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Monday, August 31, 2009

Is the internet becoming a closed system?

The ICSC concept to me is becoming precariously balanced on my increasingly firm belief that the internet is rapidly becoming a closed system. This belief was informed both by Tim Wu's assertions at the IIEA ( which opened my eyes to the possibility but also by the entrenchment of the Open internet evangelists. Here are just a few random examples of why I think the case for the internet becoming a closed system is strong:

As a film producer recently said to me, the ISPs held out on tackling piracy because they didn't want to hold back broadband uptake. But now that it is nearing ubiquity and telcos are being squeezed financially, doing a deal with content owners for some of the back end is potentially more appealing for them.

I've always felt that PCs and notebooks are not good viewing devices - nothing beats the TV or better still the projector for long form content. With HD increasingly becoming standard, good distance viewing is necessary - then you get Sony looking at doing this - and you can see the TV becoming like the Ipod or Iphone.

Governments have always been cautious of the internet. As Larry Sanger (a founder of Wikipedia) said, give them an excuse to regulate it and they will. Piracy is rapidly becoming the excuse.

Closed, proprietary systems like the iPhone app store are functioning much better then their open equivalents online. Android is going nowhere soon. Look even at Kindle vs Sony Ebook reader. Users want a quality, well-designed service and will pay for it.

Google Books initiative is ironically developing a closed system by sheer weight of their resources - and that is what the Open Book Alliance are fighting against. In reality, Google will become the only game in town if they are allowed go ahead with it....and maybe they should.

Now the big problem is the payment mechanism - phones are lucky because of subscription. But people don't want to subscribe to a plethora of content providers - so this does open up the advertising-support question. Once advertisers get over their hangups about brand-building on traditional media, it should be game on there too. But they too will want closed, measurable systems.

My view is let's give it to them. Closed and open systems can sit side by side. But we should strive to create closed, well-run proprietary systems that offer quality content so that we don't get lost in the detritus of poor content that pervades the World Wide Web. The Web should be seen as a resource - and an extremely useful one at that - Wikipedia, Slideshare, Scribd - i love and use them all. But alongside that we need to ensure that there are business models for the distribution of quality content that protects and respects the owners copyright. If they decide to give a Creative Commons license, that is their decision but those who infringe that copyright should be pursued. If that means regulation, well then so be it.

posted by Neil Leyden @ 1:24 p.m.


At 7:41 p.m., Anonymous donal scannell said...


I definitely agree with you on both the fact that a 'closed' internet is on the way and that it's necessary. There are times and need for freely shared content but there also have to methods for charging for content or else quality content production would eventually grind to a halt. Advertiser funded content is only part of the puzzle but people don't fully appreciate things they get for free.


At 2:12 p.m., OpenID johnnyryan said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 2:14 p.m., OpenID johnnyryan said...

Interesting questions.

On the one hand there's the intellectual property question, and the question of how to generate revenue from ones material - here I
support the content producers, but I think they need to change.
On the other, there's the imperative to keep the network and the technologies connected to it as open to innovative uses as possible
- here I support the Richard Stallman brigade and the need to keep things open.

Both might seem at odds. Currently they are. I think it would be best
to separate the two questions. For example, DRM built into devices is
a retrograde step as far as question two goes, while furthering
question one.

Governments must provide adequate legal protections of intellectual
property - the studios etc need to know that on paper they have the
best protection possible. What will then happen is an inevitable shift
on their part. Over time it will become clear that a new approach to
Neilsens, to advertising, to scheduling is necessary simply because, despite legal protections, they will still loose money. Alternative approaches will have to evolve on their side, irrespective of what the legal framework is. Probably, the sooner that the IFPI gets its way with the ISPs, the faster it will accept that even this does not adequately protect their content. Models could include the Nokia and others "Phone With Music", and fee based services where you get the cheap long tail content with the latest hits as part of a low subscription.

Now for the far-out bit
Ultimately, I think what will come at a premium will be the users
personal investment in the content, the community aspect. So a guitar
hero combined with X-factor where people audition to their xbox and
compete around the globe might be the new face of the top of the pops.
A system like that could not be pirated, nor would a user want to
since their social network and customisations and upgrades etc would all be vested in the system.

At 12:52 p.m., Anonymous Michael Walsh said...

The parallel with open and closed systems is easier to map if you compare the Internet with the Gutenberg press.

Many vested interests sought to keep the technology from the masses, control the distribution of information and enforce a cartel system through copyright. Books thrived despite this.

Trying to design closed systems is like trying to specify the materials that constitute a book, words that fill a book and location where this book can be read.

It's a nice thought if you own the closed system - but ultimately doomed to failure, as the power of the book lies in it's ability to be reproduced cheaply, written by whoever wishes and read any time, anywhere.

Copyright is the only analogue hangover in a digital world that really matters - and it's in this space an ICSC can truly make a difference.


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