Isn’t it an irony of the biggest order that the Internet, which is utmost democratic and egalitarian in essence, should be a fertile ground for breeding colossal global monopolies that could stifle competition?
The recent developments at MySpace–once the No. 1 social networking site–are a case in point. The site that dominated the social networking scene until early 2008, with Facebook and Orkut among its competitors, now reportedly faces prospects of a spin-off, a sale or a merger, at the hands of owners News Corp. Indeed, Facebook has rendered the very existence of other similar sites meaningless.
While Facebook has an active user base of 500 million and growing, MySpace’s user base would be an estimated 60 million. Facebook is No. 2 as per the Alexa ranking, while MySpace is now ranked No. 50. Clearly, the gap between the two has grown too yawning to be covered. MySpace has already said it would be laying off 500 of its employees, which constitute nearly 50 percent of its employee strength.
The Internet can be the tool that a David can skilfully use to bring down a Goliath, but then he can also use it to build himself into the next Goliath…yes, the Internet remains neutral in the sense that yet another David is equally free to use it, but there is a worrying perspective to that: Instead of having competitive markets, we could be ending up having monarchical monopolies. The only reassuring aspect would be that these monopolies would be under tremendous pressure to live up to consumers’ expectations or abdicate position in favour of another start-up. (Facebook is a great example of a start-up dethroning a reigning leader.)
So what could help make a healthier, non-monopolistic Internet? Can some kind of regulation (non-governmental, of course) be of use? No, the very thought can flare up debates and one doesn’t see an easy solution in sight.
A more acceptable answer is probably already there–in the form of sites like Wikipedia. The non-profit character of the Wikimedia Foundation, which hosts Wikipedia among other sites, makes it look less of a Goliath. And, the fact that, as per Wikipedia, “there are more than 91,000 active contributors working on more than 17,000,000 articles in more than 270 languages,” makes it a conglomeration of Davids. It also makes for a mindful participation, where users not only consume but also create quality content on a universe of topics.
Think of it and Wikipedia starts looking like a close embodiment of the spirit of the democratic Internet, as close as it can get. As Wikipedia puts it, it’s “the free encyclopaedia that anyone can edit,” except “in certain cases.”
Wikipedia turned ten this January 15 and has mostly lived off contributions generated out of the annual fund raising campaigns. The anniversary celebrations were accompanied with the news that Wikipedia would be opening its first office outside of the US, in India, the world’s largest democracy. This would help build localised encyclopaedic content in several of the Indian languages.
India already constitutes 6.5 percent of the Wikipedia traffic. A rise in localised content will certainly perk that up.
(As published in Deccan Chronicle, January 20, 2011; header changed.)
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