What the web did to power hierarchy was good for the world. As with every revolution, that first bit before critical mass hits is the most interesting. That's because it's the little players, the non-corporatized individuals who wake up to the world changing, and act as revolutionaries. What's sad is the trend of what happens next.
For all the revolutionary tactics that play out, there is an equal measure of staid homogenization that brews from big corporate; who find a way to play catchup and undo the pretext of the revolution itself. Complacency, lack of innovation, bigger agendas et al are never interesting. They kill interestingness. Players emerged, boxed access to the web in packages from AOL and the like, and then suddenly business models changed. Money was made and empires fell. Social media has taken the same trajectory as the web did a decade ago. But despite the much-touted 'equal opportunity' banner social media gets branded with today, it isn't an entirely accurate picture.
I accept the chapter in history books to be written in the near future profiling Facebook's ouster of telephones as the single most used channel of communication in the world; and it will happen. If the virtual revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt have reinforced the power of Facebook and nudged outliers like Twitter to the front, they have also given new meaning to how once again (like AOL in the 1990's and Microsoft and Nokia in the 2000's) real power lies with gatekeepers of this information. Facebook et al will remain the voice of democratic ambition, only until these "free" services deem it fitting to their agenda. Moreover, as these boot-strapped startups grow to become major corporations, advertising revenue will dictate innovation, or the inherent lack thereof in the future. We -- the users -- due to our dwindling ability to break free from homogenization, will accept mediocrity, 'make do' with the situation and feed the vicious cycle of complacency.
This, to me, is where the web will potentially begin it's second downfall; into a pre-curated Walmart-like experience. Unless real communication from real people stays truly distributed -- on more than simply a few major networks -- the Internet as a medium will no longer remain egalitarian. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and others of the ilk are exceptional devices on their own merit, but will soon resemble the dominance of the mighty television networks in the 1950's. The danger lies in content that is both conceived, and exists primarily on, these social networks alone. Our complacency, coupled with growing ease of creating content on major social networks, will make publishing ideas elsewhere (like personal blogging) a grueling affair in comparison. The numbers prove this: Facebook for example, is growing at 700,000 new users every 24 hours. That's almost a million people every day, most of whom have never published anything on the Internet until that first status update.
Create often. Share often. But it might be worthwhile spreading it far and wide. After all, it's not like the Internet is running out of real-estate any time soon.
(The image above is a snapshot of the Egyptian uprising on Twitter by Fast Company).