It's time to care about the open web
Thursday, January 7, 2016 by Dave Winer

Finally journalists are writing about the problems of silos. 

It's the big story of tech, but one that never seems to make headlines, even though the limits of silos have completely formed what we understand as technology, and is in the process of reforming our idea of journalism. Yet the force for change in technology is the opposite of a silo, platforms where there is no lock-in, where it's easy to switch, where products and services compete only on the basis of performance, features and price.

We've had silos in the software world for a long time. We know that they stifle experimentation. For example, no one has been allowed to ship a scripting language for iOS. We're nine years into that platform. Who knows what kinds of apps would exist if we had something as simple as BASIC or HyperCard running on our iPhones. 

Journalism was luckier. The web snuck up on the tech industry, before they had a chance to lock the doors. It blossomed into an incredible variety of human expression and commerce. But given enough time, and docility of users, the tech industry is getting close to locking this up too. But there's hope because finally journalism sees what's happening.

Twitter as a silo

In Slate, Will Oremus writes, re the easing of Twitter's 140-char limit. 

Instead of funneling traffic to blogs, news sites, and other sites around the Web, the “read more” button will keep you playing in Twitter’s own garden.

I agree, this is Twitter wanting to suck all our writing into their platform. But they didn't invent the idea, so don't blame Jack. He's just matching Facebook, and I fully endorse what they're doing. I want Twitter to achieve parity with Facebook. 

I want them to go beyond and allow simple Markdown features. Bold, italic, linking. Let posts have titles. It's not the Twitter we started with in 2006. But take another look at Twitter today, it's already moved quite a distance from its simple beginnings. That's the way platforms evolve. 

I want Twitter and Facebook to become better platforms for news, but at the same time the open web must get an upgrade too. 

What do do?

Now that journalism sees what's happening, and their fear is starting to rise, what to do about it? Believe it or not, there is plenty to be done. 

  1. First, stop giving over hosting of our creativity to tech companies with vague business models. I'm thinking of Medium. It costs virtually nothing to store a public essay on the web. I strongly urge a foundation or university to back a project to provide the ease and elegance of Medium without the lock-in. We totally know how to do it. With platforms like Node.js and open source projects like medium-editor, we have all the basic technology we need. I would use Amazon S3 to store the writing, though there are plenty of other approaches. Key point: we should not be giving up any future for the open web for the tiny cost of web hosting for writing. 
  2. Second, build open distribution systems to compete with Facebook and Twitter. People laughed at Hulu when they launched to compete with YouTube, but it worked! And Netflix is growing like a weed. Tech companies are good at bluster, and they do it because it works. But Facebook is not established in news yet. There's still time, if there's a will, to put together many open distribution systems of all variety, to build on the power of the open web.

Feed the open web

Tech is like all other industries. They're consuming natural resources and turning them into shareholder value. But what's left when they're done will be useless. Imagine journalism that tries to exist within a silo. It just doesn't work, and I suspect most people fully get this, but have been hoping we will find some way out of the conundrum. 

But there's another approach, commerce and freedom co-existing and building off each other. I have been reading about Central Park in New York, how the land was set aside early in the city's history, and how the city thrived around a central place that was open for all to enjoy. The most expensive real estate in the world is all around this miracle of human vision.

It's quite possible that Facebook will stop thriving once they fully consume the open web. I believe they need to exist within the context of an open environment. I think tech is short-sighted in this way. (I come from tech, btw.)

So, I say feed the web with tools that compete with those created by the tech industry and keep our options open. It's the only way, imho, that journalism on the net has a future free of control from the tech industry.


  • This is an excellent piece on why the open web is something to take care of. Building alternatives is of course something to encourage and support: I'm in. But I'm afraid of users. At the beginning of the web, users were mostly hackers, scholars, geeks&freaks, and pretty well educated people who built and believed in a certain web ethics and liked to own and manage their own tools. Managing your own tools and keeping updated on what happens in, for instance this blog post after I finish my comment, is hard in the present world. Notifications, short characters range and a one and only stop as Facebook is nowadays, it is easier to handle. People and, unfortnatelly, old users have become lazy and they do prefer to have a single window to the world without the costs and complexity of managing their tools to follow and track every interaction of the people they are interested in for whatever reason. Facebook newsfeed algorithm is a better life for most of the folks out there. So we may well end up keeping a good open web working but only for minorities.