A Web of profit and surveillance capitalism

By Fabian Veron

The enticing allure of contemporary digital platforms can be attributed to their ability to facilitate instant universal access to a wide variety of curated content on the Web.

The basic nascent technological underpinnings that gave rise to the modern digital realm, was made available to the public in 1991.

The early offering of the World Wide Web was described as Web 1.0 and consisted of simple HTML static pages that lacked social engagement; therefore, defined as “one-to-many” platform.

Static pages were sourced from the fledging Web by hyperlinks derived from HTML and were defined as read-only-Web; commonly hosted by internet service providers (ISP).

The introduction of graphical Web browser Mosaic in 1993 helped to popularise Web accessibility by introducing a user-friendly interface.

The rapid uptake of new digital technologies offered by the World Wide Web gave rise to the speedy development and deployment of fibre optics cables in mid 90s.

The increased distribution of fibre optics across the globe revolutionised culture, commerce and technology as it accelerated the possibility of instant communication.

The convergence of digital technologies made it possible for the development of multimedia platforms where text, video and voice were integrated by an electromagnetic global medium.

The rapid aggregation of multimedia technologies through computers and the evolution of interoperable Web protocols, birthed Web 2.0 and user-generated content.

Web 2.0 introduced the “many-to-many” content” platform, where individuals were empowered to set up their own websites, blogs, videos and so forth.

User-generated content platforms transformed the way in which humanity was able to communicate and collaborate as creators through emerging Web applications.

The new interactive Web-based platform engendered a new paradigm that facilitated an evolving interactive process, independent from static personal websites.

Darcy DiNucci foreshadowed in her article Fragmented Future in April 1999 that the HTML hyperlink framework, would usher in a “transport mechanism” for “interactivity”.

Web 2.0 technologies facilitated a move away from the PC to the browser as the gateway to a user-rich experience, where the users generate content in the form of ideas, text, videos and pictures.

In 2004 at the first Web 2.0 conference in California, John Battelle and Tim O’Reilly outlined their vision of the “Web as a platform”, where “applications are built for the Web”, not the PC.

Batelle and O’Reilly proposed the idea that “customers are building your business for you” and through the activities of user-generated content, the crowd could be “harnessed” to create value.

Google was the first to exploit user-generated content by providing a service based on aggregating data through an algorithm, analysing determined metrics from hyperlinked documents on the web.

The search engine’s core business model is based upon a metric that ranks pages through a hierarchical model, extracting value from the number of links attributed to a page on the Web.

Over time, Google has pioneered and perfected a digital business model where human attention has been codified and monetised for profit.

Google’s Cyber ghosting has given rise to surveillance capitalism, where human experience can be harnessed and manipulated by curating personal data streams into a tradable assets in the marketplace.

Featured image: The internet has taken human thought online. Picture: Charis Tevis/CC/flickr

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