OPEN WEB OR BUST


Answer me these riddles three:
1. What is the Open Web?
2. Who is trying to keep you off it?
3. How can you fight back?

1. What is the Open Web?

The Open Web (AKA the internet) was created when a bunch of scientists and programmers got together and agreed on communication protocols in the 1970s and 80s -- in other words, they decided on a universal way that machines would talk to one another in a network.

The Open Web was intended to be a free and open place for sharing knowledge. It has a governing body called the W3C (the World Wide Web Consortium), an international community that oversees the protocols and standards for the Open Web.

2. Who is trying to keep you off of the Open Web?

Many of the apps and websites you use every day are trying to keep you off of the Open Web. Social media is especially fond of tricking young people into staying inside of the "walled gardens" they create that mimic the Open Web, but are actually hyper-controlled, hyper-surveilled places that are purposefully made difficult to leave.

Many people in the industry have started to call this phenomenon "Internet Colonialism". If these companies can keep your eyeballs glued to their electronic properties, you are theirs to control and monetize. Like con men, they have many tricks that you can start to recognize once you know what to look for:

  • *Links coming into their sites force people to "Sign Up", demanding your email address and sometimes even your real name in order to load the page.

  • *Links that lead out of their apps or websites might have patronizing warnings about links on the Open Web being "dangerous". But you're a big kid -- you can do this.

  • *Some parts of their websites and apps (videos, for example) may not even be linkable -- in fact, breaking the concept of web links is the single most incriminating evidence of Internet Colonialism. (UPDATE: a few days after writing this blog post, Instagram started blocking deep links to user profiles on other social media platforms as reported by TechCrunch. Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan has penned a mic-drop about Facebook's war on links.)

  • *Phone apps that let you click web links but the app only takes you to a hobbled web browser that is still inside of their app instead of triggering your phone's native browser to display the page. Although subtle, their hobbled web browsers don't allow you to navigate the Open Web freely (but you can bet they will monitor and monetize you the whole time you use them).

  • *Offering "free" internet access that forces you to go through their electronic tubes so they can monitor and limit the websites you have access to. This enables them to compile valuable psychographic and social data about you and your friends that can be used to make them money and control your thoughts by limiting what ideas are available to you.

  • *Offering "free" content platforms where you can publish your thoughts and express yourself. Not all of these services are evil, but you must learn to recognize the difference between the good ones and bad ones. The bad ones take advantage of citizen journalists and bloggers by not sharing profits, claiming copyright on your content, and other sleazy behavior that allows them to take advantage.

  • *Claiming that your content cannot "go viral" unless you host it in their centralized servers. This argument is a false choice -- there are many available and emerging distributed technologies that could fix this problem in a more efficient way than forcing all publishers onto a single, centralized platform. If these companies are so concerned with efficiency they would be investing research and development into these distribution technologies (and making them freely available to everyone) rather than claiming that everyone must publish directly on their platforms in order to go viral.

  • *Claiming formats (like RSS) that support content discovery and syndication on the Open Web are "dead". Check out Dave Winer's rebuttal to this argument. The Level News (alpha) has a built-in RSS reader and makes use of news feeds in numerous ways to help you find indie media on the Open Web. [UPDATED/ADDED June 5, 2016]

"Its ok for me to steal from content creators on the web; I read Atlas Shrugged once."
-- Tech Entrepreneurs

Why would they do this? To make money, silly. We talk more about just exactly how your eyeballs turn into their cash machine here (hint: the are selling your personal information).

4. How can you fight back?

You must refuse to use apps and websites that "break" the free and accessible concept of the Open Web. The truth is that most phone apps break the concept of the Open Web. Why? Because they were designed to. Apple's App Store is just one of many digital platforms where technology meets censorship. They have rules that ban apps that "ridicule public figures" and rules prohibiting the mention of platforms other than their own. How Hunger Games is that?

You must choose to publish your thoughts and culture on open platforms that allow you to fully control and own your content (especially if the platform is raking in money by advertising next to it). Try Ghost.org or WordPress to set up your own blog.

You must support initiatives and organizations that exist to protect the Free Speech and the Open Web:

EFF
Open Web Foundation
The Mozilla Foundation

The fight to shape your experiences in digital media is fierce. Your best weapon is choosing to vary your starting points on the Open Web. Don't assume that social media is giving you the full picture. Switch up your browser's home page, try another search engine and bookmark sites that allow you to surf freely and unfettered.

Eljee
Lauren Garcia is a software developer in the San Francisco Bay Area.