Week 11

Web Theory Ch. 5, 6, &7:


Web Theory Chapter 5: “Look of the Web”-In this chapter, Burnett and Marshall (2003) examine the changes in appearance of the Web, and some general characterizations. Their focus is on content and design. They study the new web “aesthetic” and identify what past media forms it relied on to form its “look” and how it differentiated itself from its ancestors. These past forms have been layered on to a present form.


The history of the Web and HTML is outlined but the aesthetics of the Web is difficult to establish. Content is meshed with structure, text combines with image. Virtually anything that can be done off the web can be done or at least portrayed on the web.  The Web’s lineage goes back to screen media such as TV and film, but also integrates print media like magazines. The Web aesthetic follows fashionable styles, but is designed for accessibility. Websites follow a pattern of familiarity-they stay in a comfort zone. New sites build on past aesthetics. A magazine website mimics a magazine in its styling. However, the nature of the Web means that paths must lead to other websites so these structures cannot be rigid. Any website that tries to contain its users will soon be passed by.


Web Theory Chapter 6: “Web Economy”-the 1999 holiday shopping season heralded the web commerce era. Previously consumers were afraid about online purchases. This changed with the enormous presence Ebay and Amazon and the fact that online companies were advertising along with traditional stores. In 1999 $4 billion was spent online in the U.S. (Burnett & Marshall, 2003).


In the span of 5 years the Web moved from a place that catered to the sale of software and other technologies to selling every product and every service. Burnett and Marshall (2003) compare the Web commerce with the traditional agora or marketplace in which not only goods are exchanged, but also ideas and politics. This Web culture is public but also routinely reveals the private life of users. The new agora of the Web has resemblances to past marketplaces but is something unique.


The Web also has clear ties to free exchange through its early connection with universities and research. In part the Web is like a library and the concept that once you are a member you get borrowing privileges is quite strong. Online users often resemble traditional library users. They can have a specific need or they sometimes just want to browse. Like library content that links different items by a common connection (subject, author, etc.) the Web also links items or pages by some common thread.


The Web also has connections to government, public service and education. Programs have developed to get schools connected to the Web, not for commerce but for exchange of ideas and communication.


Companies have been searching for the ultimate software or program that every internet user would pay to have on their computers. As the Internet took off many companies have risen and continue to try to trade on the NASDAQ stock exchange. As Burnett and Marshall (2003) point out, few of the internet companies traded there have made profits. They may generate large revenues but most operate at a loss! Amazon is cited as making a profit for the first time in 2001! In April 2000 there was a market correction to readjust Web related companies that had been overvalued. This was the dot com crash where the NASDAQ lost 25% of its value and many companies went bankrupt.


Not surprisingly the “killer app of the first decade of the Web” is pornography (what a lot of people are willing to pay to have on their computer). Burnett and Marshall (2003) claim that internet pornography sales helped to commercialize the Web.


This chapter examines 4 divisions of work that are related to the Web economy:

  • Internet Infrastructure Layer-Internet service providers, companies that sell equipment to access the internet-includes telecommunication companies (AT&T, Verizon, etc.).
  • Internet Applications Infrastructure Layer-produces software and services to facilitate web transactions, designers of websites and portals (Microsoft, Oracle, Adobe, etc.).
  • Internet Intermediary Layer-workers and activities that help mediate the movement of goods and services-content providers, advertising agencies that produce banner adds, search engines, online brokerages, online travel agents, etc.
  • Internet Commerce Layer-workers of companies that actively sell products and services online-Amazon, direct sales by airlines, etc.


“The Web produces an economy that intersects with all industries, television in contrast tends to intersect with many parts of the industrial culture through advertising and its direct sales through home shopping channels provide a stunted relationship to retailing” (Burnett & Marshall, 2003, p. 120).


Media industries such as TV, radio, and magazines manufacture audiences. These audiences are then sold to advertisers who buy the audience’s time through commercials and ads. This creates a strong media economy where the audience gets the program for “free” but has to sit through commercials whereas in going to view a film the audience pays to view it. To determine the value of a particular “spot” there are calculations that determine the size of the audience. The most expensive advertising slots are during the Superbowl on American network TV. A similar economy is emerging on the Web. Some sites attract more people and thus ads on these sites potentially reach a greater audience. This has led to an abundance of people counters and hit counters to determine how many people visit a site. Companies such as Nielsen do official website counts and guarantee to advertisers and the website owner that the “audience” of the site is a certain number. These statistics reveal a lot about how the Web is used and also how that information is used to create a system where the value of the audience-commodity is determined.


Web Theory Chapter 7: “Web of policy, regulation, and copyright”-Burnett and Marshall (2003) take a hard look at the ideology of information technology which has had a huge impact on the policies and regulations that have developed. In the 1990s governments jumped on the bandwagon and actively supported and helped fund the development of the Web. A lot of money has been invested in this new industry and Burnett and Marshall (2003) question how governments could so readily accept these terms (information technology, global information infrastructure, etc.) and make them the basis of policy action.


It is pointed out that new technologies usually end up being used in ways that the inventors did not dream of. Often metaphors of older technologies are used for new technology but we must be critical of adopting these metaphors as history has shown how far off our initial thoughts about new technology have been.


According to Burnett and Marshall (2003) “the current ideology of information technology first emerged n the  [U.S.] when federal government policy favoured scientific and technical research with development in the private and public sectors that would contribute to economic growth” (p. 128). Competitive innovation was given a priority over social welfare; science and technology were glorified. The idea of a new information society with a workforce class of knowledge workers was pushed by many and the drive for greater productivity led to an increased demand for information and technologies. These trends led to the deregulation of telecommunications. Burnett and Marshall (2003) point out that technical innovation does not drive all the change-instead it is Free Market Capitalism which demands new technologies to drive the economy. This linking of new technology to free market economy means that all aspects of society become commoditized. In order to adopt the new technology one must adopt free market values and the “commodification of information”.


In discussing the political myth of the ideology of information technology, Burnett and Marshall (2003) point out that studies across the globe failed to show a strong correlation between the investment in technology and a growth in productivity.


Regulation and Copyright: As a new technology the Internet both inspires and threatens traditional institutions. The public identifies threats to the future of the internet as: censorship, accessibility, privacy, and pornography. However, as Burnett and Marshall (2003) point out, the real battle is the national and international legal and government battles over intellectual copyright laws and how they pertain to the Internet.


There are a lot of problems with copyright law. Many claim that the current copyright laws are inflexible and only protect the entrenched interests of corporations and harm everyone else-even those creators the laws were designed to protect. The original copyright law gave protection for 14 years with a renewal option for another 14 years if the author was alive. By Congressional law this has now been changed to the life of the author plus 70 years! This will keep most works out of the public domain for a century or more. Critics point out that the intended goal of copyright law was to create incentives for being creative-not just the original creator of a work but for others who wanted to build on that work in new ways.


Content Regulation: Obscenity, pornography, and “adult” or “objectionable” topics on the Web are easier for children to access than in previous media forms. Legally it is very difficult to define obscene material. Various political, religious, and community groups are concerned with “moral” issues and the “free” access that children have to “objectionable” material online. This has created a huge conflict between Free Speech and Child Protection. Burnett and Marshall (2003) outline some key rulings from 1996 to 2001 but for libraries the Supreme Court 2003 decision concerning the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) (see United States, et al., appellants v. American Library Association, Inc., et al. No. 02-361) has had a huge impact. CIPA states that any libraries that receive Federal funds to help pay for internet access (many libraries are eligible for special funding to help breach the digital divide) must have internet filtering software installed on their computers or they lose the funding. This software blocks sites even from adult users. Libraries have had to make important budget and access decisions including refusing the funding and keeping full internet access or accepting the funding and having policies to allow adult users to ask for access to needed sites which are blocked.




Websites reviewed:



None this week.



Week 11 references:


Burnett, R., & Marshall, P. D. (2003). Web theory: An introduction. New York: Routledge.


United States, et al., appellants v. American Library Association, Inc., et al. No. 02-361. (2008). In U. S. Supreme Court Cases, Lawyers [Web]. Retrieved October 9, 2008, from LexisNexis database.