Blog post

Web Doomsday: The Fall Of Great Power

By Peter West • 1st January 2014 00:00

Originally posted for the
Web Science COMP6044 module, University of Southampton

In this post, I will look at how the web has power, and how a web doomsday call cause it to fall. In particular, I will consider how modern society is so affected by the web and how it drives our economy.

I mentioned before that the web is valued differently by different people. Some people seldom use it – for them it is a luxury. Some people depend on it – for them it is a basic need. But as the number of people using the web increases, it has meant that more people are depending on it. In fact, it has gone beyond enhancing the lives of individuals, it has affected politics, activism, and media. Perhaps the biggest change of all is the shift of business from brick-and-mortar to the web. The web is a platform for business, and has completely changed the economy. People have jobs online. New businesses operate entirely online. Online business are closing down high street shops.

The web has made such vast changes to society, that we can consider the web as having a huge power. It is socially driven, but at the same time is a technical tool that is prone to failures that are completely unpredictable. So what would the consequences be if this power were to fall?

Technical failure: I was at London Bridge station recently when the screens reported the FTSE 100 had fallen to 0.

We have a small glipse of what could happen. Earlier this year, Nasdaq’s servers couldn’t cope with demand, so was shut down. In response to this, Sal Arnuk, co-head of equity trading at Themis Trading in Chatham, New Jersey stated:

"Any brokerage firm gets paid by executing orders. So yes, we are frustrated, and this hurts us, it hurts the market and it hurts public confidence."

We need to learn lessons from these incidents. These systems are no longer a luxury or convenience, they form part of society and should be modelled as critical systems. So perhaps a focus on understanding the web as a social platform as well as a technical one is crucial.

In the next post, I will look at how the economy might react if the web were to disappear.