Are we too dependent on the USA for "our" WWW

Are we too dependent on the USA for "our" WWW


By now you'll have heard and experienced the anti-SOPA protest. Wikipedia, Wired, Wordpress, Google, Twitpic and even this very tome were joined by probably thousands of smaller sites as large sections of the web went black to demonstrate what the web might end up like should SOPA be passed. As a Brit I joined in - even though the bill is a US one - because the effects of this nefarious piece of "leglislation" would most certainly be felt on the fair green isles that make up my homeland. The good news is both SOPA and PIPA were shelved after the protest - which proves if nothing else the power of protest. Yes they may wel return in some other form so the fight may not be over but the protest itself (for me) raised another question: is the [English-speaking] web too US-centric?

I'm no gringophobe but one thing that all the sites I've mentioned above have in common is they are based in the USA. If the USA did install a great firewall (as some have called SOPA anyway) how much would it affect you?

Whilst I appreciate many sites are not US-based many of the ones that are most visited are. Have a look at the netcraft most visited site list and you have to get to number 22 (as of 19 Jan 2012) before you find a site (the BBC) which is neither hosted in the US or is a localised version of a US one (such as google.de). Why have we allowed this happen and how do we change it?

Nothing new

None of this is news of course. Pretty much since the web came to the fore we've allowed ourselves to become more US-centric than we probably have to be. I'm not sure that's such a good thing even for the USA. A global, free, open and distributed web could do more to help us understand each other than one which feeds from a single nation. I'm not pointing fingers here. The USA is not to blame and the country at question is somewhat irrelevant. What is relevant is that one country is able to hold such a sway over the world in this way. that's true if it's in regards to fuel resources (e.g. Russian gas), technology production (e.g. the Taiwanese floods) or web services. I just wonder what happened to that global village? As we've seen in other parts of the IT world when too many of your eggs go into one basket you create (or at least) allow the possibility of monopolies or dictatorships. All I'm saying is that if the web and the services we used on it were less US-centric then perhaps SOPA would not have even gotten off the ground? Maybe it would but it strikes me that the bill is based on an illusion that it's possible to control the World Wide Web and the services on it. That illusion appears more realistic if so much of the content flows across the physical land-mass over which you have duristiction.

Of course it's too late now to prevent SOPA by disseminating the web but what about the future? What about the next country that decides it needs to "protect" the "rights" of the coporations bankrolling the politicians? If the services were distributed, hosted, developed and owned across the world could we prevent a great firewall of China or another SOPA?

I don't know and maybe I'm just being naive but it still annoys me that we have all allowed the web to get to a point where the actions of greedy politicians and corporations in a single country could have such an effect on very ideals of a free and open world wide web - regardless of which country that is.

But it I'm not being naive, if too many of our eggs are in one basket how do we fix this? Where do we go from here? Is it just a case of non-US sites mimicking the likes of Google, Facebook et al or should we be looking and pursuing models like Diaspora*? I'd prefer the latter I think. The tools for people to host their own version of Google's tools (except search) for example are available but is that enough? If it is why are we doing it?

I appreciate that right now I'm offering a lot of questions but that's because right now that's all I have. I (and I am sure others) would be happy to hear any solutions you think either already or could exist.

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Ryan Cartwright heads up Equitas IT Solutions who offer fair, quality and free software based solutions to the voluntary and community (non-profit) and SME sectors in the UK. He is a long-term free software user, developer and advocate. You can find him on Twitter and Identi.ca.