Wednesday, 10 February 2010
We first got the Internet in our house in about 1996 – a 2kb/s dial-up. By the late 90's it became evident to me that what had essentially been simply e-mail (at 2kb even browsing for text information just wasn't time efficient) was evolving. The public gaze had turned to Silicon Valley and the Dot Com boom, with an expectation that what was going on there was going to revolutionise... something. Oddly, even though people began to speak openly about the Internet Revolution (also Digital Revolution) and already refer to it in its historical context next to the Industrial Revolution, what this so-called revolution was overturning remained obscure and indeterminate.
The Dot Com Bubble can be largely attributed to the failure of these web companies to find a convincing way to make money from the Internet – the sentiment that "everything on the Internet should be free" had already taken deep roots. The Internet failed to fit into a market-based capitalist system because the fundamental basis of producing valuable information for free was economically nonsensical. And yet it exists. Further, today you can't stop people from doing it – as I am right now in this blog post.
So for several years the struggle to find a way to make money from the web continued, culminating in web2.0 and an acceptance that the only way to make money was from advertising. Simultaneously to this was a sharp rise in Internet piracy as peer-to-peer filesharing networks (napster, kazaa + limewire will always hold a special place in my heart) began to become endemic. But the direct sharing of files had its problems, it relied on parties being connected directly to each other for as long as the download took to complete, which could be quite a while back then. In the early 2000's the other major problem was the great inequality in Internet speeds – my own connection had barely gone up (~25kb/s) while those in the States and Japan had greatly improved.
The invention of large online storage hosts (rapidshare, megaupload, etc) largely solved these problems. However, I feel it was the torrent that really revolutionised peer-to-peer sharing (a torrent works by dividing a file into, say, 1000 pieces and then allowing a user to download multiple pieces from multiple users, effectively multiplying the speed of the download, and removing a dependence on the downloader of remaining connected to a stable uploader).
Flattr comes from the creators of the infamous Pirate Bay (one of the largest torrent sites) and I think its power to shape the future of the web (either directly, or through copy-cat and subsequent developments of the idea) is obvious. With all this talk about the death of the newspaper, I wonder if the fate of the print-media isn't going to be some sort of Flattr future, where content producers are equalised, where a good blogger can earn as much as a NYT writer...
There's a speculation on the new now for you.