Inspired by Dave Parry, my friend Andrew said: “We are no longer just seeing the power of the public internet. We are now seeing the rise of the internet public.” It was a bit of an ‘aha!’ moment for me.
It’s been amazing to watch the push back against SOPA in the US and ACTA in Europe over the past few months. And, of course, to have witnessed the Arab Spring. The people behind these events didn’t just use the internet to amplify voices: they were the voice of the internet speaking. And, at least with SOPA and ACTA, the message itself was about the internet and what it stands for. This is new. And good.
I’ve always believed the internet is something special. Not just something to use and build on, but also something to stand up for.
As Joi Ito said in the New York Times a couple of months back: “The Internet isn’t really a technology. It’s a belief system, a philosophy about the effectiveness of decentralized, bottom-up innovation.” This vision of the internet has motivated me for a very long time. It’s what brought me to Mozilla.
Until recently, it felt like the group of people who cared about the Internet as philosophy was relatively small. I personally know hundreds of people who spend every day evangelizing the open ethos of the internet. I’m one of them. The thing is: none of us have had much luck getting sizeable numbers of people excited or engaged. We’ve all tried. But the idea of an ‘open web’ or ‘internet ethos’ has always been too abstract get people to prick up their ears.
This seems to be changing. We are seeing the rise of the internet public: a movement or constituency that is both of the internet and about the internet.
The Facebook signs in Tahrir Square were a first glimpse of this. In some ways, these signs were a small footnote in a bigger political change in the Arab world. But they also point to the fact that the internet is more than just a part of the story — it is itself a story to pay attention to.
The massive public push back on SOPA and ACTA show this more starkly: there is a broad public passion for and connection to the internet. People are saying: ‘the open internet and the way it connects us is a central part of the world we want to build.’ In this story, the internet isn’t only a disruptive tool that helps bring about democracy where it doesn’t exist, it’s also represents a vision of decentralized, bottom up society in it’s own right.
This part that feels new and different. ‘The internet as philosophy’ no longer feels so abstract. As an example of how things have gotten more concrete, the internet public has quickly and dramatically changed the discussion on both SOPA and ACTA. Both seemed destined for quiet approval just a few months ago, now SOPA seems to be dead or ACTA is under extreme public scrutiny.
Importantly, people with real power are listening and internalizing to this conversation. A White House response to SOPA petitions said:
“Across the globe, the openness of the Internet is increasingly central to innovation in business, government, and society and it must be protected.”
“Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security.”
Note what’s happening here: the leaders of a major economic power are espousing the importance of an open internet. They are also calling out the protection of a key technical building block upon which the open platform and philosophy of the internet are built. Similar things have happened in Europe around ACTA. This is both important and unprecedented.
At Mozilla, we’ve been talking about what to do next on SOPA and ACTA. This is important. But I believe there is a bigger question: how can Mozilla fuel, bolster, cheer on and be a part of this rising internet public? The world we’ve imagined may be just around the corner: a world where the ethos of the web is a conscious part of how huge numbers of people approach their lives, their work and their government. This is a the world I want to live in.
I’m going to think and write about all this some more. Partly in the context of SOPA and ACTA. But also in relation to building a more web-literate society — teaching tens of millions more people how the web works and how to code. Any thoughts you’ve got would help.
PS. A tip of the hat to Dave Parry for his ‘It’s not the Public Internet, It is the Internet Public.‘ post. I’ve gone in a slightly different direction, hopefully in a way that’s complimentary .