Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Inventing the Internet

In the beginning, nobody could make any money on the internet. Instead the government spent gobs of money making the internet.
Given the chance to acquire the most sophisticated computer network in the world, AT&T refused. The executives simply couldn’t see the money in it.

Their shortsightedness was fortunate for the rest of us. Under public management, ARPANET flourished. Government control gave the network two major advantages.

The first was money: ARPA could pour cash into the system without having to worry about profitability. The agency commissioned pioneering research from the country’s most talented computer scientists at a scale that would’ve been suicidal for a private corporation.

And, just as crucially, ARPA enforced an open-source ethic that encouraged collaboration and experimentation. The contractors who contributed to ARPANET had to share the source code of their creations, or risk losing their contracts. This catalyzed scientific creativity, as researchers from a range of different institutions could refine and expand on each other’s work without living in fear of intellectual property law.
Since then, we've figured out how to make money. The way that gets written about most is the thing where self-important scam artists make apps that bilk venture capitalists out of their investments but that's not where the real money is. The real money is in being an oligarchic telecom with license to overcharge everyone for an artificially scarce utility.  And that necessarily means squeezing out the open, collaborative spirit that once defined its use. 

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