Even though the term “Tipping Point” might be overrated, it is a perfect phrase to explain the current state of the Internet. We are moving away from an era where independent websites could compete against larger ones, to a time when the largest websites on the Internet take up the majority of users time online. In addition to taking up users time, the websites will also be owned by a minority of companies. The article I choose to focus on for this weeks post in Evolutions and Trends in Digital Media was: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, by Yochai Benkler. Benkler raised some interesting points, but one area stood out that needs further exploration. On the topic of the Internet, the author stated that “The Internet as a technology, and the networked information economy as an organizational and social model for information and cultural production, promise the emergence of a substantial alternative platform for the public sphere”, I believe he is right, but this idea needs much more examination.
The overarching theme from Evolutions and Trends in Digital Media (and the TV show Battlestar Galactica) is: This has happened before and it will happen again. It seems as if new technologies are likely to follow the pattern of those that came before it. In this case, I think that the Internet will provide an “alternative platform for the public sphere”, but it will follow the same pattern of media concentration that television, radio, and print did.
Benkler’s example of media concentration focused on “The Sinclair Broadcast Group[,] one of the largest owners of television broadcast stations in the United States”. At the time the book was written, The Sinclair Broadcast Group owned or provided programming for approximately one-third of all U.S. homes. The author then went on to discuss 95% of all donations for The Sinclair Broadcast Group were to republican candidates. In addition to their financial support, Benkler explained how the group was able to push a political agenda by refusing to air a segment that could have made Republicans look bad.
As with other media, it is likely that a few organizations will purchase the most popular websites. This is already occurring with companies like CBS Interactive that owns Cnet, last.fm, tv.com, gamespot.com, and ZDNet (mixthenet). Another company that owns a powerful media network is Expeida Inc, which also owns Expedia.com, Hotels.com and Trip Advisor. AOL is also creating a large portfolio that includes influential websites like The Hufington Post, TechCruch, and Engadget.
Benkler seems to believe that the Internet will provide an improvement to mass media, but it is my hypothesis that the Internet is in the process of becoming a concentration of media groups that control the most popular websites. My stance is that the Internet should be open, free, and allow for a real public discourse. By using the past as an example it can be seen that we are at a “tipping point” with the Internet. Unless steps are taken that will keep the Internet open and free, we are going to be heading towards a very dark future.