First Monday is an Internet-based peer reviewed journal that deals with developments both social and technical on the Internet. Issues have included such things as:
Applications of Internet filtering tools
The relationship between filtering and censorship
Internet-based cooperative software development
There are several nice rules that can be applied to any marketing statement about the Internet to determine whether or not it is "real," or just hype.
"It is a paradigm shift."
A paradigm shift is reasonably defined as "an event that alters everything that comes after it."
The deployment of TCP/IP was definitely a paradigm shift, as it has certainly influenced the development and deployment of all network technologies that have followed it.
The introduction by NCSA of Mosaic was likely a paradigm shift, as it has tremendously influenced peoples' use of networks.
The popularization of Java may turn out to represent a paradigm shift; it is representative of a variety of "network/distributed computing platforms" that appear to be influencing the way computer software is created and distributed. But it is not yet clear that it will have this effect.
The use of HTML and SGML to portably represent document structures rather than using proprietary physical layout systems is a paradigm shift that seems to have been only moderately successful, as many WWW users don't seem able to comprehend this shift.
And Network Computing is not a paradigm shift as it only represents a refinement of existing technologies: combining distributed computing facilities such as Java with networked display technologies such as The X Window System. It may become a significant technical shift in the computing industry, but it is certainly not a new "paradigm."
The introduction of Yet another distributed code system that is slightly better than Java is similarly not a paradigm shift.
"Would I use it?"
I have seen various PDAs come and go; they weren't, until recently, powerful enough provide enough functionality to overpower the advantages of pencil and paper. Similarly, users of network services want to do what they do now, only faster or cheaper (or both). Doing it "better" is not something that's readily salable, unless it is also faster/cheaper.
"The Big Lies"
"We're a year ahead of our competition." (As if.)
"Why wouldn't users want to register name and password to use our service?" (Perhaps because they've got 20-odd other IDs and passwords already, and don't want to get even more spam?)
"Why wouldn't users want to subscribe to the service we push at them?" (Perhaps because they can "pull" better things they want for free elsewhere?)
"You don't need compatibility with anything else so long as everyone adopts our service all at once..." (Sounds like Microsoft Windows; even more like the only way to get Communism to function at all...)
Information "Just Wants to be Free" (or at least cheap)
You can search Google, AltaVista, Yahoo, Excite, Lycos, and a whole pile of other Web index services without any obvious charge, and access the resulting information freely. There is admittedly a whole lot of worthless information, but a lot of substantially valuable information is available.
To have the basis to charge more than the "free" guys, it is vital to offer something in terms of timeliness, authentication, improved filtering, or in terms of information not otherwise available. And this is a rather slippery slope, as the amount of "free" information keeps increasing.
Larry Wall's discussion entitled Information Wants to be Valuable looks at this issue from a different perspective.
The Internet is an economy driven by users acting based on their preferences.
In the significant absence of a centralized authority to enforce what users can and cannot access (and note that attempting censorship on the Internet is largely futile), it is users and not "information providers," "service providers," "broadcasters," or even governments (despite attempts to the contrary by such nations as China, Iraq, Iran, and Singapore), that drive behaviour on the Internet.
While the policies of individual ISPs may vary, there is nothing on the technical level to prevent individuals from running their own servers and providing whatever information they wish to provide.
"We will provide a wonderful archive of information..."
The most significant thing about the Internet is that it is a communications medium. The Web contains a lot of relatively static information, but is becoming more dynamic as time passes as people connect query tools to databases. News, mail, and IRC all represent communications tools of varying degrees of interactivity. Mere information is important, but is not likely to be enough.
"The Internet needs some proper 'push' technologies in order to become really valuable..."
Push Me, Pull You by James Gleick describes this fallacy fairly nicely.
The creators of material for traditional "broadcast" media would like to think that the "true" value of the Internet will not arrive until they start broadcasting ("pushing") material directly to users. The present model where users "pull" information that they want is "obviously" not adequate.
There is indeed some value to some of the services such as My Yahoo, that collect together timely information of common interest.
However, what the broadcasters are really saying is that: "The Internet needs 'push' so that we can sell people the broadcast services that we know how to market and sell."
This article describes the way in which "spam" has injured Usenet. Usenet used to be a medium where people could converse in an asynchronous fashion, "broadcasting" things when they appeared important enough. The outgrowth of software and people that do widescale cross-posting of information spurious to conversations has the effect of pushing out those conversations.
The GlueTrain Manifesto - parody of the ClueTrain Manifesto...
Attempts to prevent the use of packet-switched communications networks such as the Internet to transmit information that could possibly offend someone are technically doomed to failure, and can have seriously chilling effects on overall personal freedoms. There are many statements, viewpoints and ideas (well beyond the distasteful realm of "dirty pictures") with which I disagree. I will nonetheless defend peoples right to express such, because the alternative is to seriously injure peoples' abilities to express those viewpoints I do agree with.
There has been a growth of software to try to automate censorship; this has pretty much been an unmitigated disaster, between such problems as:
Letting hardcore porn through, despite advertising claims to the contrary
Denying access to legitimate material that might contain key words that were assumed to indicate obscene material
Some problem domains might include PowerGenItalia, WhoRepresents.com, and ExpertsExchange.com, all of which appear reasonable, but which, if capitalized differently, can seem somewhat " naughty".
Censoring criticism of the products
It is unlikely that any of the products would allow access to censorware.net, for instance.
Censoring sites because at some time in the past they hosted controversial materials
For more information, see the following:
Censorware doesn't work. No, no, it really doesn't work!
Attempts to protect people from possible "bad words" has such ridiculous effects as hiding entirely legitimate things:
Matsushita is the parent company of Panasonic. Their name often gets censored.
Web sites for the Essex Company and for the numerous municipalities and counties of that name commonly get "expurgated."
No one expected that a student assigned to do a study on cucumbers would find all references to that notable vegetable blocked.
Poor Hillary Anne cannot use her name as an email address; censorware warns that her name is neo-Nazi propaganda, containing the hidden word, "aryan."
The grand prize went to "Carroll High School," who blocked their own web site since it contained clearly-drug-related discussions, notably the word "High."
Exploring what is and isn't legal on the Internet. If you have ever received a letter asking that you remove information from your web site,
Your ISP has contacted you telling you that they need to take your web site offline because they got some sort of "cease and desist" letter from roving Scientologists that didn't like your web site.
The "notification letter" may be helpful in drafting a response.