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What is the Open Web?

The Internet and the web are different things to different people. And they should be. Whether we use the Internet to play games, read science fiction, work, or connect with people with similar struggles or passions, the Internet is what we as individuals want it to be.

The critical label that describes this malleable Internet that bends to the desires of individuals is "open." An open Internet, or open web, allows people to have the Internet experience they want; not an Internet experience other people think they should have.

What does this open web look like in practice and how can we identify something as part of the open web that enables people, or as part of the closed web that locks them into the Internet as constrained by others?

To me, the following characteristics describe something that is part of the open web. And to be explicit, something must meet all of these requirements for me to consider it open.

  • Respect for Human Rights: This component of the Internet does not inhibit the human rights—such as equality, privacy, freedom of expression and access to information—of either the user or others.

  • Choice: An individual can reasonably choose an alternative or can reasonably choose to not participate.

  • Extensibility: It is possible to materially customize the use of or interaction with the component either through direct modification or the integration of additional software.

Here are a few examples to test and demonstrate these characteristics:

  Respect for Human Rights Choice Extensibility Result
WWW True True True Open
Gmail False. Examining the content of emails is an invasion of privacy. True True Not Open
Twitter False. Content is censored in some geographies. True True Not Open
Internet.org False. Internet.org has an increased cost depending on the information being accessed. True True Not Open
Words with Friends True True False Not Open

But so what? Why does it matter if something is part of the open web or not?

There is an old saying that "you vote with your wallet." The idea being that where you choose to spend your money, or where you choose not to spend your money, is an indication of your support. For example, I will gladly spend my money time-and-time again with my favorite family-run restaurant. And at the same time, I refuse to spend money with poorly-run services without anything that remotely resembles customer service or respect for people.

In today's Internet world the idea of voting with your wallet applies, and it doesn't. You may have a choice for broadband or mobile Internet service and you spend your money with the best, or perhaps the least bad, service provider. However, with today's Internet business models and seemingly free services, you instead vote with your participation. By participating in systems that don't take open principles to heart, the closed web grows larger.

So instead of choosing a closed service, application, or whatever, consider giving your money and participation to a service that is open, promotes the rights of its users, and allows for choice and extensibility.

We all deserve to have the Internet experience we want, and the closed web won't give it to us. Choose the open web.

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