The One Tool We Need to Solve 2022's Biggest Problems Is Already in Our Hands The open web is messy and imperfect, but it's stronger than ever.
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What if the only platforms available for publishing news were Facebook and Apple's App Store?
That's the scary reality we'd be facing if the open web ceased to exist. It was originally designed to enable a global commons, to be bigger than any country's government and to be free of gatekeeping. Today the open web comprises vast swaths of independent internet properties that are free to create value for their users and customers as they see fit.
And I believe it's one of humanity's most important tools in tackling society's biggest problems: pandemics, the future of western democracy and climate change. With the power and freedom of the open web, we're able to empower the kind of creative iteration needed to address these immense challenges.
Not everyone is as bullish as I am on the potential of the open web. In fact, many have decried its decline in recent years, as closed platforms have gained market share and mindspace. For most people, it's not even something they think about; we're apt not to pay attention to vital services like the open web — until they suddenly go missing.
But I believe the success of the ecosystem is more important than the success of any one company. And, contrary to popular perception, in many ways, the open web is stronger than ever.
Here are four reasons I'm optimistic about the open web (and the future) right now.
We've got big problems to solve. And the open web offers the best way forward
It goes without saying that Covid has been one of the biggest challenges we've faced in our lifetime. But imagine if the only way we could communicate about the pandemic — and collaborate on solutions — was through popular social media networks.
From the rampant spread of misinformation to straight-up censorship of sensitive topics, social media networks have played a primary role in shaping our understanding — and misunderstanding — of Covid. Some have effectively throttled information at their whim, or conversely, have enabled the propagation of fake news.
Fortunately, the open web today represents a robust and vital alternative for information sharing.
My experience using the open web to empower Covid-related data sharing happened early in 2020. U.S. states faced shutdowns amidst a climate of information scarcity. I was part of a team that designed and launched Covid Act Now, a realtime map and vaccine tracker designed to facilitate data collection, modeling and information sharing.
It became the default platform used by millions of people — including political leaders, heads of public health and even the military. It's a project that embodies the true purpose of the open web — where freedom of information ranks high above profit.
The underlying technology of the open web is more powerful than ever
Contrary to popular opinion, the open web is not built on neglected platforms or obsolete tools. It's a living entity that is regularly iterated and improved upon by developers around the world. And the irony is that many of the biggest digital companies — including the walled gardens we all use daily — are investing hundreds of millions in the open web because they need it to deliver best-in-class experiences.
It's become the most-used platform for open web developers and has led to vast improvements in open web powered experiences for companies like Amazon, Netflix, Airbnb, Uber and Amazon. Why would Facebook pony up for the open web? In essence, they too needed a way to circumvent restrictions imposed by closed systems like the App Store.
Even those who don't know about the open web inherently understand its value
We all know what freedom feels like online — that ability to create and publish at will and to share our opinions. Or, to follow our interests without restrictions or fear that our information will be used against us. Wikipedia is perhaps the most obvious example of what the open web is capable of.
Freedom is one of the fundamental principles of the open web. And, it's one of those things you inherently feel when it starts to fray — any time access, information and digital rights are restricted. (Just look at how journalists covering the 2022 Winter Games are managing their technology and access to the web.)
We've all spent enough time online to know when something is amiss. Our digital Spidey senses start tingling when information feels slanted, suppressed or manipulative. And that's precisely why open web sites will always generate traction and find followers.
By and large the open web works — despite its imperfections
I know the open web isn't perfect. Its unfiltered ecosystem of URLs can be messy, hard to use and perhaps even a bit scary. But it's not the nerdy dreamscape it was in its early days. It's got a lot going for it.
It's democratized: anyone can get online and openly innovate. It's infinitely scalable. And it's powered by modern technology that is often free to use. I sometimes think of it as the universe's most amazing Legoland for grownups (although kids routinely do amazing things on it as well!)
No, it's not as beautiful as the well-funded walled gardens that Apple, Facebook and others have built. But it is a living, breathing, modern ecosystem built on the power of creativity, freedom and innovation that most of us rely on every day.
Most importantly, the open web puts globally-scaled solutions to the problems we face now and in the future within our grasp, and that's worth fighting for.