The Internet Governs Itself, Says Reddit’s Ohanian and Mozilla’s Surman – @ Personal Democracy Forum 2012

Personal Democracy ForumWith the complexity around regulation of online behavioral advertising (OBA) and increasingly vocal support from online ad leaders about the stamping out of industry advertising on sites that support piracy, today’s lineup at the Personal Democracy Forum 2012 in New York City seemed especially relevant. Since 2004, Personal Democracy Forum (or PdF, for short) has been bringing together a conversation about technology and its intersection with government and politics. PdF is sponsored by many of the big Internet and ad tech players including Facebook, Microsoft and Google to name a few.

Can the Internet ulimately be its own governing body? That’s what Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation (maker of Firefox) and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian argued for – but in different ways – as each saw threats on the horizon.

Mozilla’s Surman presented the case for his foundation’s ’cause’ and then described its strategy.

Surman sees the essence of Mozilla’s cause as creativity, first, and freedom. Showing a data visualization of Internet connections, he stressed the Web’s open principles and the importance of the open source software movement. Yet, Surman saw a vision of the Internet about “prescription and control” that others are promoting and could lead to an Internet very different from the one he said Mozilla had built.

Next, the strategy. Mozilla’s begins with “policy” says Surman. Washington D.C. and Brussels are the leaders here, but, as he went on to explain – they are only third in importance. He saw “products” and the freedom to inspire the creation of them as secondary in importance, with “literacy” as the top strategy for Mozilla. Surman believes teaching kids code is one of the most important things we could all do for the Internet. Make everyone a maketer of the Internet, if you will. Surman again stressed creativity and freedom to decide what the device does versus the “prescription & control” that he saw elsewhere – though he refused to name names.

Next, Alexis Ohanian chose to talk about the “Hero The Internet Needs.” Is this Ohanian? Intro’d as “the Mayor of the Internet”, Ohanian has earned his recent Internet leadership role in part due to his activism related to halting the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) which many saw as inhibiting innovation on the Web.

Admitting he’s a startup guy, Ohanian said that the World Wide Web is a level playing field and all of us have an opportunity to start up a business to compete in travel, for example. Citing his company’s own analysis of the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. and what they saw as egregious legislation, Ohanian agreed that there were “rights” (ownership, piracy, etc.) issues online but that, more importantly, the open Internet, and all that it inspires, were threatened. For Ohanian, “All links are created equal.”

Going through the bell curve of activism on the Internet, Ohanian saw similarities to the tech adoption bell curve. There are the innovators (2 percent), the early adopters (15 percent), the early majority (34 percent), the late majority (34 percent) and the laggards (15 percent).

“Anyone that has an audience” has to “fight the fight” for an open Internet. All of the great ideas could not spread because some gate keeper said they couldn’t talk. Ohanian advocates a connected and open internet of ideas – ideas that spawn and spread so that no one misses anything.

By John Ebbert

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