A while back Dave Eaves suggested that the open web is a social value. This may be true. I’d like to explore a different approach to the Open Web/ Open Internet. Not opposite, because the two approaches might fit together, but distinctly different.
One can think of the Open Internet as something very specific and very concrete, as something that can be built and measured. The Internet itself — open, closed, or otherwise — is a set of technologies that determine what capabilities are available. The Internet is physical; it’s tangible. It’s made up of hardware and software. The Internet may embody values. (And its early designers such as Vint Cerf are extremely articulate about the values they designed into its basic layers.) But the internet is more than an idea or a value. The Internet is a physical reality.
We could approach the Open Internet the same way. We could define the Open Internet as one where key Internet technologies have specified traits such as interoperability through standards, constructed with open source and free software, individual freedom to control and move one’s data, and so on. If we do this we end up with a more practical, more technical and maybe more limited approach to promoting the Open Internet.
There is something gloriously open-ended about the abstract idea of the Open Internet and its potential to address many of the pressing issues of our era. I’ve heard this open-ended approach to possibilities referred to as the “poetry.” This poetry is critical and gives us lift and drive and excitement. It’s very inclusive, and can expand to fit a broad set of dreams.
Building the tangible, bit-based reality of an Open Internet isn’t quite as deep into poetry. It’s very deep into nuts and bolts, hard work, competitive forces, measurable results and the technologies that need to be built. It’s still got plenty of poetry — just look at the excitement and motivation of the people who make it happen. It’s also got a lot of nitty-gritty, every day, concrete tasks that must be done and must hold up to close inspection and comparison. So it’s not as broad. It’s less appealing to people who share our goals but want to build in areas outside of technology.
Building the “bits” of the tangible Open Internet isn’t for everyone. It’s only a part of creating the online life we’d like to have. But it’s critical. We need the technology.
Thinking of the Open Internet in concrete and specific terms allows us to be focused and effective at specific goals. It’s also more limited, and possibly more limiting. Perhaps we need different perspectives on how to think about the Open Internet?