Excuse the poor title, but this profile of Ev Williams, founder of Blogger, Twitter and now, Medium is a great read. It provides a look into the mind of one of the most influential persons of the Web era, someone who felt the true power of the open Web and now, is striving to ensure its survival.
Today, nearly 85% of web traffic originates from Facebook and Google. They work round the clock to keep users within their walled gardens, addicted to the algorithms that constantly monitor behaviour and then serve users with ads and even more stuff to check out. At a time like this, Ev Williams is one of the many voices crying out to save the open Web.
But the internet has changed drastically over the last decade. It’s become a more closed web. Rather than a decentralized and open landscape, many people today primarily interact with a handful of large platform companies online, such as Google or Facebook. To many users, Facebook and Google aren’t part of the internet — they are the internet.
People worry about the future of the Web where services like Google, Facebook and Instagram stop being parts of the Internet and become the Internet for most users. When content and users are behind closed walls that are inoperable with the others parts of the Web, what they see is determined by the proprietary algorithms of these services. Profit-driven corporations, deciding what users can and can’t see, tampering with the user’s perception of Internet reality.
While it is undeniable that Google and Facebook have made it much more easier to access the information we need and connect with the people of our lives, the power they have over users and the potential choices they could take to further their own profit-driven agendas is terrifying. This is exactly what Ev Williams wants to tackle, with Medium, though in an unconventional way.
Though Medium is a venture-backed company, it aims to keep the open Web alive for all users. Combining the freedom and open spirit of the open Web of days past, and the almost centralized method of operation of other social networks, Medium aims to be the benevolent gatekeepers of content on the Internet. Williams envisions Medium as a place for exchanging ideas, where anyone with thoughts to share gets a platform and a voice.
Instead of the usual metrics used by other networks and websites to measure engagement, Medium tracks ‘time spent reading‘, which measures how long Medium users collectively read stories on Medium. The open nature of the Medium is widely promoted, while also providing hosting services for publications like The Awl, Pacific Standard and others. Thus, by hosting content at their end, Medium behaves like a traditional centralized network, but their vision to keep the spirit of the independant, open Web alive sets them apart.
We are at a crossroads right now with regards to the future of the Internet. The players present, the decisions they take and the services users flock to, will decide the fate of the open Web. Though only time will tell for sure what happens, people like Ev Williams will be there to make sure the free, open Web survives.