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November 30, 2009

The web is at war, threatening Web 2.0’s interoperability

It is now becoming apparent that Tim O’Reilly’s vision of the web being “One Ring to Rule Them All” and “Small Pieces Loosely Joined”, is coming apart at the seams as the big media company News Corp and Microsoft join hands to threaten Google and, in turn, Web 2.0 itself.

In “O’Reilly: The Web is at war, and it’s making me sad” (see http://news.cnet.com/8301-13577_3-10399710-36.html), we have seen over the past few months that News Corp has stepped up the stakes in its battle to block Google from indexing content from Rupert Murdoch’s online media titles, and that now Microsoft is said to be willing to pay Time Warner and News Corporation, among others, to make these sources available exclusively through Bing, it’s new search engine.

During this time, and many articles later, Rupert Murdoch has criticised Google for “kleptomania” and has threatened to cut them off from all his online publications. That is not quite as easy as he thinks, though, as nearly a quarter of all traffic to the Wall Street Journal’s website, for example, comes via Google. Microsoft, for their part, is willing to spend up to 10% of its operating income over the next five years, which could add up to a sum somewhere around $US11bn. Tim O’Reilly, who coined the term Web 2.0, questions the war for the control of the web, which directly contradicts his “interoperable platform” concept.

Not all agree though, as the Economist argues that, “a handful of well-funded and powerful platforms, locked in heated competition, could be better for consumers and generate more innovation than Mr O’Reilly’s vision of an internet made of many ‘small pieces loosely joined’.”

The bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2001 was a turning point for the web and, with it, the concept of “Web 2.0” was born. Its web pioneer Tim O’Reilly warned an audience at a recent Web 2.0 Expo that he thinks “we’re headed into another ugly time”, meaning that the corporates are ganging up on Google’s dominance, with Rupert “Dr Evil” Murdoch leading the charge and threatening to pull News Corp’s content carpet from under Google’s feet.

In the same CNet article, it says that: “O’Reilly’s attitude isn’t ‘bring it on, and get me a large popcorn with extra butter, while you’re at it’. Rather, he hinted that at least in some cases, he’s willing to embrace Google as a big, cuddly, benevolent dictator in the midst of it all.” Rather like Stalin dressed up in a Winnie The Pooh fancy dress outfit, maybe?

But with all fancy dress parties there are reactionaries in the mix, as Barbarian Group executive Rick Webb announced: “Setting aside the boo hoo, the internet is becoming a bunch of walled gardens arguments, when rational people have conversations about how to make the web actually usable and not 95 percent piracy, spam, and fraud…”

All this aside, it is becoming clearer by the day that the web is heading into a full-frontal period of bloody competition that could kill the concept of the web’s interoperability as we know it today.

In radar.oreilly.com, Mr O’Reilly clearly states that: “And so we’ve grown used to a world with one dominant search engine, one dominant online encyclopaedia, one dominant online retailer, one dominant auction site, one dominant online classified site, and we’ve been readying ourselves for one dominant social network…

“It could be that everyone will figure out how to play nicely with each other, and we’ll see a continuation of the interoperable web model we’ve enjoyed for the past two decades. But I’m betting that things are going to get ugly. We’re heading into a war for control of the web. And in the end, it’s more than that, it’s a war against the web as an interoperable platform. Instead, we’re facing the prospect of Facebook as the platform, Apple as the platform, Google as the platform, Amazon as the platform, where big companies slug it out until one is king of the hill.”

In a postscript, he predicts that: “Microsoft will emerge as a champion of the open web platform, supporting interoperable web services from many independent players, much as IBM emerged as the leading enterprise backer of Linux.”

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John Sylvester is the media director of V9 Design & Build and an expert in search engine optimization and web marketing strategies.

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