World of Ends
What the Internet Is and
How to Stop Mistaking It
for Something Else.
Doc Searls and
Last update: 3.10.03 (More typos fixed 1.29.08)
There are mistakes and there are mistakes.
Some mistakes we learn from. For example: Thinking that selling toys
for pets on the Web is a great way to get rich. We're not going to
do that again.
Other mistakes we insist on making over and over. For example, thinking
- ...the Web, like television, is a way to hold eyeballs still while
advertisers spray them with messages.
- ...the Net is something that telcos and cable companies should
filter, control and otherwise "improve."
- ... it's a bad thing for users to communicate between different
kinds of instant messaging systems on the Net.
- ...the Net suffers from a lack of regulation to protect industries
that feel threatened by it.
When it comes to the Net, a lot of us suffer from Repetitive
Mistake Syndrome. This is especially true for magazine and newspaper
publishing, broadcasting, cable television, the record industry, the
movie industry, and the telephone industry, to name just six.
Thanks to the enormous influence of those industries in Washington,
Repetitive Mistake Syndrome also afflicts lawmakers, regulators and
even the courts. Last year Internet radio, a promising new industry
that threatened to give listeners choices far exceeding anything on
the increasingly variety-less (and technologically stone-age) AM
and FM bands, was shot in its cradle. Guns, ammo and the occasional
"Yee-Haw!" were provided by the recording industry and the
Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which embodies all the fears felt
by Hollywood's alpha dinosaurs when they lobbied the Act through Congress
"The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around
it," John Gilmore famously
said. And it's true. In the long run, Internet radio will succeed.
Instant messaging systems will interoperate. Dumb companies will get
smart or die. Stupid laws will be killed or replaced. But then, as
John Maynard Keynes also famously said, "In the long run, we're
All we need to do is pay attention to what the Internet really
is. It's not hard. The Net isn't rocket science. It isn't even
6th grade science fair, when you get right down to it. We can end
the tragedy of Repetitive Mistake Syndrome in our lifetimes — and
save a few trillion dollars' worth of dumb decisions — if we can just
remember one simple fact: the Net is a world of ends. You're
at one end, and everybody and everything else are at the other ends.
Sure, that's a feel-good statement about everyone having value on
the Net, etc. But it's also the basic rock-solid fact about the Net's
technical architecture. And the Internet's value is founded in
its technical architecture.
Fortunately, the true nature of the Internet isn't hard to understand.
In fact, just a fistful of statements stands between Repetitive Mistake
Syndrome and Enlightenment...