Internet communities: Break down these walls

History suggests that open standards will once again trump “walled gardens” on the internet“The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” Apply Winston Churchill’s aphorism to the internet, and about the farthest back you can look is 1994, when the previously obscure computer network first became known to a wider public. Many people first ventured onto the internet from AOL, CompuServe and Prodigy, which were subscription-based online services that offered e-mail, chatrooms, discussion boards and so on. Having provided their users with access to the internet, however, these venerable digital communities were undermined by it.Why stay within a closed community when you can roam outside its walled garden, into the wilds of the internet proper? Admittedly, it took a while for open and standardised forms of e-mail, discussion boards and file downloads — not to mention a new publishing technology called the world wide web — to match the proprietary, closed versions that preceded them. Today only AOL survives, and in a very different form: as an open web portal supported by advertising.

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