Stephen Logan

A Celebration of the Free Internet at 20 (Almost)

22nd Nov 2010 News, Industry News 2 minutes to read

A little under 20 years ago, Christmas Day to be exact, Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau were preparing to launch the first online communication. Prefixed by https://, people would soon be free to own domains and create a personal digital empire as a direct result of this breakthrough. This would be a day that would help redefine the world.

It has spawned a trillion pound industry. Changed the way we learn. Altered our buying habits. And revolutionised communication.

A world without the Internet is unthinkable. It dominates industries at all levels. From small start-ups to multinational corporations, one constant that binds every company is the Internet.

These are turbulent times though. With privacy concerns a daily topic of conversation , copyright violations commonplace and threats to net neutrality right across the world, the Internet is taking a battering. For every success there has to be a failure and the digital world is no different.

But with all the negative attention that the Internet receives, it’s easy to lose sight of its many benefits. I was reminded of this earlier today when I read a story in the Metro – Homeless man becomes business success with online bookstore.

If we didn’t have the Internet, would it be possible for a man who sells the Big Issue and fixes books to create a successful business? From nothing at all, Newcastle Books has become an online store with customers throughout the world.

Not all online stories are quite so extreme, but this one caught my eye as a great example of how beneficial a free and open Internet can be. One good idea, executed well can catapult you to untold riches. It is, by and large, an entirely level playing field.

Everything starts with an idea. Online networks had been used for decades within organisations before Tim Berners-Lee made it global. But it was this vision for a World Wide Web that developed what we now know as the Internet.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page didn’t invent search engines. What they developed was PageRank, a new way of sorting information to better match search queries. Each is now worth over $15 billion.

Google aren’t alone though. Thousands of innovators, entrepreneurs and businesses have flourished right across the world. Here in the UK, a recent report (funded by Google) found that the Internet and its surrounding businesses are worth £100 billion to the country’s annual income. The Connected Kingdom also established that 250,000 people were directly employed as result of the Internet – including SEOs of course.

It’s easy to get lost in all the facts and figures surrounding the digital age, but nobody can deny the impact or benefits that the Internet has had on the wider society. Even Tim Berners-Lee must be staggered by the monster it has become.

In a recent piece for American Scientific [see: Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality] he discussed why it is so important to nurture and maintain a free Internet, saying:

“Why should you care? Because the Web is yours. It is a public resource on which you, your business, your community and your government depend.”

The huge power that the Internet now holds makes it a target for cynics, charlatans and censorship. As long as we don’t lose sight of this importance, are mindful of the threats against it and are always looking for the next opportunity, it will continue to thrive and grow. So here’s wishing the Internet a, slightly early, happy twentieth birthday.

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