David and Goliath

By David Snyder

James Martin/CNET

There’s a worrying bit of development going on in the world of the web. The big thing these days is “Net Neutrality,” a sensible objective in which the internet is kept wide open for all. The challenge to this idea was brought about by some of the big companies, who wished for there to be a sort of internet super highway, where users could pay a buck more for better speeds. Of course, this leaves the little fish hung out to dry, as nobody will visit their poor little sites when the speeds of the established are better by tenfold.

Our courts have done the right thing by striking down the opposition to Net Neutrality, and this is a very good thing. More and more the web is being consolidated into a few behemoths. Namely, Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon. Those four companies control the user experience on the web from end to end, be that in social media, shopping, or searching. There’s no questioning the ease and efficiency of using the services offered by the Big Four. However, despite outright claims against Net Neutrality being struck down, there’s a new, less explicitly sinister threat to the democracy of the web.

I call this bit “quick load.” Facebook is ahead of the curve on this one. Quick load is what happens when one clicks on a New York Times article in the Facebook app. The link opens up a custom page, formatted specifically for Facebook, in a shockingly short amount of time, all while still in the Facebook ecosystem. One never visits the Times’s website. The full blown internet page is no more, as far as Facebook is concerned.

Google has launched their own quick loading efforts, with their project dubbed AMP. AMP’s job is near as makes no difference to Facebook’s, launching minimalist web pages in the shortest amount of time, using the least amount of data.

This all sounds like a good deal for us, the users. And it is. The days of the forever loading, bloated web page are over. However, while not explicit, these quick loading pages are on their way to undermine the very soul of the internet, the same way those super highways would’ve done.

Imagine you’re a 19-year-old blogger who fashions himself a little website. The website turns out functional but unremarkable; it works for what’s needed of it, namely, to read long-form writing. Then Facebook and Google unleash their lightning fast custom pages to the world and users become accustomed to waiting no more than the bat of a fly’s wing to open a page. Now, the 19-year old’s website, which isn’t formatted to run these quick loading pages nor does it have a deal with any of the Big Four, seems to take ages to load a simple little article. Users flee to the safe and speedy arms of the established brands, those which have the capital and the manpower to implement any new platform they need to give them the slightest of edges. The 19-year-old is hung out to dry.

The internet was founded on the backs of blogging 19-year-olds. The early days of the web, though still controlled by AOL and Yahoo, were solely about equal access and the rise of David, come what may to Goliath. It looks like the web may be ending that era of user democracy, whether that era was ever real or not is irrelevant — it always felt like the little guy had a shot at the thing.

I’m not counting out the scores of Davids still making a go at it, despite the latest dose of steroids mainlined into the Goliaths. Just the other day at a coffee shop, two little boys, no more than seven or eight years old, were kicking around their ideas for the next Big Thing. They settled on a website where one could pump a few bucks into a savings account for their little sisters; the little sisters’ role would be to keep their stinking hands off of the boys’ toys and snacks.

The future of the internet has life in it yet.

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