One Web To Rule Them All…

ReadWriteWeb takes up the question of whether government standards for the web (interoperability and user identification) are a good thing. How much faith should we have in private companies to establish standards? How much should we fear the interference of bureaucrats?

A corollary exists in the 19th century American railroad. To consolidate monopolies and prevent free riders on expensive rail networks, private companies varied the width of their tracks. The variability in track width, however, was highly inefficient, requiring inter-regional trains to switch wheels to go from North to South. Congress eventually stepped, creating a standard of interoperability, and dramatically increasing the potential to move goods and passengers.

Does this hold for the Internet? To a degree, yes. We are living in a Digital Gilded Age, where gigantically powerful web companies compete to enshrine their standards and platforms across the web. The Microsoft, Google and Yahoo robber barons have every financial motive to squeeze the other one out. At what point, if at all, will the demand for open platforms necessitate the intervention of government standard setters?

The opposite side of the coin is whether Congress, and subsequently bureaucrats, can get it right, and the threat of creeping regulation. There seems to be a rash of Western democratic governments perfectly content to set up shoddy censorship regimes. Given the web’s international nature, Congress may also be an inadequate tool to standarize world networks. That’s why I tend to have more faith in trans-national, trans-industry groups like W3C, which is funded through universities and therefore public in spirit.

Though adherence is only recommended, the threat of neglecting the benefits of an open, interoperable web must also be economically tangible for all but the most popular proprietary platforms. Even Apple eventually gave in and packed BootCamp with Intel chipset Macs.

I’m all for a free and open internet, though I’m content to allow the standards which govern that freedom grow organically, even if that produces a few uneven edges. Besides, given the autonomous nature of the opensource crowd, even if private companies erect fences around themselves, someone will assure an open way to get around. I trust that dynamic a lot more than I do the whims and industry whispers in the ears of concerned regulators.

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One Response to “One Web To Rule Them All…”

  1. Jackie Says:

    one of the first things the government needs to sort out in cyber space is the head organization of it’s base, the domain name decision maker: ICAHN