"It's only an illusion that the Internet appears to be open…" — Dave Winer
As we approach the end-of-the-year many of us start thinking about charitable donations. There are many, many great causes out there that deserve our support. I think it is critical that we consider supporting the digital future that we want as part of our giving. There is nothing fundamental about the Internet that insures free and open speech will occur. In fact, the Internet if left to the wrong interests can be the most monitored, tracked and near totalitarian environment we have ever seen. If you are curious to read more on this, I highly recommend The Master Switch by Tim Wu. Great book.
We know that the Internet will continue to be a growing part of our lives. There are organizations that are working hard to make sure the Internet is the kind of place I want in my life. If the Internet is just Facebook tracking cookies and advertisements like a mall, we have failed. Supporting these organizations is one way to help this cause!
The EFF was founded in 1990 and has been the champion of digital rights since. In many ways I think of the EFF as the "ACLU of the Internet". They have both a legal and advocacy organization. They are pushing for the expansion of encryption technology online. They support causes like open and free access to WiFi networks. They continue to help Tor.
Creative Commons is all about creating a copyright framework that allows for the sharing of content in a way that content creators want. My blog is creative commons licensed making it easy for people to remix and share the content here. Larry Lessig is the founder of creative commons and he does a better job than I ever could explaining why Creative Commons, and the commons as a whole, is critical to our culture. You should watch his TED talk on Laws that Choke Creativity.
I often suggest that Wikipedia is the most amazing thing to be born of the Internet. It could never exist in any other way. The depth and quality of content is amazing, but the ethos of it is even more amazing. Wikipedia is run by the Wikimedia Foundation which runs hundreds of other wikis as well. They also open source all of the software behind Wikipedia called MediaWiki. MediaWiki is used by tens of thousands of sites on the Internet to host new and interesting content, including the software that organizations as provocative as WikiLeaks use. (My project WikiApiary tracks a large percentage of all MediaWiki sites in the world!)
The Internet Archive has been working to archive a growing part of the Internet over time. It is the place where the history of the Internet is being recorded. It is also the place where you can find a huge amount of media that is no longer in copyright. The goal of the Internet Archive I think is often something that we forget about in the digital world. We think that the Internet is permanent, but it’s only as permanent as we make it. The Internet Archive gives me hope that hundreds of years from now people will still be able to read the blog post you are reading right now.
As an aside, we spend so much time focusing on the billionaires of the Internet behind services like Facebook and Twitter. Think of these names: Larry Lessig, John Gilmore, John Perry Barlow, Mitch Kapor, Richard Stallman, Brewster Kahle, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. These people deserve as much space in our minds.