Igor Romankiewicz—a dear friend of mine—shared a brilliant and, at the same time, quite scary idea with me. He pointed out a fact—there is very little space on the internet which is truly public. Sure, there's a lot of social space where everyone can share their thoughts and even their work, but there are always very strict limits. We have no space to which everyone can contribute without any artifical constraints. What if we could make such a place out of our world wide web? What if anyone could make their own version of any website? What if the whole internet was free to modify by you and me? Let's try to answer these questions.
Let's say, someone reads softwarephilosophy.ninja and got this great idea for a background that sets the mood just right for reading exciting, techy stuff. Let's call this person BUDDHA. Buddha knows his way around computer graphics, so he quickly takes a screenshot of the website and draws his, better version. Let's call it ENLIGHTENMENT. Would he like to share his enlightenment with others, Buddha will just email his friends about this design or even create an entry in one of art-oriented social networks. So far, so good.
But what if Buddha would like to read next articles with this background of his? What if his enlightenment feels good only when experienced live? What if he would like to globally share his wisdom? Well... Let's jump into the future.
As it turns out, Buddha has a button that says "Enlighten Us" in his web browser. After clicking this button, browser enters DESIGN MODE, where he can change anything he needs—upload his version of each image, change colors and sizes, and even add new elements. User experience of this mode lies somewhere between UI mockup and CG program. Buddha can also switch his browser into IDE MODE, where site's behavior can be modified by directly changing it's source code.
Buddha quickly adds his background to the website and hits "Save". Saving his englightenment does not permanently change the original website. This would be considered vandalism. Saving the enligtenment creates an alternative (enlightened) version of the website which exist in paralell to the original.
On top bar of each browser, there's an icon which displays the number of enlightenments created for currently viewed website. Clicking this icon pops-up a menu containing those enlightenments. This way, every internet user can easily access Buddha's work.
Buddha can create multiple enlightenments, each for different website, and group them in a browsable ALTERNET. He can even create multiple alternets, each containing different enlightenment of the same website. The internet and all alternets, available to everyone, create a truly public space—THE MULTINET.
Is it possible to create the multinet in our present time-space? I belive, it is although not without challenges.
Since early 21st century, we have Web 2.0, which introduced a clear distinction between user-generated content and the platform. It's intuitively understood by everyone and not questioned by anyone. You can use the platform, add your content inside a boundary imposed on you by website owner, but can't modify the platform itself. It's not only strictly forbidden but also damn near impossible.
The situation would be very different in a world with the multinet. Hacking a website would be one click away, but would it still be considered a crime, remains an open question. There wouldn't be a problem if the whole internet was licensed with Creative Commons (CC) or Public Domain. Unfortunately, most websites have a trademark on their logo, copyrighted content and terms of service which scrictly forbid any possible reuse.
On the other hand, browser add-ons of today modify internet websites visited by their users. The most popular one—AdBlock+—by default removes ads from all websites before browser is able to render them on the screen. 99% of todays advertisement contains trademarked logos and yet, AdBlock+ was declared legal by the court in Hamburg, Germany.
Other examples of software that modify or augument websites include:
- Many solutions for doing webpage notes;
- GreaseMonkey—browser addon which enable adding own scripts to any website;
- A reader mode feature of Firefox which discards all non-essential information;
- Many addons which provide reader view for Chrome;
- SEO-quake addon for Firefox which auguments Google's search result;
And many, many more...
Majority of developers which create software of this kind were not sued for violating intellectual property law.
What Do You Think?
Thank you for reading this (rather short) article. Its goal was to present the idea without expressing too much option in the matter. The article is also intentionally non-technical.
When it comes to opinions, I see following things to wonder about:
- Is having a multi-dimentional network of websites actually useful?
- Who would provide storage for all the alternets?
- Is it legally possible in a world after few-century development of intellectual property law?
- Is any access control required (and where to host it)?
- Is there a bussiness case for a single alternet (or the whole multinet)?
- Is it feasible with current state of web technology and web development practice?
Opinions on the matters above (or any other) are very welcome in the comments below. Also, if you happen to know other examples of successful software that modify websites or any court cases in this area, please kindly share this with us.