When Tim Wu published his influential book Master Switch in 2010, he powerfully argued that all communications markets began with a period of creative openness and experimentation, yet within 20 years settled into some sort of state-regulated oligopoly. The internet, Wu proclaimed hopefully, could be different because most internet giants “profess an awareness of their awesome powers and some sense of attendant duty to the public”.
Five years on, and it is becoming increasingly obvious that the web is now ruled by oligopolies, and that attempted state intervention is heavier than ever.
In technology markets it’s not so much a case of first mover advantage, but “winner takes it all”. Whether you’re in Austria or Yemen, Mexico or New Zealand, much of your online life is spent on three websites: Google, Facebook and YouTube. When Google had a one-minute outage in August 2013, global web traffic immediately dropped by 40%, according to web analytics company GoSquared.