Like Democracy Itself, It Needs Defending
November 19, 2010 3:54 PM   Subscribe

Long Live the Web — An impassioned plea to actively support openness on the Web from Tim Berners-Lee.

"The principle of universality allows the Web to work no matter what hardware, software, network connection or language you use and to handle information of all types and qualities. This principle guides Web technology design.

Technical standards that are open and royalty-free allow people to create applications without anyone’s permission or having to pay. Patents, and Web services that do not use the common URIs for addresses, limit innovation.

Threats to the Internet, such as companies or governments that interfere with or snoop on Internet traffic, compromise basic human network rights.

Web applications, linked data and other future Web technologies will flourish only if we protect the medium’s basic principles."
posted by netbros (8 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Y’know, it never was the tragedy of the commons. It’s always been the tragedy of monied bullies and gatekeepers screwing the rest of us for the sake of one more greasy buck.
posted by kipmanley at 4:46 PM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

In related news, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has placed a hold on the Internet censorship bill (COICA), killing it for the remainder of this session and jeopardizing its passage after the recess.
posted by briank at 4:54 PM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

briank: In related news, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has placed a hold on the Internet censorship bill (COICA), killing it for the remainder of this session and jeopardizing its passage after the recess

Yeah, I just mentioned that in the COICA thread. Great news, I was terrified COICA would slip under the radar and actually get passed and set free speech back and set precedent for severe crippling of the internet in the US; this has taken a huge weight off of my chest, for now.
posted by paisley henosis at 5:07 PM on November 19, 2010

The Internet and the Web in particular are examples of why we need government spending on research in the public interest. This is what a privately-developed internet would look like (several decades too late). And that's what it will look like if it is allowed to regress into unregulated private control.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:09 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Here is a great piece by John Blevins talking about The Internet that Might have Been.
Policymakers often tell us that the Internet succeeded because of a lack of government regulation... But what if, as many inaccurately assume, these regulations had never existed? What would today’s Internet look like in such a world? In this essay, I provide a fictional
alternate history—in form of a satirical book review—to illustrate how differently the Internet might have developed in a truly privatized world
Blevins has some pretty funny passages in the fictional essay about how suboptimal the market is, like Voogle (Verizon bought out Google because they couldn't afford the access fees) and t-mail that costs you $35/month to send mail to others.
posted by jasonhong at 5:53 PM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'd like someone to put this in front of the UK government pretty quickly. They're planning to abandon net neturality in a move that I can only presume stems from a desire to back the big ISPs. The disturbing thing is that it will allow these ISPs to discriminate against media organisations such as the BBC with no recourse.

I can't even talk about the Paul Chambers Twitter joke thing. It's too dumb and depressing for words.
posted by Summer at 6:09 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I fear that a truly open internet and web simply cannot continue to exist in our current world. We had it for a while because those in power simply didn't care. It is closing off as big business and government are becoming increasingly aware of the power of these systems. The Facebooks and Chinese governments and DMCAs will continue because, to fight them, someone needs to be of two rare and largely non-overlapping minds. In order to advocate for openness on the net, someone needs to have a limited engineer-level knowledge of internet protocols and technology, and also a proclivity toward activism. The first group is a pretty elite group, all things considered, as is the second. Moreover, they're almost never the same people. A political geek and a compsci geek rarely live in the same person. Activist types want, probably rightly, to deal with issues like poverty and social equality. Net neutrality and similar issues have a #firstworldproblems stigma to them. Likewise, technical types have a natural aversion to politics, at the office level or the national level, or at least seem to. Maybe these things are not structural, and can be addressed.

Maybe the "digital native" generations will come to realize that their freedom on the net is important to them. Frankly, though, I have little hope. The popularity of things like Facebook, Steam, iPhones, and the like seem to indicate that the number of people who care about openness above consumerism is basically infinitesimally small. Furthermore, the Senator and CEOs and FCC chairmen of tomorrow, will almost certainly understand the value of controlling and limiting these walled gardens. They'll get to those positions by having a greater than average grasp of the power of these tools, and they'll use that awareness to make certain that they alone control that power. In past feudal societies, the nobility sprang from a warrior class, who forged power for themselves and passed it on hereditarily. The ancestors of dukes and kings were those who had a greater than average understanding of military tactics and technology. They forged the chaos of the collapse of the Roman Empire, carving themselves and their posterity little kingdoms built out of the stolen liberty of others, the peasants. In the future, electronic fiefdoms like Facebook and Google will perpetuate themselve because, in our time, in the chaos of the collapse of Old Media, they had knowledge of HTTP and traffic shaping. Once that kind of power relationship is set up, it is very hard to tear down.

One thing that might make it possible is an open web, where the marketplace of ideas can operate efficiently. That is exactly why these modern dukes will slice it up amongst themselves, building barriers to the free exchange of information, and prevent entirely certain types of information like unlock codes, strong crypto, and banned literature. But even now, when we hold onto a basically open web, and only certain corners are walled and cultivated as fiefdoms, no one seems to care. Certainly no one in power cares. The US State Department may tacitly approve of Google flipping China the bird, but meanwhile the Justice Department and intelligence agencies are working triple time trying to gain access, via data retention laws, warantless wiretaps, and sealed evidence indictments, to the very types of information control tools that China is developing.

In short, if you value your freedom, you have to learn about the architecture of the internet. You have to learn a thousand arcane tidbits about telecom regulations and traffic-sharing agreements. You have to reject, and encourage others to reject, things like Steam, Twitter and iTunes, while embracing open alternatives. You have to realize that there is a perfectly functional open web with which you can do all of the things these services provide. Use tools instead of platforms. Use a real aggregator instead of Google Reader. Tell people to send out an email rather than creating a Facebook event. Refuse to put an iTunes link on your podcast site. These things are only more convenient, usually, because they are so ingrained. Facebook isn't easy, it's a broken bloated mess no one can figure out. Wouldn't you rather get an email, anyway? Doesn't a phpBB server for your water polo club make more sense and give you more control that a Google group? or a Facebook group? Wouldn't you rather that your microblog didn't go down when Hannah Montana deletes her account? Why such tight integration? Does it help you, or does it help your digital masters?

Would you rather be a homesteader or a sharecropper?
posted by LiteOpera at 9:25 AM on November 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

While preparing the article, Berners-Lee also spoke to Scientific American about emerging Web capabilities that could change how the online and physical worlds work. This four-part series covers some of the most intriguing, including the power of linked data, social machines, free bandwidth to the masses, and Web science:

Sidebar 1: The Web Turns 20: Linked Data Gives People Power
Sidebar 2: Social Machines Redesign Democracy
Sidebar 3: Free Bandwidth Connects the Masses
Sidebar 4: Web Science Reveals Human Interactions
posted by zarq at 10:39 PM on November 27, 2010

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