The “web vs apps” debate is symptomatic of our hopes and fears for the Internet

Framing the web-vs-apps debate either as a zero-sum-game or an it’s-all-internet-traffic argument seems to reflect much larger issues or ‘symptoms’, as Mathew Ingram noted.

The debate ultimately keeps reinforcing my views about the importance of the open Internet.

First, I’m repeatedly reminded how remarkable the network is to enable differentiation like this. It would have been impossible to create a system where both things co-existed if you planned it this way.

I mean, how could it be that we agreed to a collection of open standards that were adopted by influential individuals and organizations who helped to scale them in a way that would support the amount of activity happening across the many technologies that have been deployed on top of those standards globally so many years later?

The mind boggles. It also worries. Was it an isolated event? Will it last?

Second, when corporate interests’ self-serving tactics unwittingly blast through our interests as a global society inequality abounds. They can be too quick to leave standards bodies behind and often the needs of real people.

There’s obviously nothing wrong with self-serving interests. Used the right way that can be the fastest route to solving huge problems collectively. And competition needs to be protected just as the public spaces need to be protected.

But equally we should never be surprised when commercial interests build marketplaces on top of public spaces and turn those marketplaces into winner-takes-all games at the expense of the common benefit of the space. That’s what they do.

And that’s why Obama’s bold position in favor of the Internet-as-utility matters so much.

History’s pendulum of public opinion needs to swing back the other way and help all the things that are caught in the middle of this push-pull relationship between the commons and the free markets.

Yes, standards and trade orgs and policies can all be slow to form and annoying to work with and incapable of understanding commercial opportunity, but when they do successfully enable marketplaces for us all to benefit from then you get a far healthier environment in the end.

It’s ‘the rising tide lifts all ships’ argument.

While the app market is a commercial variant that may bring some uncomfortable baggage with it into the public spaces, the question that should worry us more is about how we secure the context for this kind of market to happen again and again.

My reading of the web-vs-apps debate is that we have yet more reason to strengthen and fight for open network principles in the world.

If the current spaces failed to move fast enough for mobile marketplaces to form the way they probably should have been formed using open standards then what can we do now to ensure the public spaces underpinning the next network can support it for the benefit of all?

Does the “Internet of Things” have a strong enough commons-based underpinning to support the wave of commercial activity flooding it now, for example? Or is the race to establish inequality and win the whole thing too far gone already?

The network model we have now that includes the web and apps and many protocols most people don’t even know about might just be a once-in-a-generation slice of magic. But it might also be a principle used by future generations to build new markets.

I’m hopeful it’s the latter. It’s certainly not too late for that.

Maybe the debate can evolve into a constructive conversation about the “network we want”.

(Btw – Yes, I realize I’m late to this meme. I’m trying to get my blogging pace back up again. Not sure if I can do that or not yet.)

Was DNS a mistake? It won’t matter if publishers embrace networks.

There was an interesting choice made many years ago when the Internet was given domain names.

Yeah, it made sense at the time, but the White House’s new push to reclassify broadband access providers as “common carriers” gives me hope that some things can be fixed. And maybe the domain name was one of those miscalculations that we can look at differently now.

Before we had domain names we had numbers and dots. How could any normal person be expected to remember an address made of numbers and dots? The answer is obviously to use words instead.

Branding the way addressability was handled on the network would surely make it easier for nontechnical people to find stuff, right?

The free web servers and web browsers and the open industry standards they embraced created an information explosion, with clearly defined addresses that organizations learned how to promote in a big way.

Yes, it worked! Everyone embraced the Internet very quickly as a result.

But there were repercussions.

This combination of forces signalled to every commercial entity in the world that it had to own the nodes on the network. And thus began cyberspace’s great property landgrab.

When domain names were established as the prize ecosystems thriving on their existence formed to enshrine them. Business models were defined by how well they could draw audiences to a domain and control people’s time when they ‘arrived’ there.

The ability to publish what you want on your own server and making it freely accessible globally is a critical principle in the network’s design, but the attachment of that server to a branded address sends a heavily weighted signal about the importance of the server as opposed to the published material or the creator of it.

Without a domain name we would’ve had to work out means for distributing material with authorship attached to it as it went across the network.

That concept was already cooked into the hardware and software standards, but it wasn’t yet enshrined in the media production process when the domain + web server + web browser combo permeated every aspect of the Internet.

And now that model is in question, perhaps even outdated already.  Mobile internet traffic growth, for example, has nothing to do with domain names. It doesn’t need them.

Why are organizations struggling to identify mobile-native business models? Because so many of them have invested 15 to 20 years in driving people to spend time on their domains instead of developing their roles via the wider network.

The moment to redefine how syndication works across the network might be right now – while the transition to mobile is still fresh, as new legal definitions of ISPs take shape, as increased awareness of the threats imposed by centralized platforms shake people’s trust in domains, etc.

It’s clearly an exaggeration to blame DNS for the closed Internet trend, but it’s equally naive to think that we can secure the future of free speech by entrusting the way we access it to a handful of people at ICANN.

Could this moment right now be the much-needed window of opportunity needed for reshaping what digital media means on the network?