I think it's very difficult to predict how the Web will evolve over time. I think it's clear that it will become much more interactive and dynamic. As larger numbers of people come online, the Web will become more mainstream and this evolution into a mass medium with a remarkably varied set of users will change the Web in unknown and potentiall exciting ways.Another way is one you are certainly familiar with!
By turning traditional models of communication upside down, the Web is dramatically shifting the balance of power and giving voice to those who were not heard before.
The result is that individuals have a voice in ways previously impossible.
In 1960, the brilliant A.J. Liebling observed that freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.
While still remarkably true, the Web has changed the dynamic wildly and radically, because anyone with a Web server - which due to is low cost is accessible to individuals, not just major corporations and conglomerates, now owns his or her own printing press and the Web is quickly making publishers of us all.
Never has this been brought home more forcefully than in the events of this past summer, which have come to be known as the Cyberporn Debate.
An undergraduate in EE at CMU with an apparent political agenda wrote a highly sensationalistic, inflammatory, and methodological incompetent paper on the apparent amount and type of pornography on the Internet.
Through skillful manipulation of the mass media and events too byzantine to detail here (but see our Cyberporn Debate Page for details), he was able to secure a place for his paper in the Georgetown Law Journal and cut an exclusive deal with TIME magazine who then turned around to publish an equally sensationalistic, inflammatory and irresponsible cover story on cyberporn.
The study and the Time cover story were used as ammunition for conservative special interest groups, lobbyists and elected officials in their quest to regulate and censor content in cyberspace.
But because both the Rimm study and the Time cover story contained serious conceptual, logical, and methodological flaws and errors, we felt it was important that the people become aware that the flaws and errors are sufficiently severe that neither the Rimm study nor the Time cover story should be taken seriously by policymakers when debating these issues.
Subsequent to the publication of the TIME cover story, Mike Godwin, Tom Novak, and I prepared a series of detailed critiques of both the TIME cover story, the study itself, and the process by which this information flowed from the hands of a clever con artist to the mass media.
Our objective was to provide a forum for a constructive, honest, and open critique process and debate about these issues. The critically important national debate over First Amendment rights and restrictions on the Internet and other emerging media requires facts and informed opinion, not hysteria.
In one stunning display of how misinformation, when propagated, begets even worse misinformation, Senator Grassley on June 26, 1995, waved a copy of the Time cyberporn cover story around on the Senate floor and proceeded to misquote and misunderstand deeply what the study itself actually did. And Senator Exon made further remarks about the Time cover story, all of which were read into the Congressional Record.
In the old days, that is, perhaps a year ago, not much would have been done either with or about our criticisms, since despite the veracity of our voices, we owned no printing press.
Yet, working only with a set of Web sites and the WELL, an online community, we were able to disseminate an alternative point of view, which was able to carefully discuss these issues and question the accuracy of the study, which ultimately led to a formal discrediting of the bogus research and what amounted to the closest thing we will see to a full-page retraction by TIME magazine.
The point is that all individuals potentially have a voice in society through the distributed computing environment represented by the Internet.
In essence, the Net can level the playing field when the mass media gets it wrong.