Why did the WWW end up with hundreds of millions of independent information providers while centralized sites like AOL and MSN faltered?
It had little to do with Open Source, pal.
There were hundreds, if not thousands, of Bulletin-Board Systems (BBSs) well before there was an Internet the general public could hop on.
These BBSs were scorned by the Suits who ran mainframe national systems such as The Source and CompuServe. They were scorned by Knight-Ridder and IBM-CBS-Sears and Times-Mirror, who were spending upwards of half a billion dollars on stupid Command and Control One-to-Many videotex systems.
This was their sentiment back then, from AOL.com by Kara Swisher:
[. . .] Indications pointed to little chance of developing a mass consumer interest in the medium. Times Mirror Company pulled the plug on its efforts in the spring of 1986. The media giant's videotex services president, James Holly, declared that online consumers were odd. "They're different, they're weird," said Holly. "There's no reasonable profit in the future." Knight-Ridder executives agreed and junked their costly Viewtron effort soon after.
-- pg. 47
Emphasis added by me.
(It's still their sentiment today, as they clutch their pearls in horror at the thought of blogs!)
All those people who were basically running free electronic fanzines centered around their passion and expertise, were held back because of the price of hardware, telephone-line access, and the cost of long-distance toll calls for users (though services such as PC Pursuit tried to ameliorate as well as capitalize on that). Not all BBS software was free, either. TBBS cost money and was the first pro-level BBS software. FidoNet was the first free software to tie together distant sites and resemble an early form of the Internet in limited aspects.
There was already an established "underground" of electronic publishing that was already better than the "professional" efforts. Once the Internet was open to the public and investors hopped on board to provide affordable website hosting, the floodgates were open to what had already been waiting there. I'm certain most of that hosting software was not Open Source. Not even the original Mosaic browser was Open Source.
So, it's a nice little self-serving delusion to think that Open Source = Internet, but that's not the history I lived through, O'Reilly. FAIL! And by the way, Sticker Daddy, when did you come to this party?