The power of the internet

The power of the internet

The internet is growing, maturing and changing ...

Sheila Moorcroft, Research Director

Last spotted
8 June 2011

The internet is growing, maturing and changing – again. We may be seeing the emergence of monopolies and an end of interoperability and open access, and growing vulnerability.
What is changing?
We are seeing the battle of the behemoths, and the emergence of giants. Google, Apple and Facebook are all becoming huge and dominant players. Some are arguing that they are beginning to display monopolistic tendencies; that the early days of constant innovation are beginning to give way to defending turf.

The amount of data being moved through the internet is forecast to quadruple by 2015 – in part because of more users and more devices, but also because of faster speeds and more data – especially films. By 2015, the equivalent of 1 million minutes of video will be moving every second. A lot of that internet traffic is also going mobile, and even Google has been taken by surprise by the speed of changeover. The PC : mobile crossover will come about 2013; by 2015 there will be about 2 billion mobile internet users – up from 400 million in 2007.

But it is also beginning to distort. The original openness and interoperability is declining behind pay per view walls, incompatible systems e.g. Facebook and Google, and devices which have very different display characteristics. Organisations are also ‘managing’ content by astroturfing – i.e. creating and managing multiple identities to shift a debate or give someone a presence, where they were not e.g. at a conference.

Why is this important?
The sheer scale and centrality of the internet are making it a dominant force in all our lives.

Capacity is perhaps one area for concern, although, as yet, it has always kept pace, and Moore’s Law is set to continue for a while certainly; that scale of growth and centrality do, however, make it, and us, vulnerable. Kryder’s Law, indicates that data storage density is growing even faster than processor speeds, so there too we may be safe. And laser driven data sent down the line recently set a world record: 26 terabits/ second, the equivalent of 1000 HD DVDs per second.

If the current giants – Google, Facebook, Apple – do become more monopolistic – we are very locked in. The network effect and social nature of the web are ensuring that more and more of us sign up and use their tools and technologies. And with that, goes our data; we are eternally, and extensively theirs. New services, such as Memolane, are making our lives and data even more transparent, by ‘joining up the dots’, to enable us to make a timeline of our lives – and even more lucrative data profiles. Should we worry, possibly not, but possibly yes. We may see people demanding more transparency and reclaiming ownership of their own data.

But the internet itself is vulnerable; it can be turned off, as it was in Egypt for a while during the uprising; and its very concentration could make whole sections vulnerable to deliberate attack. A Colombian professor is suggesting an alternative: a highly distributed, decentralised internet using thousands of tiny servers called Freedom Boxes, and returning power to the people.



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