If it does, says Wu, what's at stake is the principle on which the internet was founded. At its inception, "the internet was typically a place where you could put up content without anybody's permission". But partnerships between the bigger web-related companies might squeeze out the smaller ones. Using the example of the online news industry, Wu suggests that if newspapers were to follow the example of Rupert Murdoch's new iPad-based "paper", The Daily, and "become exclusive partners with Apple, it may be easier for them to make money, but we may also end up with a media on the internet that is significantly more closed than it is now." This is because, he says, "You can imagine a future where blogs don't really have a meaningful future, because the content provided on a platform [such as Apple] doesn't create any room for anyone other than its exclusive media partners." So, Wu concludes: "The internet as a forum for speech, as a place where an individual with a talent can compete with a major newspaper - I'm suggesting that model may be passing."The Wu master
But though the internet was a freer place in its younger days, I ask Wu, wasn't it only available to a privileged few? Big conglomerates may be growing ever powerful, but haven't they at least brought the internet to a much wider audience than the academics and techies of the early 90s? "It shouldn't be a trade-off," Wu replies. "There is some truth to the idea that companies are interested in consumers, and so they bring [the internet] to a broader marketplace - but it is still important to stand up for the original values of the internet." Wu sees these values "as fundamental to a free society", values that we should preserve even as the internet becomes "a mass consumption product. And I think it's possible. You don't have to throw those values out the window just because millions of people are using it."
(Image; Linda Nylind for the Guardian)