Rupert Murdoch vs. The Web

by Doc Searls

Are the fights that matter just the ones between giant companies? Doesn't the health of the Net and the Web matter more than any commercial battles?

These questions came to mind when I read How Murdoch Can Really Hurt Google And Shift The Balance Of Power In Search in TechCrunch recently. In that piece Mike Arrington supported Jason Calacanis' suggestion that Murdoch stick it to Google by cutting an exclusive search deal with rival search engine Bing. Even Jay Rosen took the same side. (Though perhaps in jest.)

Find more background at TechCrunch, from Dan Kennedy and in this New York Times piece, which makes the necessary distinction between wars among businesses on one hand, and what's good for the Net on the other. On the matter of the latter, the Times sources Craig Newmark, but still frames Craig's remarks in support of Google's side. In other words, the Times is still covering vendor sports here.

Defending the Web and the Net from collateral damage are Tim O'Reilly, Chris Messina, Anil Dash — and Dave Winer, whose whole oeuvre is thick with warnings about subordinating the Web and the Net to narrow personal or corporate interests. (He also offers positive advice: "Ask not what the Web can do for you, ask what you can do for the Web".)

But most of us aren't listening. We're Pompeians, Krakatoans, Montserratans, building cities and tilling farms on the slopes of active volcanoes. Always suckers for stories, we'd rather take sides in wars between competing volcanoes than build civilization on more flat and solid ground where there's room enough for everybody.

Google and Bing are both volcanoes. Both grace the Web's landscape with lots of fresh and fertile ground. They are good to have in many ways. But they are not the Earth below. They are not what gives us gravity.

They also create enormous dependencies. Much as I appreciate them, I am especially concerned about all the free graces we enjoy (maps, docs, books, etc.), thanks to Google's abundant success in the advertising business. What happens when that business goes away? Or what happens when we wake up and realize that we don't need search engines?

Let's face it: search engines are excellent kluges, invented to deal with a flaw in the Web's original design: the lack of an easy way to make sense of its many directory paths. Since everything to the right of the first single / in every URL comprises a giant disorganized haystack, ways were found to locate needles there. Those ways, however, are extremely complex and now entirely in private hands. One can look at this and accept it, or come up with a sane public solution. This is what free and open source developers are good at. I'm betting that one or more of ya'll will come up with a solution eventually.

Meanwhile, we need to get our priorities straight.

Here's one of mine. Soon as Rupert Murdoch and company do a deal to keep their "content" out of anybody's search engine, I'll cease renewing my subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal — both online and in print.

[Later...] Just added some more context over here.

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