Rewind to the mid 90s and you see a world dominated in the west by services like AOL and Compuserve. These were effectively mini-Internets owned by a single organisation. They were simple and easy to use and unlike the wild west of an open standards based Internet, which were difficult to access and use at the time.
These services though quickly stagnated, whilst the Internet continued to innovate, mostly as a result of the spread of email and the world wide web and its browser wars.
Today though, whilst the standards for accessing the internet are open, the services built on top of it are proprietary.
Search is controlled by Google and social networking and communication dominated by Facebook. With the exception of email, these are both critical to the way we use the Internet today.
Whilst this is no different in some ways to Microsoft controlling the interface to your computer or Google (or Apple) controlling your mobile interface, the opportunity for misinformation is much greater.
There have been plenty of calls to breakup Google over the years, though this would not solve the control it has over searching for content. Likewise with Facebook, how would you break it up in a way which didn’t demolish its very utility.
You could of course define both services as utilities and if a layer of the tool is mature and changing little, this could be done. But content continues to innovate so search will need to adapt. EU anti-trust is targeting Google though on services like product search and even its Android operating system where it believes Google has misused its power.
Digital communication is far from being mature but perhaps Facebook could be forced eventually to open up its network of people as a layer open to be used by anyone?
Monopolies can hinder innovation, but it is easy to argue that disruption within mobile has created a challenge to Google’s search proposition as less people use search on a mobile.
Voice assistants like Alexa are likely to be the next battleground for access to online knowledge and services, so it is no surprise to see Google battling it out on this front. Revenue-wise though Google’s search revenues remain unchecked.
At least today though, innovation does not seem to slowing down. If anything it seems to be accelerating.