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May 15, 2010

If Mark Zuckerberg invented the Web

Imagine an alternative universe in which Mark Zuckerberg is born before Tim Berners-Lee, and invents the Web.

  • Mark Zuckerberg forms a company and develops the Web as a commercial enterprise.

  • MZ owns and controls the HTML standard. Nothing changes in it unless MZ thinks it’s a good idea.

  • MZ owns and controls the client — MZ Explorer — that uses that standard. While other apps are permitted API access, the browser is whatever MZ decides to give us.

  • Users can only create pages on MZ’s server, subject to MZ’s content policies.

  • MZ decides how much about the author of each page is automatically disclosed, and he changes his mind every few months.

  • There is no “View Source” so users can easily figure out how to become developers.

  • Innovators’ creations are limited to the API access that MZ allows and are subject to the changes in policy and pricing structures that MZ decides on.

  • Users have no systematic, assured way of transferring out of the Web all of the pages they’ve created within it. Do they even own the pages they’ve created?

  • If the right deal is struck, the Web could be sold to a media company at any moment.

This alternative history writes its own ending: The Web would be a boring, small, and of little consequence. The real Web unleashed a world-changing renaissance because a modest researcher at a physics lab gave it to us as a gift — open and free.

The Web knows how pages are connected. Social networking sites know how people are connected. Both are obviously crucial. But, Facebook, for all its success, is not living up to the potential for social networking sites, not by a long shot. The social networking site that will do for the connections among people what the Web has done for the connections among sites is awaiting its own Tim Berners-Lee — a person or group that understands that control constrains, but gifts liberate.