Challenges & Threats
  • Incumbent resistance: The current trend of ICT policy and IP laws are biased against openness. While the original development of the Internet was founded on libertarian principles that embraced open processes, mainstreaming and commercialisation of this “cyberspace” by those with vested interests in the older industrial economy has become very apparent. Sometimes the shift is embraced (as with MIT’s Open Courseware), but more often it is fought. The first battles can be seen in the IP laws/music industry suits (RIAA) and the net neutrality debates. This should not be surprising as these changes represent “formidable challenges” for many companies to shift from “old organizational structures to new ones that can leverage decentralized co-creation” (Bollier, 2007).
  • Vertical integration: One of the more prevalent threats to Openness comes from a vertical integration of ownership through the horizontal framework of the network. Vertical integration such as mergers between AOL, Time and Warner lead to service providers choosing what content to favour, produce and allow access to over their networks. Thus, the limitations to Openness from such mergers lead to serious reductions in consumer choice, creativity and innovation. Vertical integration also raises the spectre of censorship. For example, Wal-Mart increasingly dictates a lot of the ‘creative’ process in Hollywood based simply on what titles they will and will not stock – forcing media producers to edit their content to fit Wal-Marts corporate mores. Clearly this approach to content production is a massive disincentive to creativity. With respect to access to knowledge, Willinksy (2006) notes that as more and more journals become concentrated in fewer and fewer publishers, there is an increased opportunity for devious practices such as bundling journals together into no-cancel subscriptions limits libraries ability to get access to the journals their students need.
  • Cloud computing: Cloud computing is one potential future technological configuration of the Internet (Bollier, 2007). Cloud computing refers to the centralization of computational power to offer all computing services and data – while the end units are reduced to access terminals. This has potential benefits by making the end units cheaper. However, given our understanding of openness and the architecture and digital environment that underpins it – this would be the antithesis of openness. It represents two central moves that threaten the open architecture of the Internet: removing the power from the ends, and making the network intelligent. Ultimately, it would constitute a movement back to a centralized form that would have incredible control over the content delivered. Such a system is one that is ripe for abuse, especially if under the control of less democratic governments or subject to the incentive system of the open market.
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