The Internet can be likened to a public playground. Everyone is welcome, and the more curiosity and imagination a user has, the more fun and interesting the Web experience becomes. Take the Google search engine, for example—an empty playground. With the search bar gracing the browser’s home page, millions of documents and resources are instantly in the hands of the user. Even if a user doesn’t have a specific search in mind, typing in just one letter will automatically yield the top 10 results. One can’t help but feel empowered at the wealth of information available.
This is where the importance of a free and open Web comes into play. Imagine a world without the Web, or a world in which searches are monitored and restricted frequently—in other words, a private playground. Those on the outside are shut off from the resources and lose an incredible outlet for imagination and thoughts to roam freely. The ability to self-learn and discover new ideas becomes confined. With an open Web, basic reading and writing skills are the only requirement needed to read, discuss and display basic thoughts or inspirations.
For example, in an exploration of Egypt prior to a trip for the Internet Governance Forum, typing in the keyword “Egypt” was a quick and easy way to find preliminary information. Search: Egypt. Results: 164,000,000. First hit: Wikipedia. An interest in “The Nile Valley,” (endnote 19 in the article), leads to an external link at the British Museum. From there, links direct the user to 10 partnership museums in the United Kingdom—each with more links and connections. In four clicks I was able to self-direct myself from a Wikipedia article about Egypt to the Bolton Museum and Art Gallery’s entire collection of artifacts.
As emphasized in “The Cluetrain Manifesto,” the Web is a dialogue; a conversation between any and all users. If anyone is shut out, the dialogue’s potential is weakened, as is the potential for other users to absorb more valuable information.
In the future, it will be crucial for site managers and production teams to consider designing and presenting information in a way that is accessible to most users—appealing to those with the least amount of Web experience. New users become connected every day—each possessing unique talents and goals.
The future of the Web should entail a larger base of open information that is usable across a variety of skill sets and interests.
Submitted by Shelley Russell, a student in Elon University’s Interactive Media Master’s Program.