Will the Web Break?

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, Forthcoming

Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 12-08

16 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2012 Last revised: 31 Oct 2012

Jonathan L. Zittrain

Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government; Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Berkman Center for Internet & Society; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: September 1, 2010

Abstract

This is the text of a talk delivered to the Royal Society Discussion Meeting “Web Science: A New Frontier,” in September of 2010. It reflects on key questions about the way the Web works, and how an understanding of its past can help those theorizing about the future.

The original Web allowed users to display and send information from their individual computers, and organized the resources of the Internet with URLs, or uniform resource locators. In the 20 years since then, the Web has evolved. Content is available in some countries and not in others. Distribution platforms like the iOS App stores, where content is curated by third parties, have become common – a shift from the “anything goes” nature of the early Web. URL shorteners like Bit.ly have changed the way that content resolves – and introduced new points of failure in the chain of user to destination. The URL is no longer uniform.

At the same time that the links in the Web are becoming more fragile, projects like Google Books are making the Web more centralized and reliant on a small number of companies. DDOS attacks, security concerns and convenience have begun to push content under the umbrellas of large providers, making it easier to censor or modify with few users the wiser.

These new challenges require a return to the spirit of the early Web, exploiting the power of the Web’s users and its distributed nature to overcome the commercial and geopolitical forces at play. For example, website outages could be avoided by a system of mutual aid that allows for web users to preserve access to copies of websites they link to, even when the originals are down. The future of the Web rests in projects that preserve its spirit.

Keywords: future internet web cyberlaw

JEL Classification: O3, O30, O31, O32, O33, O34, O39

Suggested Citation

Zittrain, Jonathan L., Will the Web Break? (September 1, 2010). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, Forthcoming; Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 12-08. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1995059

Jonathan Zittrain (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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