In place of what we have today, I think we would try, indeed we are trying, to reinvent a tamer, more controlled Web and to change the nature of the underlying network on which it operates. (This is a fear I share with those who have written about it more eloquently than I, particularly Larry Lessig and Yochai Benkler.) We would restrict openness of access, decrease anonymity, and limit the number of actions that a network participant could perform. The benefits would be undeniable. It would cut down on spam, viruses, and illicit peer-to-peer file sharing. At the same time, it would undercut the iconoclastic technological, cultural, and political potential that the Web offers, the ability of a new technology, a new service to build on open networks and open protocols, without needing approval from regulators or entrenched market players, or even the owners of the Web pages to which you link.
Imagine, by contrast, an Internet and a World Wide Web that looked like America Online, circa 1996, or Compuserve, or the French state network Minitel. True, your exposure to penis-enhancement techniques, misspelled stock tips, and the penniless sons of Nigerian oil ministers would be reduced. That sounds pretty attractive. But the idea that the AOL search engine would be replaced by Yahoo and then Google, let alone Google Maps? That new forms of instant messaging would displace Compuserve’s e-mail? That the Chinese dissident would have access to anonymized Internet services, that you might make phone calls worldwide for free from your computer, or that a blog like BoingBoing would end up having more page views than many major newspapers? Forget it. Goodbye to the radical idea that anyone can link to any page on the network without permission. A revised network could have the opposite rule and even impose it by default.
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