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IT WAS TWENTY YEARS AGO, ER, LAST MONTH
May 28th, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

ap via nbc news

While I’ve been busy doing whatever (looking for a new home, etc.), I missed a few big birthdays here in online-land.

Tim Berners-Lee opened the first public World Wide Web site on 4/30/93 at the CERN particle-physics lab in Switzerland. For the occasion, that site has been put back up at its original URL.

Berners-Lee was, and still is, an idealist. In the original CERN site’s documents, he described the WWW as something that could open up information to the masses.

Instead of “walled garden” online networks such as CompuServe, Prodigy, and the original AOL, the Web would be open to all comers and contributors. Anybody could put anything on, or receive anything from, it.

This ultimate “disruptive technology,” creator of LOLcat memes and destroyer of newspapers, record labels, and middle-class livelihoods, got its start with the most noble of intentions.

(Just like many a mad-scientist-movie experiment.)

By pure coincidence, the first issue of Wired magazine was out that same month.

From the start, it was intended to be a lot more important than a mere buying guide to PC gear. It was to chronicle tech as the biggest economic, societal, and even ideological movement of our time.

It posited loudmouth, alpha-male San Franciscan Libertarians as the Voice of the Future. It sneered at governments, residents of “Tired” locales (France, Manhattan, Seattle), and people who dared to think about the well-being of others as backward-thinking parasites.

In the world according to the early Wired, CEOs were the new rock stars, even the new royalty. No social or environmental issue could be discussed in its pages, unless there was a potential solution that would also enrich (or at least never inconvenience) big business.

In the end, the bosses and bosses’ lackeys Wired worshipped got most of their way.

And as cyber-critic Jason Lanier notes, the 99 Percent are still trying to pick up the pieces.

That same week 10 years later, Apple launched the first version of the iTunes Store.

The iTunes application had been around since 2001, when Apple bought and revamped a third-party program called SoundJam MP.

Steve Jobs had identified music (and eventually general media) playback as a technology in which Apple had to lead, for the sake of the company’s survival. Otherwise, Windows-only applications and file formats (remember WinAmp?) would shut out Mac users, threatening Apple’s presence in home environments. By making iTunes, and making a Windows version of it, Jobs and co. stayed in the home-computer game.

Two years later, Windows Media-only file protection schemes were threatening to put a lock on “legal” (commercial) music downloads. Again, the Mac and its users would be shut out. Apple’s response not only had to be Windows-compatible, it had to dominate the market on both platforms.

The iTunes Store did that, and more.

Its stand-alone hardware adjuct, the iPod, quickly dominated the new market of portable digital music machines.

And along the way, iTunes allegedly “killed the old music industry.”

(Of course, many of us felt the old music industry had deserved to die, but that’s not the point here.)

But now, the notion of music downloads seems as archaic as the notion of buying music on little compact discs.

The big hype these days is for streaming music subscriptions, a field which Apple has yet to enter.

Yet through all these industry changes, one thing remains constant.

Most recording artists themselves still get the fiscal shaft.


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