Not quite a New Age

Tim O’Reilly, in his commencement speech at the Berkeley School of Information yesterday, dropped the pom-poms and provided a remarkably unutopian view of the Web 2.0 future:

If history is any guide, the democratization promised by Web 2.0 will eventually be succeeded by new monopolies, just as the democratization promised by the personal computer led to an industry dominated by only a few companies. Those companies will have enormous power over our lives – and may use it for good or ill. Already we’re seeing companies claiming that Google has the ability to make or break their business by how it adjusts its search rankings. That’s just a small taste of what is to come as new power brokers rule the information pathways that will shape our future world.

As a result, I urge you to think hard about the consequences of new technology. Don’t just take for granted that technology will bring us a better world. We must engage strenuously with the future, thinking through the dark side of each opportunity, and working to maximize the good that we create while minimizing the harm.

Hear hear.

2 thoughts on “Not quite a New Age

  1. vinnie mirchandani

    Is this the Berkeley of the 60s? music, movies certainly made money of the anti-corporate mood then

    Calls to mind Toffler’s new book – Revolutionary Wealth where he talks about how money will be made on the back of communities like open source, blogging, etc where many of us contribute for free and someone is making money…not sure that is evil…packaging is an important part of any offering…I do think we will see models where participants do get compensated in some way and also influence the intermediary…

  2. Dion Hinchcliffe

    I was fortunate enough to have breakfast with Tim last week and we kicked around definitions for Web 2.0. What became clear is that he is both utopian yet eminently grounded in his thinking around it.

    Shortest definition of Web 2.0 we both agreed to was “networked applications that explicitly leverage network effects.”

    Of course, this latter part makes no mention of the good or bad outcomes of those increasingly potent network effects. And this is the crux of the problem… MySpace roping in millions of young people together into their own community could be terrific for their development. Or pulling them out of greater society and into a bubble world, just when they should be experiencing the real thing, could be ultimately disasterous. It’s very hard to see the outcomes.

    We also spent some time talking about the potentially sinister aspects of the present and emerging Web 2.0 giants, including brokers of critical data (like search, mapping, communities, etc.) that are just as monolithic as IBM and Microsoft were of yesteryear.

    The risk: Perhaps history repeats itself and we end up with a few giant near-monopolies around Web 2.0 applications and their data.

    Dion Hinchcliffe

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