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I suspect that people will never “get it” …

September 19, 2007

So, another story has popped up that demonstrates that people do not understand the Internet, even though they live on it. In a somewhat bizarre but not terribly surprising way, it seems that web advertisers are poised to sue those who create ad-blocking software. For those who don’t know, it is possible to install plug-ins for your favourite web-browser that will block ads. This is a good thing … you may simply not like ads and wish to minimize their appearance in your life, but you may also be aware that half the time when a page loads slowly it’s because your browser is trying desperately to download an ad from some far-off third-party server. So, people have made plug-ins to help you, and many just no longer see ads. This has caused the makers of ads to decide that they should sue the makers of ad-blockers for damaging their ability to get revenue from the web … to me, this is the very definition of bizarre.

Here’s why: this type of thing seems to go in never-ending cycles. People who find a way to make money seem to feel that they have a right to transfer that money-making method to the web. The music industry is a ridiculously obvious example of this. Because they control the means of distribution in the “real world” they believe that they should also control the means of distribution on the web. They find out, of course, that the web just doesn’t sit still and listen to them ranting and raving. They find out that lawsuits and cease and desist orders work for about five minutes. The motion-picture people continually send cease and desist orders to the PirateBay bittorent site (www.piratebay.com) demanding that this site no longer provide people with the means to download films … the music people send orders to dimeadozen.org telling them to stop providing access to recordings of live music … lawyers get paid a lot of money to stop allofmp3.com from giving away music. In all of these cases, the site in question mockingly posts the order, calls the lawyers a bunch of names, and reappears completely intact (if they go away at all) in another location. Etc, etc.

What is interesting to me about this is the fact that the people chasing these sites seem to have no understanding whatsoever of the nature of the Internet. The Internet was not an orderly thing that got into the hands of bad people and was turned into a haven for criminals. The Internet was designed to be this thing. The Internet was intentionally made to be a decentralized system that did not have authorities, and could not be choked by some central traffic regulators who spotted something bad and wanted to stamp it out. Tim Berners-Lee, the closest thing to an “inventor of the web” has made this very clear in his initial documentation regarding the nature of the web, created at Cern, back in the early 90’s or so. The web was to be a decentralized system with no one node ever becoming capable of being a choke-point. It was a model that relied on the reason of the players, saying that the web should be “tolerant”, allowing people to experiment, but still demanding that they follow certain protocols, and that it be decentralized, so that one bad part can’t bring the whole thing down. It must also be modular, so that one part can be changed without changing all of the parts. It is amazing to me how successful the designers were in creating this system, and how it continues to function to this day. It also amazes me how people like advertisers and those who sell things just can’t grasp this. Just because your advertising system works today, by no means guarantees that it won’t be entirely irrelevant tomorrow. Just because you’ve invested a lot in a system doesn’t mean that it won’t be bypassed for something cooler tomorrow … too bad, you can’t purchase the right to control the means of distribution in this system. In a way it is a truly fair playground, where ideas win because they’re good … in another way, it is so different from the physical world that it causes real problems for people that can’t move quickly and want to control the system as they have so effectively done in the past. The most interesting thing is that there is no point in judging all of this … it is what it is, and success comes from seeing the situation clearly and dealing with it, not demanding that things change to suit your conception of how they should be.

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