet Die?

The Internet was, and still is, an open, decentralized framework for sharing information. How did we let it die by ceding everything over to companies?
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Author

Dan Pacheco

Published

October 30, 2022

How Did We Let the Open Internet Die?

Today is close to zero day for Twitter 2.0, three days after Elon Musk closed on his $44 Billion deal to buy Twitter after trying to get out of the deal all summer. Much has been written about this, so I won’t get into details.

But what I am thinking about a lot as a result is not just why people care so much (Twitter and Facebook and TikTok for that matter have all been commercial enterprises owned by someone), but how people of Planet Earth got into a mindset of believing that social networks are the only way to express your voice? They are built upon the open Internet, which is built upon open-source code which is basically free to use. The only time you have to pay – assuming someone like GitHub or Google doesn’t host basic info for you for free – is if you want to host it somewhere that doesn’t benefit from using your eyeballs to sell ads, or selling your personal data.

The world seems to be in this bizarre tailspin of believing that the billionaires of the world have bought up all free speech. I’m here to remind you that they haven’t, and can’t, as long as the the Internet itself continues to operate the way it always has since becoming available to anyone in the mid 1990s.

And let’s not forget that Twitter, Facebook TikTok and any other social media or publishing service whose business is built around convenience are themselves operating on the open Internet.

If you don’t know much about this, that’s one of the things that my upcoming book talks about. Experimenting with Emerging Media Platforms starts off talking about how as a college student in the 1990s, I had the fortune and fortitude to be exposed to the World Wide Web and HTML before most people even knew what those words meant. The Internet was an emerging media platform. A few people seemed to understand that all media would eventually gravitate toward it, but most at the time saw it as just one more tech gadget that would come and go.

Well, thankfully for us all, it did not. The Internet is the font of much technology innovation, and it’s what powers all digital media. But instead of thinking about how to protect the open nature of the Internet – which could be dismantled just as easily as a social network – we fret about who owns social media companies.

So my message to you if you have read this far is this: if it bothers you that Elon Musk owns Twitter, or that Mark Zuckerberg owns Facebook, or that ByteDance owns TikTok – just remember that they operate on what is actually a completely free and open underlying platforms known as the internet. It is here, hopefully to stay, and this is a great time to start learning how to use it at a more basic level. Then, after you do that, feel free to complain about who owns the services that we all choose to use that sit on top of it.