Unlecture #11

The second last symposium/lecture of the course discussed the origins of the internet, patents, democracy and the internet, and social manners.

I found the first question the most interesting and thought provoking: ‘Why didn’t Tim Berners-Lee patent the web?’.

Most of the answers revolved around the fact that Berners-Lee at a utopian-like view of what the internet could be: an open, universal and free network. Claiming a patent, something that is intended to control and monetize things, would be in direct conflict with these ideals.

Adrian also identified the ‘gift economy’ that the internet is based on, where people freely gift things with no assumption of getting something in return. This was seen from the vert start of the internet, with the American government paying for the research of the internet that is now freely used by anyone that can access it.

Adrian also detailed how the entire infrastructure of the internet is treated as a public good: no-one can actually own it.

Wikipedia is probably the best and simplest notion of the ‘gift economy’. All of its content is contributed by individuals for free, with no expectations of getting anything in return, and it is now one of the huge ‘hubs’ of the internet network.

The idea that most interested me out of this lecture was what the internet would have looked like today if Tim Berners-Lee had in fact patented the web back in 1989.

I found this interesting article from TechDirt that addresses this scenario, and presents an unsettling scenario where the Internet is more of a commodity, something that is own and run by large, wealthy companies.

If it had been patented, the internet may well have been a much more strictly controlled realm largely run be large corporations, rather than by individuals and ideas as it is now.

The level of innovation that the internet encourages and nurtures would also be drastically limited, mainly to just the ideas of the big players, which isn’t usually where the most interesting ideas come from.

Google and some social networks also may never have taken off, due mainly to the legal constraints and limited nature of hypertext and the network.

As the article states, “the use of the internet would be more ‘consumption’ than ‘communication'”. If it had been patented by Tim Berners-Lee, we wouldn’t see the revolutionary, two-way system of reciprocative communciation that we do today.

In fact, if Sir Tim Berners-Lee had decided to patent his creation, the World Wide Web, we probably wouldn’t be participating in a course called ‘Networked Media’.

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