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Monday, August 1, 2011

Facebook,Google Pwning The Web: Why You Should Care ?

The current phone-hacking controversy is a reminder that in the age we live in information is power. Well, my emphasizing it doesn't make it a breaking news,this has been known throughout history which is why the flow of information has been controlled by the powerful (which also means that they powerful because they controlled information). The Internet brought with it new means of communication,World Wide Web made the flow of information to ordinary people easy but it is its evolution into a communication platform called Social Web that broke all barriers to the free flow of information. The investigation into phone-hacking controversy has revealed how much political power media moguls like Rupert Murdoch possess but Wikileaks and its fallout and social media showed the power of information in motion. From Arab Spring revolution to crisis management to raising quality of life, information systems have been playing key roles in our lives and society.

Impact of Wikileaks
A key characteristic of the Web and most of its services is that they are unplanned, serendipitous which in turn makes them popular as they are designed as per user demand, but Julian Assange probably knew what he was doing when he founded Wikileaks. The impact of Wikileak has been much greater than is visible because it is too subtle. Leaked  embassy cables and other confidential correspondence documents presented to us,a picture of the world much different than we were accustomed to from traditional media. Interestingly, in the Arab world a lot of people already suspected the double-speak, corruption and despotism prevalent in ruling circles but Wikileaks making it public as well as global gave them the impetus to revolt and bring the despots  down.

Role of Social Media
Social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook played very important role in the protests as most people active on Web are acutely aware of. Facebook provided an excellent platform for the protestors to organize against  the brutal regimes more fearlessly. Twitter had already proved itself as a potent politcial tool during the "Twitter Revolution" in Moldova, for the Arab protestors it was the holy grail of communication and coordination. Videos of police brutality on civilians circulating through Youtube and the uncensored reports and opinions through blogs brought the reality to the fore. The fact that the protestors knew that the global community was aware as well as in solidairity with them, is what turned a spark to blazing fire,two powerful dictators were brought down within days.

The Battle For Social Web
If you are not living under a rock you might be aware of Google's new Social Web service Google+ which is doing pretty well in comparison to its previous two attempts. For little less than a decade, Google has been the most dominant player on Web but the threat it now faces from Facebook  is a serious one, especially since it seeks to make Google's mostly-algorithmic base, redundant in comparison to its own people powered base.Google has hit back at Facebook with Google+, a service that resembles most Facebook core features and given the wide range of services it owns,it's cosiness with Twitter, and the fact that it already has a vast user-base in its search engine users and those using Gmail as primary mail account,  Google has a fairly good chance of pwning Facebook.        

The Ungoogly Alliance
However, Facebook is not alone, Microsoft seems to have thrown its lot behind Facebook by not only investing in Facebook but also collaborating with it through the newly acquired Skype to bring in-browser video chatting. Besides, Microsoft is also upbeat about the yet to be released features of its search engine, Bing which is already indexing Facebook 'likes'. Further, Microsoft's 2009 alliance Yahoo and its latest alliance with leading Chinese search engine Baidu reflects the animosity with which it is trying to eat into Google's user-base even if it means losing millions of dollars. An alliance as formidable as Facebook-Skype-Microsoft-Yahoo-Baidu may be capable of defeating Google even pwning it if Google wavers a little in maintaining lead in search industry. Corporate rivalries are not new,but they are now taking an ugly shape, Google is already sitting over loads of user data gathered through tracking visitors and websites, Facebook on the other hand has a treasure trove of social data, either of them getting pwned would mean the winner taking over the entire web. The battle between the companies has become so fierce that I am sorely tempted tempted to quote  the tagline of the last Harry Potter flick - neither can live while the other survives. (Prof Trelawny's prophecy).

Why Should We Care ?
What should concern us more is not the economic fallout of such an event, the socio-political fallout could be unimaginable. Now while we gloat over the power of social media and the Internet's role in democratizing the world, we tend to overlook the fact that social web services are created and owned by companies and much open to abuse at various levels.We have discussed above on the power of information and the effect Web has over our social and political lives,any corporation that can control the flow of information would become a superpower in itself, perhaps the first non-territorial entity that could change governments, regulate market prices, dictate government policies and pretty much do everything it wants to. It is a bit hard to believe but we have too many evidences to ignore beginning with the fact the none of the companies have been politically neutral.

In the ongoing Arab Spring Revolution the social media companies are just not only passively assisting protesters through there web-based  services,they have gone ahead and provided innovative means to help the protesters communicate after the government started blocking the conventional means of communication and later even the Internet. Of course, we applaud them for taking proactive steps to help liberate oppressed people break free from tyranny and transition towards a  democratic society. However noble their intentions might be and more importantly, in complete harmony with our own ideology, the fact remains that the companies do take sides which also means that they can be willingly or unwilling be used as tools by the dominant powers as is likely to have happened during mass protests in Iran, against alleged electoral fraud (remember GW Bush's controversial  electoral victory in 2000 ? ) Considering the support the regime still possessed,it could well have been a crowdsourced  black operation.

It doesn't really matter if Google triumphs or Facebook,Microsoft and allies do,its the web users and common people who lose. May be not. If wisdom of crowd and democratization of information has enabled the masses to topple dictators without taking up arms, Murdoch's News of the World had to be shut down completely as the information proliferated through each and every nook and corner of developed world, a corporate superpower too can brought down using the same platform. If everything fails, there is still an  option,the reset switch ;)


Reference:
    Pwn : A Leetspeak slang used especially in online gaming environment to mean something more than defeating. It originated from a typographical error by a writer who intended to use the word "Own". Ironically, the word "Own" or "Owning" wasn't adequate enough to describe the act, which meant thoroughly destroying the opponent and take over everything. ( remember Carthage ? Tyre or recent Palestine?) as to make it seem that they didn't exist in the first place. 
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=pwning

Originally composed on 6/15/11   

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