Live Blog for 4/22/08


Today’s class aimed to settle once and for all whether or not there is a web difference. Our answer: 8.4. Here’s how we reached it. (Apologies to those designated as Student X; I’m no good with names).

The class started with a poll on whether students believe the web is different, on a scale of one to ten. As a point of reference, the “television difference” from radio is rated a 3. The average response came out to be 6.875.

Many justifications for scoring the web difference high on the scale were given:

Evan: Qualified his answer- internet has the potential for an 11, though it’s at a 7 now. Mainly because of the ease with which anyone can publish and distribute their creations.

Conor: Agrees internet hasn’t reached full potential. Big difference right now is how people can “self-actualize” on the internet, unlike any other media. People can create communities and have whole identities online.

Mr. Sanchez: Being born into it changes our perspective, but the way we access information now is dramatically different.

Damien: The web is uniquely unbounded in its potential, in contrast to the written word, which hasn’t really changed since the printing press. Distributed architecture is another unique feature.

Self-proclaimed digital immigrant student: The ability to connect with people and stay in touch with people worldwide is a remarkable feature of the internet.

Richard: An “alternative geography” is created online.

Aaron: The internet makes culture more participatory and critical.

Palfrey responds: The potential is there, but when you talk to digital natives, you find that only a very small percentage are actually “participating” in the creation and critique of culture online.

Corey scaled it in terms of the law. The law has had a uniquely difficult time dealing with the internet, indicating a large difference.

Sean: The anonymity granted by the internet makes people act differently, for better or worse.

Evan: The net has an incredible ability to form people into groups, for better or worse, though this potential may not have been realized yet.

Those who gave the web difference a low score on the scale gave their reasons:

Doug: Potential is high, but right now it’s a 6. Referencing Zittrain’s argument, the future of the internet may not be that bright if in response to security concerns, the environment becomes too constrictive to be generative.

Student A: The web is revolutionary as a content delivery system, but its networks, not the web that’s going to change people’s lives. Networked devices like iphones are going to make the big difference.

Meg: The web is currently constrained by norms from the analog world. Like Shirly’s point, the web may just be recreating heirarchies we already have in the analog world.

Student B: The web is an amplifier of things that we already have (publishing, social networking), more than a creator of something new.

Conor, who scored the difference at an 11, doesn’t like this point: Everything can be an amplification of something that came before it. There’s still something new here.

Vera: The scale differs across regions. In the United States, the internet has changed things less than in places like Iran.

Tom: The internet lets us know about what’s going on around the world, but that’s not such a big change from what we had before. It was a bigger change when the television showed us images from around the world that we never previously had access to.

Mariel: The extent to which people “live” on the internet is overstated. There are fundamental institutions in the analog world that have a greater impact on our real world life. No destruction of the “nation-state.”

Christina: The potential to change things like politics is there, but hasn’t been realized yet.

Related point: The tools are there to help people who are already involved, but the tools aren’t necessarily changing who is involved.

Justin: Only a small percentage of people have the internet, and of those the majority use the internet only as amplifier for things that they were already doing.

Damien makes a point that shifts the discussion: Rather than saying that it has the potential to be different, can’t we say that the potential itself is what is different? This leads us to a discussion of the significance of potential:

JP: One way to look at it is that there’s potential in the sense that there’s 5 billion people still don’t have the internet, and therefore there’s still a lot of potential changes for the web to make.

DW: There’s a different sort of potential, one which is built into the technology itself, which makes the web different.
This is the sort of potential that could be curtailed in the manner discussed by Zittrain.

JP: The rate of change regarding the way the internet is being used may itself be a difference.

Conor: If the internet can’t be a 10, because it can be controlled by the state or other institutions, then can anything really be a 10?

Mariel: A lot of the internet’s potential cannot be reached, or at least it can’t be taken for granted that it will be. Too many people are still so far from having access to it.

Tom: Look at microfiche- people thought that was going to change the world, but it never did. There’s no reason to believe that the hyperbole surrounding the internet will come true. It may just be human nature to see a greater potential in technology than will ever be realized.
Counter-argument: But if internet technology is truly generative, then the microfiche analogy doesn’t hold up. This would give the internet a unique sort of potential.

Kevin takes up JP’s point regarding the rate of change on the web as a difference: The rate of change has become so fast that institutions cannot keep up. The first actors are thus able to write the rules in a way that first actors in television and radio could not.

Sean: Can we separate a discussion of the web difference from the PC? Is the PC a limiting factor?

Justin: What about open source? In some sense this is an amplifier of cooperation that’s already been going on, but it still seems qualitatively different.

DW thinks that one’s answer to the web difference question may be a self-fulfilling prophecy: Believing that the web is different may lead to good political and legal effects, while believing otherwise will lead to bad (constraining?) effects. If you are a pessimist, then you miss opportunities to use the potential of the internet. Being an optimist will lead to maximization of the internet’s potential.

Doug: But it’s dangerous to be an optimist to the extent that you dismiss potential problems and regulations which may limit the internet.

A new vote was taken on the extent of the web difference. Potential is to be considered in this new vote, qualified by how likely people think that potential is to be realized. The new total was 8.4.

JP sought some closing comments by posing the question, What does this discussion mean for laws and regulations?

One position: Regulation of the internet is different in degree, rather than in kind from other sorts of regulation.

Pushback: Regulation on the internet is harder to enforce because actions are more diffuse.

Alternately, identifying wrongdoers may be easier on the internet because all of the evidence is available for those with the resources and will to find them. Can these two points be reconciled?

The class concludes. JP and DW exit the room to thunderous applause.


  1. palfrey

    April 22, 2008 @ 9:08 pm


    Great work today in class, all. I learned a lot from your reactions. Many thanks for your generous spirit all semester.


  2. Frank

    May 7, 2008 @ 10:40 am


    and it all started with words.. before digital text, there were words and words were printed and here’s a short video (humor) with a window into the past on how it may have all started with a couple of guys sitting around a campfire trying to come up with ideas. 🙂

    The History of Printing?

  3. Web designing compnay india

    October 15, 2008 @ 7:27 am


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  4. skumar

    November 13, 2008 @ 1:37 am


    such a nice information, keep up the good work! will come again to check your blog.

  5. Cheap Dedicated Hosting

    October 30, 2009 @ 11:24 pm


    This is such an interesting discussion. To me, the web difference is great.. think of the thousands and thousands of black berries being carried today and you will understand why the “web” is so attached to your lives today.