20 years ago this week, the free Web was turned on. It's not going to be turned off, is it?
The web as it once was is under siege from corporatisation and governments keen to row back user rights. It's almost poetic that the creators of the World Wide Web have resurrected the very first www page and restored to its original address. You can check it out here.
Humble and minimal, yet an unfathomably important milestone. April 30, 1993 marked the date when CERN made the WWW technology available on a royalty free basis. It's difficult to comprehend, but prior to this date the web – everything you associate with online - didn't exist: there was only the internet, networks of computers communicating with one another via a plethora of diverse communication protocols. Making the WWW free was a gamechanger: following this the web flourished and became the dominant medium of internet communication.
Lamentably a vast proportion of web users are unaware of the bullet that was dodged this week as the US Senate killed the CISPA bill. This is a welcome but temporary reprieve. CISPA will make a mockery of any online users right to privacy. And resistance to CISPA was markedly more muted than the vociferous cries against SOPA little over a year ago. It was trickier to marshall clicktivism this time around, and what's more big players such as Google didn't partake in the protest.
This infographic makes the case that Google (and others) railed against SOPA but did little against CISPA because they stood to lose out from the former rather than the latter. Bottom line is the rights of the user were not the prime consideration. If you've heard the maxim “if you ain't paying for it, then YOU'RE the product” then this shouldn't surprise you. It's been more than a year since Bruce Sterling fingered Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple as 5 stacks competing for web dominance. Speaking at SXSW 2012 he remarked the average technology users online experience was comparable to livestock shuffled between the differing paddocks of the stacks.
In the intervening period the weight of that argument has only grown in importance (straight up, its even spawned a Tumblr!) The Web as it was 20 years again has been warped subtly yet profoundly: walled gardens of user's information are data mined for the benefit of advertisting profit. Could this anniversary be cause to ask if it's too late for the Web? We can already see shifts happening at the fringes: dedicated hackers disenfranchised with compromised privacy and industry complicity with invasive governments have been busy reviving the cypherpunk legacy of yesteryear. All of their communications are encrypted (and thus indecipherable to prying eyes). An anonymous cryptocurrency (bitcoin) is the fastest growing monetary denomination in the world. Meshnets and alternets (such as TOR's Onionland and Freenet) are slowly proliferating. Those jaded with the web still believe in the internet, and they're busy establishing squats in the shadows of the stacks. Collapsonomics experts like Vinay Gupta are even charting the roadmap beyond the web. Free software like GNU/Linux had to play the long game but it's winning the war. We may be seeing the first stirrings of a similar long haul move to a new internet.