Proprietary services vs open protocols
Chris Dixon

Sometimes things stay stuck

I hope it is true that “eventually the pendulum will swing back as the closed services atrophy and entrepreneurs & developers go elsewhere.” And I do think closed services will atrophy and entrepreneurs and developers will go elsewhere, but will that mean openness? Looking at things at an industry level is disheartening.

Telephony, radio, music, movies, and cable TV went through a similar evolution, going from industries that were open, decentralized, and entrepreneurial to closed, centralized, and corporate-monopoly-controlled.

One must stress that it was not merely technological wizardry that set people dreaming: it was also the openness of the industry then rising up. The barriers to entry were low. Radio in the 1920s was a two-way medium accessible to most any hobbyist, and for a larger sum any club or other institution could launch a small broadcast station. Compare the present moment: radio is hardly our most vital medium, yet it is hard if not impossible to get a radio license, and to broadcast without one is a federal felony. In 1920, De Forest advised, “Obtaining the license is a very simple matter and costs nothing.”
- Tim Wu, The Master Switch

I suppose one could argue this proves the point. Radio — and pretty much everything else — did open back up, or at least is in the process, thanks to the Internet. But how long did that take? And is it possible again?

Maybe the Internet had to happen, but it was a one-time disruptive event.

Maybe there’s no inevitable pendulum.

Maybe AOL losing to the Internet was just because it couldn’t scale fast enough.

Maybe we just lived through the brief anomalous period of openness and decentralization in media and communications.

I hope not, but things are headed in that direction. I’m intrigued to hear what, more specifically, would push things in the other direction.