“Is the Web Dead?” ask the big red letters on the cover of the latest edition of Wired magazine. Twin pieces by Chris Anderson (Wired’s editor-in-chief and author of “The Long Tail” and “Free”) and Michael Wolff (of Vanity Fair and Newser) agree that the web is done for.
Both men are professional exaggerators and overstate their cases. Which is briefly that the web’s “open”, free-wheeling, browser-based serendipity era is over and being gradually replaced by closed apps and systems which will capture ever-larger chunks of what is now a fluid and fragmented markets in news and entertainment. Their pieces are here.
But as exaggerators often will, they have dislodged a cascade of interesting reflection. Some of it is accumulating on Twitter at #webdeath. Best of all so far is this commentary from Alexis Madrigal which carries a lot of links on the fallacies of technological determinism.
The relevance of this to journalism lies in whether digital publishing will eventually shake down into a faithful reproduction of the print or broadcast models which tend to create a small number of big players. An oligarchy of news if you like.
It’s not surprising that the difficulties of making money from publishing on digital platforms should drive companies to try to control as much of the value chain as possible and to keep it closed as far as they can. But those forces are going to have to live and co-exist with the equally powerful forces which the web has unleashed in the supply and demand for information. The freedom of movement in information which web-based searching has given is not about to be given up to or to disappear.