Permissionless Innovation

Last Wednesday was the 25th anniversary of the world wide web. Or at least March 12, 1989 was the date Tim Berners Lee published his proposal describing the concepts behind the web. Ok, any excuse for a celebration.

At first the Guardian article 25 things you might not know about the web on its 25th birthday looks like just another x-number-of-stuff list tied to the anniversary. But it’s actually a very good overview/opinion piece about why the web has become so powerful in its relatively short lifespan. And why it’s important to fight back against the many corporations who want to limit and restrict that power.

That thing number 3 is especially important.

The importance of having a network that is free and open. The internet was created by government and runs on open source software. Nobody “owns” it. Yet on this “free” foundation, colossal enterprises and fortunes have been built – a fact that the neoliberal fanatics who run internet companies often seem to forget. Berners-Lee could have been as rich as Croesus if he had viewed the web as a commercial opportunity. But he didn’t – he persuaded Cern that it should be given to the world as a free resource. So the web in its turn became, like the internet, a platform for permissionless innovation. That’s why a Harvard undergraduate was able to launch Facebook on the back of the web. [emphasis mine]

I love that phrase “permissionless innovation”. It’s the true power of the web, covering work done by the developers of the software behind this site, Twitter, RSS, Evernote, and all the other web-based resources that I and many others use every day. Just the fact that anyone can throw up a blog like this one without filing a bunch of official forms and for only pocket change is amazing.1

It’s also a concept we should be teaching our students, although the concept of kids doing something on the web and not asking permission is one that really, really scares a lot of people.


  1. Although I am not in any way equating those other achievements to the misguided rants posted around here.

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