Jason J. Gullickson

Jason J. Gullickson

After the Web

You may have heard that Mozilla let 250 people go, many of them working on critical components of the Firefox web browser. This is important because Mozilla may be the only thing preventing the web from becoming a proprietary network defined by one (or perhaps two) private companies.

I predict that this will be the death knell of the open web. I don’t think this is all bad news.

The WorldWideWeb began like any other Internet application as a protocol “defined” by an RFC. It’s important to recognize that it is a protocol that defined the web, not a specific piece of software that implements that protocol. The web, like all other Internet applications before it was designed to be heterogeneous, usable on any program or computer whose software adopted the protocol.

The WWW became popular for reasons I won’t try to explain here, and eventually became a means of delivering applications in addition to hypertext documents. This alone may explain why the Web dominated the Internet over other protocols and applications, but it’s also not at all what the web was actually designed for.

But that didn’t stop anyone from using it that way.

Fast-forward a couple decades and only a small percentage of Internet users are aware of anything other than the Web; for all but these few the web is the Internet. But this myth has done much violence to the actual potential of what the internet can be, and has allowed a handful of companies to capture most of the power the network is capable of.

It was a mistake to spend the last two decades building almost every Internet application on top of the web. This has allowed those who control the definition of what the web is to capture and control these applications. Not only this, but they also get to dictate where and how these applications can run, destroying the diversity of systems that can participate in and collaborate over the network.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

We have an opportunity now to revisit the protocol-first design principals that the Internet was founded on. By defining new applications first as open protocols that can be adopted and implemented on any system, we protect these applications from being captured by a single party. We also lay the foundation for a wider variety of new and exiting applications that are difficult or impossible to implement in a web browser.

We also create the possibility for the web to embrace its original design to provide a dynamic hypertext system for sharing knowledge, without all the baggage it currently has as an application platform.

I believe that this misuse of the Web has stunted the growth of Internet applications and technology, and done harm to the citizens of the internet as well. Let’s not weep too long for the end of the open web and instead channel those feelings into a renewed effort in protocol-first design of new and exiting applications for the public internet.