I was struck by Sir Tim Berners-Lee's recent comments about the history of the World Wide Web. Fifteen years ago, CERN released the web's code into the public domain, sparking a revolution that has deeply impacted communications, computing, and society at large.

"Making the web free to use had a vital role in spreading its use worldwide," said Berners-Lee, while recalling his early web research at the European laboratory.

This underscores an important point: not everyone thought that the web should be a free, open technology. CERN executives had to be convinced to "give it away", reports his colleague Robert Cailliau.

What if they had failed?

What if the web became part of some closed interactive computing technology, that was restricted to CERN's labs or developed as a subscription-based commercial product?

A recent BBC article mentions one alternative, Gopher, but the story reminded me of several commercial networked services which eventually fell by the wayside - Prodigy, Minitel, and Qube.

The Industry Standard contributor Larry Borsato recently pointed out the disruptive effect of "free" as well as the potential for free services and technologies to create value.

I agree with him on these points, and also tip my hat to Sir Berners-Lee - without a free Web, the world we live in would be far more closed and disconnected.

And there is little chance that The Industry Standard would have been launched in print form, much less online form - unless there was enough reader and advertiser interest to support versions for Prodigy and Minitel.

Ian Lamont blogs for The Industry Standard

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