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Never before in human history has a single technological innovation disrupted the way we communicate, collaborate and do business as completely as with the Internet. The invention of the World Wide Web in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee has changed everything, connecting people and organizations around the world in ways that were once impossible.
The web as we know it today is largely based on what has come to be known as “web 2.0” principles – a collaborative platform and user-generated content that has led to some of the most popular and influential sites on the web, such as Facebook. , Google and YouTube.
But while Web2 was a revolution in its own right, it’s now clear that it was only the first step towards a truly connected global community. In this article, we will examine the rise of Web2 and the factors that led to its discredit.
The Age of Information
The early days of the Internet were dominated by a few large companies, such as AOL and Yahoo!, who controlled the flow of information and charged users to access their platforms.
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This started to change in the late 1990s with the advent of Web2, ushering in a new era of user-generated content and collaboration. Web2 sites like Wikipedia and YouTube allowed anyone with an internet connection to share their thoughts and ideas with the world.
This was in stark contrast to the previous model, where only a select few could control what information was shared with the masses. The rise of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter has further democratized the internet, giving individuals a powerful tool to share their views with the world.
The power of the individual
The rise of Web2 signaled a power shift from institutions to individuals. For the first time, ordinary people had a platform to share their thoughts and ideas with the world. This had a major impact on society, as it gave rise to new movements and campaigns that would not have been possible without the Internet.
The Arab Springfor example, was a series of pro-democracy protests that swept across the Middle East and North Africa from 2010 to 2013. These protests would not have been possible without the use of social media to organize and share information between protesters.
How Web2 Went Wrong
Despite the positive impact it has had on the world, Web2 has also led to some serious problems – problems associated with this new ability to share information freely and without consequences. The main problems are of course the following:
Moral and Political Arbitration
Where Web2 was a big step forward for the Internet, it is now clear that it has reached its limit. The centralized nature of today’s platforms means they are subject to the whims of their owners, who can choose to censor or remove content they disagree with.
This became clear during the 2016 US presidential election, when Facebook was accused of deliberately suppressing conservative news stories.
The Facebook-Cambridge Analytical data scandal exposed the problems with today’s platforms as it exposed how user data can be mishandled and used to manipulate public opinion. It also exposed the centralized nature of these platforms, giving the owners complete control over what users can and cannot see.
It is clear that we need a new model for the Internet – one that is decentralized and based on the principle of data ownership. Under this model, users would have complete control over their data and platform owners would not be able to sell or use it without their consent.
This would create a more level playing field, as small startups could compete with large companies for users’ attention.
Fighting in the shadows
Another factor that has led to the corruption of Web2 is the rise of the surveillance state. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the US government embarked on a massive program of domestic surveillance, collecting data on millions of innocent Americans.
Unveiled by Edward Snowden in 2013, this program showed how the government used these platforms to spy on its citizens. Since then, we have seen a steady erosion of privacy rights as the government has continued to collect data about our online activities.
On the other side of the equation is reckless anonymity, which has led to a new breed of internet trolling. These trolls hide behind anonymous accounts and use the internet to harass and threaten people.
This issue was highlighted in 2014 and 2015 when women in the video game industry, including Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, Zoe Quinn and others, were harassed and threatened by an anonymous group of trolls using the hashtag “#Gamergate”.
Elections in countries like the Philippines have suffered from large-scale disinformation campaigns who use social media to spread false information to distort the image of certain political candidates, whether in loftiness or infamy.
What to expect
This opinion is intended as an introduction to the factors that led to the demise of the second iteration of the Internet. You can clearly see that these issues are centered around the principles of centralization, the commoditization of data, reckless anonymity, and outright human greed.
In the following articles in this series, we’ll explore how a new version of the Internet—one that is decentralized and based on the principles of data ownership—can address these issues.
In part 2, we will explore the concept of freedom of speech, attitudes to censorship and moral arbitration by big tech.
Finally, Web2 has given users the power to create, to participate in the ebb and flow of global conversation, but it has gone too far to empower those with the biggest megaphones the most. Decentralization is the key to leveling the playing field and giving everyone a voice.
Daniel Saito is CEO and co-founder of StrongNode.
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