In your opinion, what is the biggest existential threat to the internet today?
by Dane Dickerson – @danecdCL – a SEO analyst – in response to the current West.Frontier.com college scholarship prompt
The biggest threat facing the internet as we know it today is too much – that is, too much information, too many websites, and too many technologies at play. The internet has already far passed the speed of human comprehension. In the time it took you to get to this sentence, over 50 hours of video have been uploaded to YouTube and 21,000 new domains have been registered. Of course, there is a problem in this already, since it is inconceivable that all of the content being added to the web could be seen and appreciated by an audience. But more importantly, this volume of information has passed the ability to be categorized, and with that, we will need to find ways to ignore large swaths of the web in order to maintain digital sanity. I predict that, without serious interventions to save the internet, the digital world will either trend toward towering monopolies and information silos, or will split user bases, destroying the connectedness and community of the internet.
Scarier to me, at least, is the loss of authority on the internet and the diaspora of internet communities. Presently, the web works on a system of authority – we give our information to websites that we trust, and because we volunteer that information, we’re able to share experiences on the internet. However, as competitors arise to the traditional authorities on the internet (the Amazons, Googles, and Facebooks), using their own proprietary technology sets, we run the risk of dividing communities if the new properties are embraced, or stagnating the progress of those platforms by fear of abandonment. Considering that it is, in fact, the connectedness of these platforms that allows them to thrive, a widely split web usage presents the possibility that the internet could lose its pedestrian usage. Internet circa 1993, in actuality.
The other possibility is holding steadfast to the present web authorities and the creation of the internet circa 1893 – heavily monopolized and antithetical to entrepreneurship. The danger is the loss of openness and independence on the internet. It is already incredibly difficult to introduce users to a new platform, and this even more difficult as the current authorities become more and more interconnected. When was the last time you created a new login for a site instead of using your Google or Facebook account? What do you use to log in to you phone? And with the advent of digital data leaks affecting companies large and small, would you rather spread your info to more websites, or let them access it through platforms that have so far proven themselves secure? Of course not! But because these platforms are now integral to making a new web property, those properties necessarily cannot be opposed to the platforms they depend upon.
I don’t claim that there is any one way to prevent these scenarios from playing out. But, there are a few measures that could certainly delay these issues:
Net Neutrality: By treating all internet traffic equally, internet giants with money are unable to gain a speed or usability advantage over new, small properties, and are unable to be bundled into restricted internet bundles.
Open-Source Standards: The use of open-source standards makes it easier practically and financially for internet properties to communicate with each other. An internet that depends on proprietary technologies is prone to secretive integration of the internet giants.
Enforcement of Anti-Trust legislation on Internet properties: Enforcing anti-trust legislation, in addition to decreasing the power of the present web authorities, would help drive the usage of open technologies in order for properties to maintain their connectedness.
The internet is a scary place. But just as the internet was created by us, we have the power to shape it, protect it, and save it from itself.