TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Why the Democratic Ethic of the World Wide Web May Be About to End

Re: Why the Democratic Ethic of the World Wide Web May Be About to End
31 May 2006 09:56:04 -0700

Monty Solomon wrote:

> The New York Times

Another uptopian "ivory tower" dream concept about the web. Let's be
clear about this: the world described in this article never existed in
the first place. I'm aware my opinion offends some people, especially
web advocates. But I lived through the "magic" of the BBS world and
deal with the modern web regularly. It is a _disservice_ to claim the
web is something other than what it really is. Let's be honest about
the web's flaws and deal with them, not fantasize in some utopian fake

Frankly, many utopian advocates are leftover hippies from the 1960s
and 1970s. I remember them well from my college days, and how "free
and open communication" was the mantra. It was nonsense then and is
now, as I will describe below.

> The World Wide Web is the most democratic mass medium there has ever
> been. Freedom of the press, as the saying goes, belongs only to those
> who own one. Radio and television are controlled by those rich enough
> to buy a broadcast license. But anyone with an Internet-connected
> computer can reach out to a potential audience of billions.

Anyone could cheaply print up handbills and stand on a busy street
corner and give them out, or distribute them door to door in a city
neighborhood. Big potential audience there, too.

But the reality is that almost all the recipients will toss said
leaflet in the trash. On the web, very, very few of the so-called
"billions" will bother to read it and even fewer will care.

A heck of a lot of the web is pure wasted noise. Any serious
researcher will have to skip past quack-cures, sexual come-ons, and a
variety of commercial ventures, some legitimate, many bogus. Sites
with the most reliable and detailed information often require a fee.
People are impatient and don't want to waste time sifting through

> This democratic Web did not just happen. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the
> British computer scientist who invented the Web in 1989, envisioned a
> platform on which everyone in the world could communicate on an equal
> basis.

This is that "open communiation" mantra I mentioned above. Here's the
reality of group communication:

If it is unmoderated, those with the loudest or most oratorial voice
will dominate the discussion. Just because someone is a great orator
doesn't make them intelligent or bless their ideas as valid; but it is
easy for a group to go into a trance by a smooth polished speaker.
Obviously a loud bully speaker will dominate too. In any event,
unmoderated groups do not have free communication. The Internet is no
different. Bullies and "loud" drown out worthwhile speakers. "Bad
money drives out good money".

A big problem of the web is that it is totally unmoderated. Anyone
can put up a website and claim anything they damn well want; but that
does not make their website any good. There are lots and lots of such
websites. In contrast, in the traditional world, anyone could write a
book, but publishers act as a filter and usually the worst quacks are
not accepted. A second filter is the distribution channel. This is
not foolproof -- there are plenty of garbage books and articles -- but
some filtering does take place.

If the group is moderated, there is a much better chance for decent
communication. The moderators will control the bullies and smooth out
outlandish claims. Unfortunately, most web communiation is not
moderators. Further, there are no controls on moderators, they could
subtly or overtly impart their prejudices. Lastly, moderated groups
have limitations. In college, the bell would ring and it was time go
to the next class.

> But his vision is being threatened by telecommunications and
> cable companies, and other Internet service providers, that want to
> impose a new system of fees that could create a hierarchy of Web
> sites. Major corporate sites would be able to pay the new fees, while
> little-guy sites could be shut out.

People forget that the web is not free. It is made up of servers and
high speed telephone lines between the servers. All of this must be
maintained by people. (Please don't give me nonsense about
"volunteers"). This costs money which must come from somewhere.

AFAIK, anyone who sets up their own web page now must pay some fees to
register the domain, get server space, etc. They of course have their
own server costs. So, I'm not sure how a new fee schedule will
curtail that.

As to a "hierarchy", that exists now.

As a web user, I'd like to be able to go to a site without worry about
viruses. I recently tried to visit a legitimate non-profit recreation
group site and the virus alarm went off. Obviously that site is
clueless. I find it very offensive that I must spend my time and
money on virus and sabotage protection that is a result from the
"openness" we supposedly so desperately want.

As a web user, if I buy something over the Internet, I'd like a
reasonable assurance that the company at the other end is a legitimate
company and isn't just fishing to steal my credit card number.

As an Internet user, I'd like not to be bombarded with spam emails,
and semi-spam emails. I visited PC Expo in NYC years ago and they
still innundate me with emails despite repeated requests to cease.
Unlike traditional junk mail, email costs me money.

You may think your non-profit organization's cause is the most
important thing in the world. I'm sorry, but not only do I not agree,
I'm not the least bit interested in hearing about it nor subsidizing
your web page or floods of email. When you ask for "openness" what
you really want is me to open my front door so you can march in my
home uninvited, sit down and push for your organization.

I respect intellectual property rights, and I object to those who
exploit the web download protected materials for free redistribution
without paying for them.

In conclusion, I have not seen any substantive argument against "the
new system of fees". If anyone has studied them and has a differing
opinion on their impact, please share your thoughts with us.

[public replies, please]

*In the mid 1950s it was clear automobiles were dangerous, yet most
automakers denied this and fought against safety features like
seatbelts and the like. It took more than 15 years to finally get
needed stuff installed in cars. Finally, lives were saved. I see the
utiopians on the web as no different than the major auto companies.

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I have often times wondered why people
like Tim Berners-Lee (credited as the 'inventor' of the World Wide Web)
did not think far enough ahead in the middle-late 1980's to slap some
very firm controls on how _his_ product could be permissibly used by
people in generations to follow. Oh, I know all the reasons for not
doing so which were given, but I have to wonder if now, 15-20 years
after the fact, if it is a case of wising up too late in the game.
That is, unless Tim B-L is really okay with the unreal twists and
turns which have taken place on the web in the past, all the abuses
and misuses we see as a routine thing of late. Was it really his
intention to provide an air of 'legitimacy' to the cretins who publish
all sorts of scams and spams and then hide in obscurity behind web
sites which -- while traceable by folks who have the time and energy
to examine them -- for most of us are essentially impossible to track
down? Somehow I think -- and I do not mean this in an unkind way --
he shared in the naive notions that so many of the early computer
pioneers; that people were basically good and decent and all that.

I do not wish to get into an "I warned you" or an "I told you so"
posture, but I can still recall, with some bitterness I might add,
the day in 1993 or 1994 when I first began attempting to clamp some
_serious_ controls on this Digest in terms of editorial control on
the content, the layout, etc, and how a few of the earlier readers
gasped and acted so incredulous. They wanted a moderator, all right,
but other than a bit of moderation, I was to keep my mouth shut and
not disturb the status quo. When I changed my title (I like to say
'gave myself a promotion') from "Moderator" to "Editor" and published
some rules on what would, and what would not be acceptable, the shit
really hit the fan blade, as the expression goes. I would like to
think I was not as naive back in the 1980-90's as many netizens were,
but some have said I was even more so. Lisa Hancock is correct, IMO.

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