In this post on his Rough Type blog, Nicholas Carr highlights what he sees as the tension between the openness of “Web 2.0” technology and the need for online firms to yield a profit from their web properties. This need, he contends, is defined by control… “maintaining control over the user, keeping him within the bounds of the site in order to expose him to more ads”… a practice which is frequently at odds with the flow of Web 2.0.
Carr’s comments are a reaction to recent statements by News Corp COO Peter Chernin. At the Merrill Lynch Media & Entertainment Conference Chernin effectively stated that Web 2.0 companies like YouTube are eating out of MySpace’s trough and that the Murdoch web giant could effectively shake them like a bad habit whenever they want… simply by doing what the leaches do.
The shortsightedness of this thinking… and Carr’s seeming agreement with it… is a prime example of how corporate media has an apparently endless disrespect for the power of the user (hello DRM). In essence they posit that the control that profit-seeking firms will exercise over the user will overwhelm the user’s appetite for freely flowing information and the imaginative use of technology. After all economics… money demands it be so.
The flaw with this is the inconvenient fact that economics has always followed and catered to human nature. While Chernin and Carr seem to assume that human nature is essentially money hungry and materialistic, we are in truth a profoundly social animal. We long to be known and to know and to share that knowledge. The technology of Web 2.0 builds on this foundation. It is, in a very real sense, an extension of our conversations, our relationships, our lives.
Just as we would not stand for the limitation of our freedom of movement in the real world, we will not stand for it in the virtual world either. If a critical mass of the user base wants the online experience to be open and flowing in the ways that Web 2.0 has shown it can be then the economics follow the technology and obey that.
Granted companies like News Corp might fight that trend… they are primarily lazy and would rather attempt to use their might to enforce the existing paradigm rather than innovate. Still, in no time there will be that person, that company, that innovator who understands the confluence of human nature and technology and uses that knowledge to define the new economic paradigm. Perhaps it’s already happening.