How much is information worth? Who can share content, and who can access it? These are million dollar questions—sometimes literally.
Last week, The Guardian published an article criticizing Facebook’s test of a new newsfeed system. In this system, a user’s newsfeed includes posts from their friends and from paid promotions. Organic content, which rises through popularity and relevance, is barely visible.
For small businesses, including small publishing houses and bloggers, this is worrying. Up until now, businesses knew they could grow their audiences by creating quality content. Now, they might have to pay for visibility, something many can’t afford to do.
Also last week, FigShare, an open data repository, released their annual report on the state of open source data. While Facebook considers making businesses pay to share content, the open access community—where information is free for both content creators and users—continues to grow. Since FigShare’s last report, more researchers are aware of open data sets, and more are making their own information freely available than ever before.
Facebook and FigShare couldn’t be more different, but they represent two sides of a conflict as old as Web 2.0, maybe even older.
On the one hand, some corners of the net are increasingly corporatized, monetized, and monopolistic. I won’t name any names, but I’m sure a few giants immediately spring to mind. Users might be able to access information for free here, but only because their own data has value. As one of my digital humanities professors once said, “If a site is free, your information is what’s for sale.”
On the other hand, the open source movement is pushing for broader access and greater legitimacy. The Internet Archive, a massive open-source repository for everything from ebooks to extinct webpages, is an accredited library. For the most part, the open source movement is decentralized, and can be hard for new users to navigate. Some websites, like Open Culture, try to fix this problem by bringing scattered resources together in one place. The more popular and organized open source initiatives become, the more of a serious challenge they will be to monetized content.
So where do we fit into all this? By definition, authors are content creators, so we certainly have a reason to care. Where we can share our work, who can access it, and how much it should cost are important things to consider.
Indie authors rely on popular social media platforms to reach potential readers, but if they and their small publishers can’t afford adverts, they might have to look elsewhere. While they are starting to gain mainstream attention, open source alternatives are still too niche for most authors to make much use of them, at least for marketing purposes.
It’s not entirely clear where Indie authors should go and what they should do, but this debate is far from over. If we don’t want to pay to be heard, we need to start talking about this.