Lessig’s right: the really significant thing about the internet is that it’s an enabler of “permissionless innovation”. And this is no accident: it’s a consequence of the way the network was designed. Way back in the 1970s, when Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn were pondering the problem of how to create the internet, they came up with two basic principles: there should be no central ownership or control; and the network should be indifferent to the uses to which it was put. If you had an idea and it could be realised by shipping data across the internet, then the network would do it for you, no questions asked.
Because software is pure “thought stuff” all you need is imagination and programming talent. And you don’t need much money, which explains why many of the dominant internet enterprises did not require major investment at the beginning. Tim Berners-Lee launched the web with no funding. Jeff Bezos started Amazon with his savings. Pierre Omidyar did the same with eBay. Shawn Fanning was penniless when he launched Napster, the orginal file-sharing service. Zuckerberg launched Facebook with $1,000 – borrowed from friend Eduardo Saverin.
Facebook is just the latest demonstration of how permissionless innovation is embedded in the internet. For the network, disruption is – as programmers say – “a feature, not a bug”: it’s what the network was designed to do. That’s why established industries and authority structures fear it so much. And it’s why we need to make sure that they don’t wreck it with clueless regulation.
Real hero of the Facebook story isn’t Zuckerberg, it’s the internet | Technology | The Observer. Yes, let’s avoid the “clueless regulation” by all means. But now, what do we do about people like Zuckerberg who, having profited from the freedom of the internet, are now trying to wall off their users’ content and creative an alternative internet that they control? If Mark Zuckerberg gets his way, there won’t be any more Mark Zuckerbergs.