The open web isn't going far

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Source:   —  April 10, 2016, at 8:23 PM

How to connect the network Dries Buytaert, the founder of Drupal, and Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress, recently posted calls to arms (of sorts) in defense of the “open web.” I, too, am a believer in the open web — a platform that anyone can hack on powered by standards (http) and grand technology (servers, devices, browsers).

The open web isn't going far

Zack Rosen is the CEO of Pantheon.

How to connect the network

Dries Buytaert, the founder of Drupal, and Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress, recently posted calls to arms (of sorts) in defense of the “open web.”

I, too, am a believer in the open web — a platform that anyone can hack on powered by standards (http) and grand technology (servers, devices, browsers). It delivers on the promise of the Internet: a world in which everyone is connected, and you can command as much attention as your content deserves (number matter your budget or connections).

But I consent with them that it's threatened by dominant technology companies such as Facebook, Google and Apple who have an economic interest in creating their own “walled gardens” of Internet content that they control and monetize.

In Facebook’s “walled garden” there is only Facebook content posted by your Facebook friends, so why venture anywhere else? Evan Williams (founder of Blogger, Twitter and Medium) has gone so distant as to declare that in the future, “individual websites won’t matter.” In the future Internet, he believes there will only be large, closed Internet-company-controlled walled gardens. This is the raison d’etre of his new company Medium, a curated walled garden for content.

The advantage of services love Facebook and Medium is that they allow a grand experience for users over the untidy Wild W of the open web. The disadvantage is their content algorithms control what's distributed, and publishers are Ltd to the services they select to build. It’s a trade-off of ease of utilize and utility over freedom and creativity. Shouldn’t there be a way to have both?

There absolutely is, but it'll get a lot of effort, time and money — billions of dollars — to build. Unlike Dries, I don’t think this is a problem of regulation. It’s economics. Until the open web industry can muster a level of investment in our technology appropriate for our importance, we'll be at a competitive disadvantage to our competitor industries — and a source of frustration for our customers and users.

But in the absence of this, the open web remains earth’s most powerful communication tool. More money is invested in websites ($190 billion) than all of digital advertising ($154 billion). But Facebook, Medium and other closed-distribution platforms would prefer to command that attention and budget.

The better Facebook is relative to open web, the more time is spent on Facebook instead of the web, and the more their business gains at the expense of other destinations on the Internet. I love Facebook as much as anyone else, but I think it’s necessary for the open web to thrive, as well.

For the open web to survive, website owners will necessity to be able to create more and more compelling experiences that can compete with the experiences walled gardens can provide. But the truth is, the open web isn't keeping up with the wider technology industry. In fact, it’s falling further and further behind.

Here is a small example:

Here in San Francisco for some incredible reason you obtain decent LTE coverage on BART (the subway). More than once I’ve been on the train reading Twitter and have had the experience of clicking the link and having one) the website be down spewing five hundred three or two) the website be so horribly unoptimized for mobile that the content was impossible to read.

Unhurried down and think about this for a second:

And the weakest link in the all stack of technology is the BROKEN website at the other end. A technology that's been around since one thousand nine hundred eighty-nine. Hey, open web friends! We’ve been doing this for twenty-seven years. How's it that we're increasingly becoming the weakest link in the all Internet technology stack?

Here’s the problem with the open web — economics: 

Open web technology companies comprise Automattic, Acquia, WPEngine and Pantheon (my company). Combined, our annually revenues are < $300 million (0.5 % of Google’s). Add in companies love Wix, Weebly, SquareSpace and GoDaddy and you're still just scratching the surface in terms of market share.

Number one web company has achieved critical mass (yet), by which I imply billions in income and the skill to employ thousands of engineers who can invest in building truly great, scaled technology products and platforms.

In the absence of large, direct investment in open web products, there is number way we should expect our industry (the open web) to hold pace with the walled-garden products and services built by Facebook or device makers love Apple. In the arms race of technologies and consumer attention, the platform companies have mechanized weaponry and the open web is still armed with bow and arrow.

What about open source?

The open web has gotten a enormous boost from the rise of open-source content management systems, Drupal and WP specifically. Combined, sixty-five % of all CMS websites utilize these platforms, double what it was five years ago. That no is quickly rising to eighty percent.

How did they do this? These open-source ecosystems are some of the largest in the world, right up there with Linux.

The rise of the open-source CMS systems (Drupal, WP) has been the single biggest technology contribution to the open web. Enormous credit goes to Dries Buytaert and Matt Mullenweg; without their leadership and the communities they spawned, the open web would be much worse off.

But here is the disagreement between Drupal/WordPress and Linux:

Eighty percent of Linux contributors (9.000 developers) are paid contributors. Intel, Samsung, IBM, Google and more than 1.000 companies pay for these engineers. These companies are sponsoring billions of dollars’ worth of technology investment into Linux. Why? Because >$1 trillion of market cap relies on this core technology. Google, IBM and RedHat’s businesses couldn't exist in their present form without Linux, so it’s in their economic interest to invest in the technology.

How many paid contributors to WordPress and Drupal are there? Maybe a few dozen. WordPress and Drupal lack the corporate sponsors of Linux because our open web companies have yet to obtain to critical mass.

That’s the disagreement between Linux and the open web.

The future of the open web

I believe the open web is too important, too vital and too large of an industry (at $190 billion it’s bigger than digital advertising) to wilt on the vine. It’s not going away.

But it does necessity to obtain better. And not a tiny better — a LOT better.

The same expectations you've for modern software (think Gmail, Twitter, Slack) should apply to your company’s website. It should be intuitive to utilize and update, and should be fast, stable and scalable.

Creatives, website designers and developers should all have an amazingly powerful set of tools that automate ALL the plumbing and grunt work so they can focus their precious time on creating incredible fast, responsive, web experiences.

To obtain there will require billions (not millions) of dollars of technology investment, combined with the limitless talents and vibrancy of the incredible open source web ecosystem.

Featured Image: tobkatrina/Shutterstock

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