The first speaker after the morning tea break at Digital Directions 2011 was Tim Wu (@superwuster), an author and professor at Columbia Law School. Wu is credited with creating the term ‘net neutrality’ who was interviewed live on stage by Fairfax’s online editor in chief Mike van Niekirk.
He talked about how large incumbent firms often have mixed feeling about innovation, and that it is the ultimate threat to any dominant company. In the case of the invention of the telephone, the telegraph company immediately tried to take it over and run it out of business.
“The telegraph company could see the writing on the wall,” Wu said. “Their vision was to control the telephone, and their vision was that the telephone would be an accessory to the telegraph. The idea was to create technology in a way that did not threaten it.
“You can see that today. Let’s say there’s a technology that threatens the centrality of search. Google might want to do something about that.”
He discussed whether the Internet would suffer the same fate of contraction into power bases that has been shown in other media forms. Looking at Apple and Google shows the possibilities. While Apple is very closed, in the history of communications those companies have dominated. Google is a more open company that does not own the networks it operates on.
“the question is whether these companies are the future,” Wu said, posing the question of whether the Internet will look like Hollywood, where four companies dominate and everyone else tries to work them, or are the conditions of competition fundamentally different?