Over at the new Cato Unbound, Jaron Lanier has written an essay on open and closed approaches on the Internet. I've actually responded over there with some further thoughts (as has Eric S. Raymond and, by the time you read this, there should be responses from David Gelernter and John Perry Barlow, too), but Lanier's essay has got me thinking some more.
So far, of course, the role of the Internet has been to open up things that were once closed. In particular, the entertainment and news media industries -- formerly closed systems masquerading as semi-open -- have been forced to actually open up as technology has lowered the barriers to entry, and the distribution costs, for players. Here's just one example.
Evan Coyne Maloney and Stuart Browning are now making documentary films. They could have done that ten years ago, but as Evan said in this interview, he probably never would have gotten into the field at all ten years ago. His first exposure involved a rented video camera, some footage he edited on iMovie, and the Internet -- with his spur-of-the-moment documentary, interviewing antiwar protesters, winding up on network television the day after it was posted. That went so well that he's now a professional documentarian, but as he says, just a few years earlier the startup costs were so high that he wouldn't have tried.
And Evan's not the only one. There's enough of a critical mass that things like the American Film Renaissance and the Liberty Film Festival are attracting lots of new independent filmmakers who lack Hollywood connections and film-school credentials, but have a message to get out. And they're even getting publicity through new channels of information. Technology gets the credit for making this easier, but of course it's the existence of an underserved market that has allowed these ventures to flourish.
That's the "open" part, and so much has been written on this that you could easily turn it into a book. (Which, come to think of it, I have!)
But things don't stay open on their own, and there are some signs that the Internet may grow less open in the future. One such sign is the movement by ISPs toward a two-tier Internet where "users would find it easier and quicker to connect to services provided by the companies that paid ... fees than others. Invisibly, customers would be steered towards these 'approved' services."I'm already paying BellSouth for my Internet service, and if they can't make it faster despite improving technology and lower costs, I plan to take my business elsewhere. I don't want to see them trying to steer me toward people who pay them under-the-table for better service. But they'll try, if they're allowed to get away with it, and this is just the first of many such schemes, I suspect, from all sorts of players. You want to keep this revolution going? Be ready to fight for it.