Open Licences and SFW

David Wiley with a great comment on yesterday’s post:


The answer, more or less, is yes. And initially that seems like a dealbreaker. 

But here’s the history of the web, from me, condensed.

A long time ago very smart people decided that web pages had to all look different, that your stuff would only exist on your site and people had to link to your page as their way of reusing/quoting your stuff, rather than copying it to their own site. And we built a whole web around this idea that everybody would have different looking sites that contained only their content, everything would exist in exactly one place, and copyright would all keep us nice and safe. And every single one of these decisions made reusing and remixing a huge pain in the butt. But it was what we wanted, right?

Today most web activity happens on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest, and the way it works is that other people repost your stuff on *their* page, and everybody’s pages look the same, and people more or less like that because it makes resharing and reblogging and giving credit easy. So the web is more or less like Smallest Federated Wiki now, with the exception that instead of you having an open license, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Pinboard own your stuff, and none of them talk to one another.

So yes, it requires open licensing, But it’s honestly the system we’re at today, just refactored to account for what people actually ended up wanting. It builds the idea of “reuse, revise, reply, and reshare in your own space” into the core of the system so that you don’t need a third party site to make that happen.

2 thoughts on “Open Licences and SFW

  1. This is an important issue but I think your history may be a bit off. I don’t think the roots of the web were really about copyright or about web pages all “looking different”, things were much more focused on content then that. At its core HTML is a markup language that “hints” how things should be formatted and gives you information about hierarchy, but for a long time the rule was you should make no assumption about how the browser presents your page. (Try using Lynx sometime.) Also, data storage was literally about a million times more expensive than it is today, so the idea that you could have access to the information whenever you wanted it was powerful. The idea that you would try to keep a personal copy of every version of everything you wanted to access and fork multiple versions would have been a fantasy. Furthermore, if you link to my page, and I change the data, there’s no native mechanism in the web for you to receive an update – as long as you keep linking to my page (and I don’t move it) you can always get the latest version.

    It’s true that we’ve developed a consensus that linking, versus copying, does not violate copyright (although that idea gets challenged all the time, and the differences how you link, e.g. embedding, blur the difference). If everyone is going to keep their own copy of everything they care about, then there is a huge new copyright issue that will have to be addressed or it will kill off the concept pretty quickly. It’s easy to think of technical mechanisms that address it, e.g. using micropayments and sampling and syndication brokers like ASCAP, but the practical, legal, and political challenges are daunting to say the least.

    Thanks for the discussion Mike – I’m still a skeptic about SFW but it’s a rich area to expose many of the assumptions we make in our current environment.

    • Well, I suppose it depends who you think the smart people referenced were. Maybe my ground view was not universal, but FWIW here’s what it looked like to me:

      When I was initially a consumer of the web — late 94 maybe? — it’s true that html was seen as a hint at style. By the time I was building web sites professionally in ’96 that was out the door. The minute the web went commercial it was an arms race to have the pixel perfect site. Frames gave way to complicated table layouts, people started mocking up pages in InDesign, and Fireworks. We got further and further away from that as time went on, aided and abetted by a browser war that loved nothing better than “Best Viewed in Browser X” tags.

      CSS was supposed to save us, but in practice made things get worse before they got better. It wasn’t just the incompatibilities from browser to browser — it was that people, under pressure from their stakeholders, worked back fro design to classes and ids rather than from semantic forward. The XML/XSL client-side experimentation in the early 00s was promising (and I built a few sites with XML/XSL then and later on used it server-side for many sites at a news archiving site) but mapped onto the visual demands of the time and hobbled by browser implementations, it didn’t have a chance. (Admittedly, it was also very side-effect prone and debugging resistant, since transforms didn’t break as much as get subtly weird).

      So this is my very biased view, but while there was certainly a vibrant opposition to this movement (zen design, etc), when it really started to get better when non-designers started to self publish. When people outside the business started to get on sites — LiveJournal, WordPress, Blogger, Soapblox, etc., they for the most part just wanted a plainish site, a banner or background, and some ability (in LJ’s case) to use horrid fonts. WordPress’s use of meaningful CSS based templates simplified things too. So in 2008, suddenly clients (well, *some* clients) were asking hey — could we look a bit more like these blogs. Mobile and Analytics accelerated this all — as designers looked for broadly usable designs and analytics people found that the beautiful site was confusing people.

      Anyway, I’d say finally we are coming back to minimal page design. But there’s really no way I can make sense of either the history of the browser wars or my history as a developer and not believe absolutely the metaphor for the web — no matter what people would protest it was — was the printed page, and the idea was absolutely that the server should be able to control presentation down to the pixel. The theory may have been different, but the day-to-day experience was that we were delivering publications, not data to be rendered. And absolutely the browsers aided and abetted that, to a ludicrous degree.

      As far as linking vs. copying, I don’t really think storage was the issue. Things were small back then due to the modem bottleneck — assuming I was linking to a new thing each day it’s hard to imagine 365 pages breaking the bank. That piece was certainly a conceptual issue, the idea that identity was linked to the URL.

      The revisions thing doesn’t really seem right to me either. Sure, here’s the policies for X — you want the most recent site. But that’s not how most links come about. For most links I read something someone has written and I reference it. If what is on that page changes out from under me, that’s a bug, not a feature.

      Thanks for the pushback though, I think it allowed me to clarify that it’s really the slide of the web from 1994-2010 I’m referring to. And to be fair, I was radically and snarkily simplifying a complex history, and it’s good to get called on that.

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