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Re: Governance and Web Architecture ...

From: Noah Mendelsohn <nrm@arcanedomain.com>
Date: Mon, 23 Jul 2012 12:17:24 -0400
Message-ID: <500D7914.5050007@arcanedomain.com>
To: Wendy Seltzer <wseltzer@w3.org>
CC: Larry Masinter <masinter@adobe.com>, "www-tag@w3.org" <www-tag@w3.org>

On 7/23/2012 9:38 AM, Wendy Seltzer wrote:
> What is that framework, and what suggestions are you offering
> policy-makers or technologists? I could imagine starting from principles
> such as those in Tussle: modularity, design for choice (and
> competition), open interfaces.

Has the mandate to "Design for tussle—for variation in outcome" been 
validated in practice with multiple implementations smoothly 
interconnecting multiple jurisdictions? I'm concerned that this sort of 
high level advice can sound great on paper, but only sometimes does it 
prove a win in practice; in other cases attempts to do such things 
introduce confusion and complexity, without the hoped-for benefits.

Furthermore, it seems to me there's a tradeoff in espousing such 
variability as a goal at all: the Web is a system embodying a vision of 
free and flexible communication. Up to a point, it makes sense to design 
the Web in practice to explicitly deal with the bewildering range of policy 
limitations that apply in different jurisdictions, and even to facilitate 
inter-operation across the jurisdictions, but I think it's also appropriate 
to consider doing just the opposite, I.e. focusing instead on the Web's 
simple goal of enabling communication without regard to such 
venue-dependent legal complexity. Where such jurisdictions have on the 
books laws or policies that prevent their citizens from using the Web, then 
they have a choice of updating the laws, or not sharing in the benefits of 
the Web.

I know that's way too glib as stated, but I think there's an important 
kernel of truth in it. We could easily wind up building a Web that is 
fragile, complex, and unpredictable. We could put a great deal of effort 
into designing a Web that's optimized for the legal imperatives of the 20th 
century, but not the 21st. I'm reminded of the famous 19th century red flag 
laws that required someone to walk in front of early automobiles, warning 
of the approaching danger -- the laws discouraged the replacement of horses 
with cars, and they also led to the injury of many flag bearers!

When technology changes, the old laws are often worse than useless; they're 
harmful. The Web as it stands usefully challenges the legal community, by 
clearly showing the benefits that accrue to the world from lowering 
barriers to publishing and sharing information. Changing the Web to allow 
for such barriers is not in all cases a good thing.

Full disclosure: I have not had time, and am unlikely in the near future to 
have time, to read the Tussle paper. It may well deal with these concerns.

Noah
Received on Monday, 23 July 2012 16:17:44 GMT

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