Web freedom

Tim Hunt reviews An Open Web
May 2011

An Open Web
Anonymous Collective
Floss Manuals

This book is a call to arms. Its collaborative writers want you, and all web users, to join the fight to preserve and build upon the ideas and ideals of the world wide web. But the web is thriving, I hear you shout. Not so, say the authors.

The starting point of the book is Wired magazine’s 2010 proclamation: ‘The web is dead.’ To comprehend this statement you first have to understand the distinction between the web and the internet. The former is ‘free’ and ‘open’ with the documents themselves linking together to form a huge web of information using a standard and open language (http). The latter is the physical connection on which this information travels. More and more the internet is being used to deliver traditional one-way forms of communication – for instance, streaming and commercial transactions. The authors believe, as do many others, that this is causing untold damage to the ideas and ideals of the web.

The book makes some lofty claims. ‘What threatens the web’s freedom, likewise impinges on your own.’ ‘This book will take the view that the open web is an essential technology and cultural practice for the future of the internet and human society.’ But it does give you a clear(ish) idea of how commercial interests are taking over yet another global commons, trampling it underfoot in search of profit, and leaving a much less rich and diverse virtual landscape behind.

In its mission the book covers a number of topics, including the right to access the internet, the right to anonymity (with a bit of a pop at Facebook), free software generally and how you can take action. Some of the work is purely theoretical, but much is translated into practical advice with lots of good examples and links. The ‘ten things you can do now’ section is really interesting and useful. For example, I found out about Adblock Plus, which stops adverts appearing in your browser – it’s great.

The process by which the book was created is also interesting. It was written in a five-day ‘sprint’ in Berlin by a collective of just six people from all over the world, with contributions via Skype from as far away as Syria.

At times the book will seem impenetrable to many readers (including me) who are unfamiliar with the techy language. But stick with it and re-read – it’s well worth the effort.

Tim Hunt

The book is hosted online by Floss Manuals and available in a number of formats, including pdf. http://new.flossmanuals.net/an-open-web/



Tim HuntTim Hunt is a Red Pepper commissioning editor.


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