When Worlds Clash

One of the issues that has come up in my own personal readings lately is the confrontation between worlds that seems to be happening so frequently lately. The world of corporate affairs has been completely thrown off-balance by the “Web 2.0”, meaning the web you and I are currently experiencing in which people interact with it, rather than simply reading it.

As Wikinomics, a book I am reading, points out, the Web was originally anticipated as the second television — a medium through which corporations output information to willing viewers. Websites were meant to be a way for the average, everyday person to experience that which corporations wanted to supply. However, somewhere along the line that entire process got derailed, and the “second web” came into being.

This second web completely violates the principles of corporate ownership that are so pivotal to the world we live in. When you buy a book, there are a series of corporations who have the right to that product. Films and television operate on a similar principle, although these mediums are even more enforceably the territory of large companies because of the cost of production of each. Even our food supplies are generally speaking made available to us by large-scale businesses who have certain rules in place.

The Web 2.0 contradicts this large business-ruled world. Rather, this second world revolves around the interaction of the “masses,” and their contributions, both direct and indirect. Bloggers, for example, are an integral part of the new layout in which people who would otherwise be passive receptors are now made key contributors to the ideas and technology floating around the Internet. Open-source projects often beat out ones that are directed by large corporations, and often because the product that results from mass collaboration really is superior. Once again cited from Wikinomics, it is made apparent that mass collaboration can produce superior technology to traditional forms of production by Wikipedia, which is now regarded as being both ten times bigger than the Encyclopedia Brittanica, as well as roughly the same in accuracy. Shocking, yes, but not unbelievable when you consider the intricate network of contribution that has gone into Wikipedia. Not only are there the writers and researchers, but there are also millions upon millions of them, all with varying degrees of information available to them. If some collaborators are able to consult the Internet, their own schools, their own libraries, and even the Encyclopedia Brittanica itself, why should they not be able to be as accurate as other, more renowned sources?

And it is exactly this sort of challenge posed to well-known institutions such as the publishers of the Encyclopedia that has corporations sweating. The rules are bent or broken with the wealth of free, easily-accessible information circulating the Net.

And the rule most challenged by the Web 2.0?

Don’t steal.

The concept of theft is not only being broken/bent, but completely redefined. The notion that a company has exclusive rights to the information it produces has been entirely decimated. The film, music, and computer industries have been sent reeling through the development of products such as Limewire and Linux. And the big companies don’t like it one bit.

This article inspired this post. It demonstrates very well the unique way in which the two different worlds — the Web as we know it and Traditional Corporate Ownership — clash violently. Amazon, a unidirectional online “Chapters” is fighting off an individual who happens to have crossed some sort of invisible line that marks the distinction between using the product (in this case, Alexa) as it is intended and using it illegally. The line is almost impossible to distinguish, but inevitably there is some attempt by the large corporation to regain what traditionally is their property.

The film industry has anti-piracy movements. The music industry has had downloading music made illegal. And yet, despite this, the Web 2.0’s level of intricacy generates holes in the defense of the corporations. More and more the breaches become mainstream and the companies begin to falter in their attempts to control their product. It’s a long war, but gradually the people are redefining the term theft to allow for more sharing, more collaboration, more innovation by the users as opposed to the official producers. And one thing becomes increasingly clear: The two worlds cannot both survive.

The idea of corporation is being redefined by companies like Google, who actively encourage participation from users both directly (eg. Google Desktop Gadgets), and indirectly (eg. Feedback and permitted information gathering.) They even throw the contributors a bone with programs such as the installation of Ad-Sense on your blog, which can make you a dime or two. But compromise such as this is not likely to be the ultimate resolution to the conflict. Corporations such as Microsoft are not going to be willing to redefine their standards in order to open up to the public, and even if they do, the people contributing are inevitably going to demand something more than a bone in all eventuality. As more success becomes based on the work of the users instead of the producers, there is going to have to be some direct compensation for time spent improving the project, or companies are going to have to stop making money for themselves. Surely the logic has to cross the mind of the public: “Why are they getting rich off of my ideas?” While that time is a ways of, indubitably, the world of the Web 2.0 is one in which corporations are either going to purge or be purged.

For that’s what happens when two worlds clash.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. blackberry guy
    Apr 19, 2007 @ 19:32:00

    Interesting. I feel like such a subversive now.


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