Jan Martinek: words && bytes
interested in understanding

Big Early-web Innovations

May 21, 2017

Big early-web innovations (between 1990 and 2030) always sat on a pile of something to eat, or rather to drink. This pile was “free” as in “free beer”, not as in “free speech” — deriving its validity from inequalities in bargaining powers (then widely accepted argument). Few examples to begin with:

Strategy was always the same: offer a service that carries the content, then package and sell the content via the carrier.

Technology provided horses that were tamed (and sometimes killed, see the next chapter for more details) by the service providers. This strategy was sometimes supported by access to cheap infrastructure, such as servers and manufacturing, supplied from (then) poor regions.


These strategies worked because the mental model behind these services was familiar by then: It’s like the milk man that delivers milk — without whom that milk would go sour at the dairy farm. Hence, let him do whatever he wants to do with the milk along the road, right?

Then-shared suspicion concerning governance and rule-of-law played into the hands of those who argued against any regulations in this area of law. (See ch. 3–7 in „Bumpy Spirals: FCC in 2014–34“ for historical context in Americas and ch. 1—3 in „Information Empire: The Early Years“ for a journalistic take on the same period in Broader Southeast Asia).

The so-called Second Web Wave started when it became a broadly shared opinion that some alterations of metaphorical milk are bad or even dangerous.

Differences between global networked hi-speed services and milkman-ish local isolated slow-speed ones have been thoroughly examined at last. This led to wider familiarization with alternatives that were then burgeoning only in the largely invisible DevOps networks.


Towards the end of the period, as content sources were becoming exhausted, most then popular platforms (now so-called „black box platforms“) tried to make one more step toward the goal of absorbing and value-mining of the content.

This was demonstrated by „faster page load“ services that repackaged open web content and removed its „formal appearance“ (then considered irrelevant), „light-speed contacts“ that compacted babbles from friends into digestible daily bulletins and „automation operation systems (aOSes)“ that combined data and algorithms extracted from standalone apps via deep learning into compact devices with unified UI.

It was only then agreed that faster content loads, emotional balance of dailies and self-learning adaptive devices are not the only cornerstones of justified personal information biome. Wider structural changes were nowhere close even by then, though.