Monday, November 07, 2005

The World Wide Web, Our Precious Teenager

The Financial Times has a good article by James Boyle, a Duke law professor and member of the Creative Commons board, on the birth and development of the World Wide Web, which turns 15 this month. As might be expected, he attributes most of the web's success -- or, perhaps more to the point, its singular characteristics -- to its openness, especially the use of open protocols and decentralized networks from the outset.

Boyle imagines a thoughtful counterfactual:

Why might we not create the web today? The web became hugely popular too quickly to control. The lawyers and policymakers and copyright holders were not there at the time of its conception. What would they have said, had they been? What would a web designed by the World Intellectual Property Organisation or the Disney Corporation have looked like? It would have looked more like pay-television, or Minitel, the French computer network. Beforehand, the logic of control always makes sense. “Allow anyone to connect to the network? Anyone to decide what content to put up? That is a recipe for piracy and pornography.”

And of course it is. But it is also much, much more.

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