20th anniversary: A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace

Back on February 9, 1996, John Perry Barlow wrote his declaration of of the independence of cyberspace. The declaration pointed out the folly of trying to govern something thought to be virtually ungovernable at the time.
Cyberspace and is smart fusion really smart ?
Barlow first came to prominence writing lyrics for The Grateful Dead. His ethos came from the libertarian do your own thing ethic that underpinned much of the hippy movement. This probably come more naturally to Barlow than other people having grown up on a cattle ranch and being the son of the Republican politician.

By the time he wrote the declaration, he was already had published extensively about the internet. He was on the board of directors of The WELL – an online community that sprang out of Stewart Brand’s back to the land influence catalogue of useful things The Whole Earth Catalog (The WELL stands for The Whole Earth eLectronic Link). He contributed to Wired magazine (founded by aging hippies Kevin Kelly and Stewart Brand), Barlow’s essay Economy of Ideas published in the March 1994 issue provides a clear view of the thinking that prompted him to write the declaration. He had already founded The Electronic Frontier Foundation with by John Gilmore and Mitch Kapor in response to a series of actions by law enforcement agencies that led them to conclude that the authorities were gravely uninformed about emerging forms of online communication.

The declaration was a reactionary document, brought upon by the 1996 Telecommunications Act in the US. The act eventually resulted in consolidation of US media ownership.

I suspect the similarities in style between the declaration and the Doc Searl’s et al later Cluetrain Manifesto are an intentional nod to Barlow on cyberspace.

A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace

by John Perry Barlow <barlow@eff.org>

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.

Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions.

You have not engaged in our great and gathering conversation, nor did you create the wealth of our marketplaces. You do not know our culture, our ethics, or the unwritten codes that already provide our society more order than could be obtained by any of your impositions.

You claim there are problems among us that you need to solve. You use this claim as an excuse to invade our precincts. Many of these problems don’t exist. Where there are real conflicts, where there are wrongs, we will identify them and address them by our means. We are forming our own Social Contract . This governance will arise according to the conditions of our world, not yours. Our world is different.

Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.

We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.

We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.

Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.

Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge . Our identities may be distributed across many of your jurisdictions. The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule. We hope we will be able to build our particular solutions on that basis. But we cannot accept the solutions you are attempting to impose.

In the United States, you have today created a law, the Telecommunications Reform Act, which repudiates your own Constitution and insults the dreams of Jefferson, Washington, Mill, Madison, DeToqueville, and Brandeis. These dreams must now be born anew in us.

You are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants. Because you fear them, you entrust your bureaucracies with the parental responsibilities you are too cowardly to confront yourselves. In our world, all the sentiments and expressions of humanity, from the debasing to the angelic, are parts of a seamless whole, the global conversation of bits. We cannot separate the air that chokes from the air upon which wings beat.

In China, Germany, France, Russia, Singapore, Italy and the United States, you are trying to ward off the virus of liberty by erecting guard posts at the frontiers of Cyberspace. These may keep out the contagion for a small time, but they will not work in a world that will soon be blanketed in bit-bearing media.

Your increasingly obsolete information industries would perpetuate themselves by proposing laws, in America and elsewhere, that claim to own speech itself throughout the world. These laws would declare ideas to be another industrial product, no more noble than pig iron. In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish.

These increasingly hostile and colonial measures place us in the same position as those previous lovers of freedom and self-determination who had to reject the authorities of distant, uninformed powers. We must declare our virtual selves immune to your sovereignty, even as we continue to consent to your rule over our bodies. We will spread ourselves across the Planet so that no one can arrest our thoughts.

We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.

Davos, Switzerland

February 8, 1996

So two decades later, how does Barlow’s declaration stand in comparison that what’s actually happened? At first blush not very well. The digital economy outside China is dominated by an oligarchy of four main players: Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.

Scott Galloway’s presentation at DLD conference this year, highlights the winner take all nature of the online world. This is partially down to the nature of the online platform. Amazon grew to critical mass in the US as for a critical amount of time buyers didn’t need to pay state sales tax until state legislation started to catch up.

Zuckerberg and his peers marked a changing of the guard in Silicon Valley as yuppies took over from the the hippies.

Inside China there is a similar state-directed oligarchy of Alibaba, Tencent, Netease and Sina.

The oligarchy impact has been most pronounced in Europe, where consumer demand and a lack of effective competition saw Google go to 90+ percent in market share across the EU, when the US market share was less than 70 percent at the time.

Futurist and science fiction author Bruce Sterling summed it up rather well:

“Globalization” is over for 2016. We have entered an era of Internet Counter-Revolution. The events of 1989 feel almost as distant as those of 1789. The globalizing, flat-world, small-pieces-loosely-joined Internet is behind us, it’s history. The elite geek Internet could not resist those repeated tsunamis of incoming users.

It turned out that normal people like the “social” in social media a lot better than they ever liked the raw potential of media technology. In Russia and China in 2016, digital media is an arm of the state. Internet has zero revolutionary potential within those societies, but all kinds of potential for exported cyberwar. The Chinese police spy and firewall model, much scoffed at in the 1990s, is now the dominant paradigm. The Chinese have prospered with their authoritarian approach, while those who bought into borderless friction-free data have been immiserated by the ultra-rich.

In the USA it’s an older American story: the apparent freedom of Henry Ford’s personal flivver has briskly yielded to the new Detroit Big Five of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and, in last place, Microsoft.

In 2016, everything that looks like digital innovation, “big data,” “the cloud,” the “Internet of Things,” are actually promotional slogans that play into the hands of the GAFAM “Big Five.” Anybody who lacks broadband and a mobile OS is in deadly peril, especially the digital old-school likes of IBM, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle… and the hapless TV networks, whose median viewer age is now in the 60s.

The GAFAM Big Five, the “Stacks,” will turn their wrath on the victims closest to them, well before they complete their lunge for control of cars and thermostats. However, their destiny is obvious. The rebels of the 1990s are America’s new mega-conglomerates. Google is “Alphabet,” Apple pruned the “computer” from its name, Amazon is the Washington Post. In 2016, that’s how it is, and in 2017, 189, 19, much more so.

So the not-evil guys are the new evil guys, but don’t be scared by this. It’s quite like watching the 1960s Space Age crumble from giant-leaps-for-mankind to launching low-orbit gizmos for profit. It’s comprehensible, it can be dealt with. Sure, it’s tragic if your head was in the noosphere, but if you have any historical awareness of previous industrial revolutions, this is really easy to understand. It’s already in your pocket and purse, it’s written on every screen you look at It could scarcely be more obvious.

Yes, Internet Counterrevolution is coming, much of it is here already, and it’s properly considered a big deal, but it’s not permanent. This too shall pass.

And this post hasn’t even touched on how government has looked to plug itself into all facets of online life in the interest of discovering terrorist plots, organised crime or paedophile rings. Assaults on cyberspace sovereignty are numerous, from Pakistan’s special editable version of YouTube to several governments looking for cryptographic backdoors.

At DLD 2016, you have a German politician talking about the mechanism of how the government needed to rollback citizen rights to privacy to give German start-ups a chance. In this winner takes all world, the beneficiaries are likely to be Google, Facebook Amazon and Microsoft rather than a local champion.

I started on this post in mid-January and scheduled it to go out on February 8, 2016. danah boyd also published on the declaration of Cyberspace and I recommend you go and check out here.

More information
Economy of Ideas | Wired 
The Cluetrain Manifesto
A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace | EFF
Bruce Sterling & Jon Lebkowsky: State of the World 2016 | The WELL
Pakistan lifts ban on YouTube after launch of own version | The Daily Star
John Perry Barlow 2.0 | Reason

The billion-strong services

There was two announcements of services that had passed the billion user mark.  There was a comparison between Gmail’s slow and steady approach versus Whatsapp’s swift rise.
messaging services

Gmail was born as a desktop service first. It started just as web 2.0 was starting to take off. The service was invitation only for almost three years, before becoming generally available.  At the time its 1GB of storage for free was revolutionary. A year later they increased the storage to 2GB. By comparison I was paying £60 a year for an IMAP mail account that was separate to my ISP. Hotmail would give you just 4MB of storage in your email.

Gmail set the standard for our expectations of email. Now email accounts will accept 25MB attachments – a standard set by Gmail. My corporate email account has a 1GB capacity copying Gmail at launch.

Yahoo! had to compete and responded with ‘unlimited storage’ after Gmail became generally available. By this time Gmail storage had grown to 2.8GB and Live.com gave 2GB. In the space of under three years Gmail had grown to 51 million users.

This was still an era when smartphones weren’t ubiquitous in the same way that they are now. I was fortunate to have mobile email access on my Nokia and Palm smartphones around this time. BlackBerry devices were a business tool, as was Windows Mobile. Data was more expensive and slower than it is now. Although Yahoo! Messenger was available on my phone it was slow. Skype worked best as an indicator of presence on mobile devices.

Smartphone ubiquity through Android and iOS was an enabler for email adoption. But Gmail didn’t receive the same boost from it that Whatsapp did.

If you didn’t have a Gmail account you could still send and receive emails to Gmail account holders. Early adopters of smartphones are likely to have already had an email account. So they would increase user engagement through accessiblity. But they would not drive a similar growth in new accounts.

Whatsapp benefited from being a closed service – you can’t message a WeChat account. Also it rode smartphones as an accelerator, it didn’t have a legacy desktop user base.

Another factor is that its competitors managed to monetise their services earlier. This was at the expense of international adoption. An extreme example of this is Korea’s KakaoTalk.

KakaoTalk has built an absolute ubiquity in South Korea. It has continued to growth beyond 90 per cent of Korean mobile users. Profitability has increased, new services launched; whilst global user numbers declined.

WhatsApp has grown fastest in markets that are hard to monetise. It is big in Latin America, Africa and South Asia. It is only starting to build in features for brands.

Not all users are equal, many present little business opportunity. The billion user mark is an interesting measure, but requires further interrogation.

More information
Yahoo Mail Announces Unlimited Storage
A Comparison of Live Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo Mail | Techcrunch
Email and webmail statistics | Email Marketing Reports
Gmail Now With 1 Billion Monthly Active Users, Reports Google Chief Sundar Pichai – Tech Times
WhatsApp has a billion users, and it got there way quicker than Gmail did
You May Not Use WhatsApp, But the Rest of the World Sure Does | Wired
Tencent Service Offerings (Q3, 2015) – PDF
duamkakao 1st Quarter 2015 results – PDF
duamkakao 2nd Quarter 2015 results – PDF
Yahoo to partner with Yelp on local searches – Digit
A Brief History of Email – Google Answers
Gmail Now Has 900M Active Users, 75% On Mobile | Techcrunch

Links of the day | 在网上找到

JWT makes a move into wearable tech | Marketing Interactive – ethical minefield – marketers with access to biometric data

Yahoo just admitted it badly overpaid for Tumblr – Quartz – Tumblr needed an incentive to sell to Yahoo!

Twitter API data show the number of tweets is in serious decline – Business Insider – as others have pointed out to me where the Twitter media relations team and why aren’t they responding

At Berkeley, a New Digital Privacy Protest – The New York Times – interesting given Berkeley’s historic place in rights activism (paywall)

Gmail now has more than 1 billion active users | VentureBeat – which puts WhatsApp in perspective

Former Top Executive of Chinese Online Video Giant Youku Tudou Detained on Corruption Charges – Hollywood Reporter

Microsoft Plumbs Ocean’s Depths to Test Underwater Data Center

Lists are the new search — Benedict Evans – the irony of all this for me is especially striking, it is essentially a justification of Yahoo!’s knowledge search approach from a decade ago

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week:

Simon Kemp‘s decks of digital statistics keep getting better and better each year.

Beautiful monochrome video for Thug Entrancer. The track is called Ronin

Amerigo Gazaway on Soul Mates Records blended up this sublime mash-up of hip-hop and Marvin Gaye. Do your ears a favour and download this

The rebrand of Dragonair to Cathay Dragon (zipped press pack) was fiercely debated by my Facebook connections. Not sure how I feel about it.

The first mention of house music on television in Chicago, the contrast between the way it was received at home and in the UK is apparent from this news report

Links of the day | 在网上找到

The Guardian website will no longer allow comments under articles about race, immigration and Islam | JOE.ie – controversial given its stance on censorship

Chips on their shoulders | The Economist – THE Chinese government has been trying, on and off, since the 1970s to build an indigenous semiconductor industry. But its ambitions have never been as high, nor its budgets so big, as they are now.

How Facebook tracks and profits from voters in a $10bn US election | US news | The Guardian – there goes the West Wing approach to campaigns

Attackers Use Word Docs to Deliver BlackEnergy Malware | SecurityWeek.Com – The advanced persistent threat (APT) actor behind the recent attacks targeting Ukraine has started delivering BlackEnergy malware using specially crafted Word documents with embedded macros.

Twitter Execs Are Annoyed At Facebook For Referring To Them As “Social Media” – BuzzFeed News – At any moment Facebook trending posts always include 2 stories about things happening “on social media” … — Whitewashing Twitter out of news agenda

Completely Ignoring the DMCA an Option for Torrent Sites? – Rutracker gets blocked in Russia so strips anti piracy bodies of special ‘takedown’ accounts

TransferWise’s revenues grew by 5x in 2015 — but so did losses – For many companies unicorn status seem to share dot bomb characteristics

Does Better Internet Access Wind Up Disenfranchising Lower Income Groups? – As counterintuitive as it seems, reducing the digital divide isn’t necessarily beneficial: Our results show that participation in local elections has dramatically declined in recent years, in part as the internet has displaced other media with greater local news content

Vampire Weekend Played This Classic Song in Honor of Bernie Sanders in Iowa – use of music industry supporters to gather votes is interesting, particularly in the mid-west

Oprah time: China’s Coming War With Asia by Jonathan Holslag

Where do I start with a book title this inflammatory? I went to the trouble of reading the book twice before starting this review. In the end, the only conclusion I can come to is ‘Policy Faultlines in East Asia’ doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Untitled
Holsag marshals a huge range of facts and opinions within the book. If you want to have a basic understanding of modern Chinese state, the book is a good primer.

He provides insight into the Chinese Communist’s Party’s policy cornerstone of territory maximisation. They were happy to put off their agenda for tactical advantage, but never gave up on their goals. China’s neighbours have similar inflexible policy goals. There is is no win-win solution.

Time has brought increased pressures. A fight for resources to fuel further growth and water rights conflicts. Relative declines in economic growth also fuels nationalistic politics. In China, nationalistic sentiments in citizens grew with prosperity. It has become convenient for politicians to tap into nationalistic sentiments.

Holsag doesn’t attempt to provide a solution for de-escalation of these edges. His book only provides a macro-level understanding of the countries involved. For the reader who wants to understand Asia, Holsag’s book is an excellent primer.  More on China’s Coming War With Asia by Jonathan Holsag.

Links of the day | 在网上找到

VGA In Memoriam | Hackaday – interesting overview of the technology

Why the iPad Is Going Extinct | New Republic – tablets also have long replacement cycles

What Influences the Influencers? ComRes/Burson-Marsteller 2016 EU Media Poll findings unveiled – Burson-Marsteller – interesting to see Politico rank highly

5 new luxury retail formats to look out for this year – Luxury Daily – Columns – peer to peer fashion lending (AirBnB for bags), sort of the role that the pawn broker played