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How the Internet Works (an accumulation of many small acts of kindness)

Harvard Law prof Jonathan Zittrain deals with big scary issues, like encroachment of first amendment rights online and the invasions of privacy from bad software. His recent book paints a possible dark future for the internet.

So it was a wonderful surprise when on last week’s plane travel I watched his TED Talk on The Web as random acts of kindness

Zittrain here gives a brilliant, upbeat talk, and actually explains how the internet works (no tubes) – as he does so by comparing the movement of packets to how a beer gets passed down the row to someone at the ball game.

More than that, the picture he paints that the mechanisms and bits that make the whole machine hum along, the vehicle that propels Wikipedia, has to do with a small number of people volunteering to do collective acts of good deeds, kind of Amazing Story like things

The Internet, he suggests, is made up of millions of disinterested acts of kindness, curiosity and trust.

I see them all the time, and often barely take notice (maybe because I am used to them). Just today, I got an email from Doug Gilford, letting me know that he changed the URLs of a blog post I had written… back in 2005.

Oh yes, some of it is in his own interest, as the links lead to his on site, but he sat down and wrote a personal email. SO as a thanks, I will give a shout out here for Doug’s AMAZING site- the complete archive of MAD magazine covers


To me, it is these single person niche web sites– brimming with passion for a specific topic — that are the positive outcomes of what the “millions of disinterested acts of kindness” enables.

Long live the odd, strange, dedicated, amazing web sites that are out there, more than anyone can count or know. Gawd, no I am getting teary eyed.

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


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