Anarchy and Hierarchy, by A. Griscom

Digital Media and the Internet

Defining the World Wide Web

Strictly speaking, the Web the subset of the Internet (separate and apart from, for instance, other informational services such as bulletin board systems, mailing lists, and UseNet newsgroups) which most effectively employs the hypertextual format to create a global network of information. The Web was designed by a team of programmers at CERN, a physics research lab in Geneva. Although originally created to help scientists share information, it has grown to encompass nearly the whole range of information available on the Internet --- everything from bird-watching to beer-guzzling to political pontification. Accessing a multimedia hypertext document on the World Wide Web requires a graphical web browser, which controls retrieval and display. Netscape, formerly Mosaic, is the most popular web browser, as it is equipped to access two- and three-dimensional graphics as well as sound and video clips.

The World Wide Web is an enormous compendium of individual web sites --- the trophies of individual expression comparable to the seventeenth century pamphlet. Web site owners can share whatever they like ---their poetry, their products, their political beliefs, their photo albums --- to millions of would-be strangers. What's more, they can create links between their web sites and others which they find particularly insightful --- or particularly offensive, for that matter --- thereby sharing the power of authorship with the droves of others who are commenting on similar or related topics.

Virtually anyone with the time and interest and a meager income can express himself on the Web. As with the pamphleteers, invested interest is the key, as most participants stand to make no financial profit off of their site unless they are advertising. Setting up a web site requires little money and even less expertise. One Apple Macintosh advertisement reads: "Looking for a compelling reason to set up an Internet site? How about the fact that you don't have to be a propellerhead anymore to actually do it?" Anyone can buy user-friendly software right off the shelf, but most owners broadcast their sites through a server with a high-speed Internet connection (a T-1 line) which can transmit an enormous amount of information and keep the site open to multiple visitors at all times. Web site owners pay service providers monthly according to the amount of memory their site requires --- usually anywhere from $20 to $100. Fees are steadily decreasing as competition increases among service providers, and now many offer package deals which include unlimited Internet access and a web page (with about two megs of memory) for around $25 a month.

In an interview, Larry Magott, columnist for the LA Times, explained that the lasting legacy of the Internet comes down to two fundamental innovational concepts: egalitarian openness, which means anyone can connect to the net as sure as they can connect to the phone system, and flat pricing, which means that a broadcaster pays according to the bandwidth (the amount of data, sound, or video that can be sent through a wire) that his site requires, not according to the number or distance of the places he chooses to visit, or the length of time he chooses to stay. "Together," he said, "these innovations provide a model where every home becomes a broadcast studio, every person becomes a publisher, and this is what guarantees not only openness but profound social changes."

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