Can the Web sustain free?

So many of us are grateful for the Web; it allows us seemingly unlimited access to information at the press of a button, and most of it’s free. I saw an interview with Bryce Courteney recently. He talked of how the Web has changed the research he conducts for the novels he writes. What used to take him 8 months now takes 7 weeks. I often think of my College days and the heavy books I would cart home and the hours and hours spent in the State Library of Victoria. Life as a Uni student must be markedly different now; so much is available with an internet connection and access to online resources from Libraries.

That’s why this is worth reading. We have to start questioning how sustainable all of this is if so much of it is ‘free’. Some valid points are raised about the effect ‘free’ will have on our economy; can people keep on developing new apps and products or give away what they know without being able to monetise their investment? I’ve quoted a sizeable chunk from the interview below, but would urge you to read the entire interview as it raises other interesting discussion points about the future of the Web and what it will mean to us.

“JARON LANIER: Well, you know, I would like to see us shake-in, instead of a shakeout, in the sense that it’s true that there’s a lot of junk online, and we have to filter it and so forth.

But, you know, the thing that really disappoints me is that we didn’t create enough jobs, just to be very blunt about it. Ten years ago, what I thought was that the Internet was becoming a major new American industry, and what that would bring with it was, in a way, a replacement for the fading American industries, like our auto industry and our display industry.

And we have reconceived of it as something that is in a sense de-economics. We treat it as this sort of frivolous way to send things around for free. And it’s all in the service of advertising.

RAY SUAREZ: Ah, but, Jaron Lanier, you keep using the word “for free.”


RAY SUAREZ: Isn’t that why it didn’t create any jobs? If you turn people into unpaid journalists, photographers, painters, music video producers, that’s it. It’s unpaid. How could it create a job?

JARON LANIER: Or bloggers or popular tweeters, for that matter.

I think we really made a mistake in separating the Internet from capitalism in a certain way that is bad for our country. I mean, remember, just before that, we had made a — sort of a national decision that we wanted to be this intellectual property country, where we would have things manufactured in China, but we would do the design, we would do the creative stuff.

And now what we have done is, we have forgotten that that’s what we wanted, and we’re making the intellectual stuff more and more free. And, so, we’re sort of left with less and less. And it’s just not tenable. We have to decide one way or the other and really do something to earn our keep. And I think that’s a huge problem right now.”

via After Banner Decade, Peering in on the Future of Technology | PBS NewsHour | Jan. 4, 2010 | PBS.

Part of the problem lies with advertising and how many of us have become, as Steven Hodson describes in a post on The Inquisitr, ‘ad blind’. We’ve become inured to ads on our web pages and find ways to read without them. Take Readability as an example of this. Steven argues that advertisers need to rethink their approach to advertising on the Web; the TV method of, ‘throw it at a captive audience’, just won’t cut it in this new forum. I’ve been one who has bemoaned ads on networks like Ning. I still think ad free platforms need to be developed for education, but I do understand that we may not have access to these platforms at all if they aren’t able to find a way to create income from what they offer.

Perhaps we as educators need to do what people have suggested to me in Twitter conversations; accept that ads are part and parcel of the platform and use them to teach digital literacy. Our students need to understand the business model that permeates the Web and think about it as they browse pages, upload videos and download apps. Especially if they want a job in the future; taking notice just might help provide them with an income.

3 Replies to “Can the Web sustain free?”

  1. Just to clarify some spelling 🙂 My last name is Hodson and it is The Inquisitr (no ‘o’). Other than that thanks for referring to what I wrote about advertising and needint o change.

    1. My apologies – it was a late night posting. I’d actually spelt Steven incorrectly and had gone back to check that, but somehow mucked everything else up too!

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