Pubblichiamo qui nella versione originale un gran pezzo che l’autore ci regalò per pagina99 nella sua breve stagione quotidiana e uscito il 6 marzo 2014. Weinberger è Senior Researcher al Berkman Center for the Internet an Society di Harvard e uno degli autori del celebre Cluetrain Manifesto.
It’s easy to forget how extraordinary the World Wide Web (WWW) is. One way to remember is to ask what if it had been different. What if the Web had been invented by Mark Zuckerberg instead of by Sir Tim Berners-Lee?
Obviously, the Web would have been a commercial enterprise. There’s nothing wrong with making money, of course, but it would have meant the interests of its owner and its users would be only imperfectly aligned.
For example, we might want to post content that other users would find upsetting. So the Facebook Web (FBW) would have a set of “community guidelines” that make sure the ideas and images expressed are “safe”: nothing that could be construed as bullying or harassing, no nudity or graphic violence. The FBW would be safe for children, or, more exactly, for an American idea of what’s safe for children.
And you’d have to sign up for the Facebook Web (FBW) using your real name. Not only would that put you at risk if you live under a regime hostile to human rights, it would inhibit you from engaging in many of the sorts of creativity that occur on the Web.
To institute these controls over identity and content, the FBW would have to centralize all the information posted to it. It would want to do that anyway so it can “monetize” our content. This is thoroughly different from the WWW’s distributed architecture.
As a consequence, because you don’t own or control the FBW page you post information to, your FBW page will contain content you did not agree to, including advertisements. It’s not really your page at all, unlike pages you create on the WWW.
On the FBW, you know that there are algorithms at work that determine what you see, but Facebook guards those algorithms so that they will accomplish Facebook’s aims. On the WWW, on the other hand, every major browser from the beginning has included a “View Source” button that shows you the HTML code (the language of Web pages) that the browser renders into a visible page. This not only provides transparency, it also is a tremendous educational tool: if you want to know how a page does something, you can see its source code.
Crucially, on the FBW, fundamental innovations in services have to come from Facebook itself. Now, it’s true that Facebook in May 2007 opened itself up as a platform so that external developers can create applications that use some of Facebook’s data to provide new services for users. That was a smart move. But Facebook’s core functionality is still controlled entirely by Facebook. If you want to change the way the Timeline in Facebook works, you can’t beyond the customization controls Facebook has chosen to give you.
The WWW is far, far more open. If you want to extend the capabilities of HTML, you can without asking anyone’s permission. You can write your own browser or application. The WWW has been a platform for innovation in ways the FBW simply could not be. For example, Facebook is written on top of the WWW, but the World Wide Web could not be implemented on top of Facebook.
None of this is a criticism of Facebook. Obviously, over a billion people find it useful and fun. Rather, it is a way to remember the source of the World Wide Web’s value: it is open and unowned. It is ours to make of it what we will.
The Web’s value comes directly from the fact that in an act of immense wisdom and generosity, Sir Time Berners-Lee gave it to the world as a gift. Now it’s our duty to preserve its nature as a gift.