THE WEB IS CLOSED
“As much as we love the open Web, we’re abandoning it.”-Chris Anderson, WIRED Magazine
The Web was meant to be Everything. As the Internet as a whole assumes an increasinglycommanding role as
technology of global commerce and communication, the World Wide Webfrom its very inception was designed to be a free and open medium through which humanknowledge is created, accessed and exchanged.
But, that Web is in danger of coming to a close.The Web was meant to be Free. It laid out a language of HyperText, which anyone could use toauthor electronic documents and connect them together with links. The documents in totumwere meant to form a global web of information with no center and no single point of control.
The first Web browser was also a Web editor, and this principle that any node in the networkcan both consume and create content has more or less been defended to this day.The Web was meant to be Open. It detailed a common interface that could be implemented onany computer. This innovation overcame the obstacles of incompatible platforms and tools forthe sharing of knowledge on the Net,
by defining a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) andother standards for the discovery and communication of online data. The technical specificationof the World Wide Web was offered for free as a non-proprietary, open standard that could beused by anyone for commerce and culture and everything in between.Within a decade of its birth the World Wide Web had blossomed, and by a simple measure ofbandwidth usage it had become a dominant protocol for data exchange on the Internet. It wasthe openness of the Web that allowed for this revolution, and in the years to come countlessnew technologies and innovations would be built on top of the open Web.By the turn of the millennium, however, the share of Web usage as a percentage of totalInternet traffic had begun to decline, displaced by more bandwidth-intensive activities like videostreaming, peer-to-peer file sharing, voice-over-IP and online gaming.In point of fact, World Wide Web traffic has continued to grow as more and more users comeonline. Yet more insidious changes have come about. The ever-shrinking proportion of the Web’sshare of total Internet traffic has been eaten away from within by new data transactions thatflow over HTTP but hardly involve a Web browser or Hypertext, or even a human being.
Moreand more of these transactions, rather than relying on free and open standards, involvecommercial applications connecting to proprietary online services using custom machine-to-machine protocols or application programming interfaces (APIs). They transpire between networkservices inter-communicating without human intervention, while others take place on mobiledevices running apps tailor-made to limited hardware specifications and screen-size, rather thana general-purpose web browser.This seemingly undeniable reversal of fortune for the free and open web led WIRED Magazine toproclaim with a straight face in 2010: The Web is Dead.
In truth the Web is thriving. But as a distinct species of human knowledge, technology andinnovation, it cannot escape the threat of insidious mutation or outright extinction. Theprospects of the World Wide Web as a free and open platform are hardly guaranteed. The onlyway to ensure its survival is to engage directly with the tools and techniques of the Open Web. Ifyou use the Web at all, you cannot leave this fight unscathed. What threatens the Web’sfreedom, likewise impinges on your own.This book will take the view that the Open Web is an essential technology and cultural practicefor the future of the Internet and human society. The Web as we know it has had a positive andeven revolutionary impact on key areas of science, technology, politics and culture. It has openedup new fields of individual rights and responsibilities, in terms of legal structures, communitystandards, privacy and the control of data. The rapid pace of technological change is bringingever more powerful threats (and opportunities) to the Open Web.