Dystopia

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This is the future. Where is the jetpack I was promised?

Unless you were born before the 1940s you were not promised a jetpack. You were promised a dystopian future. You're welcome.

Introduction

In July 2014, several W3C Team members participated in an exercise to imagine W3C in 10 years time.

I chose to make mine a dystopian short story. There are references at the end, to indicate what sources I was extrapolating from.

W3C in 2024

So it has happened. Today, the West World Webkit Corporation (W3C, a "hosted by Google"™ Corporation) has closed the doors of it's California headquarters and is no more. Before I turn out the lights, indulge an old man some time to reminisce.

Firstly the name, which has changed a bit over the years. Some of you may remember back to the time when there was a world wide Internet, on top of which we built a Web. Of course it wasn't truly World Wide, even then, though we liked to think it was; much of Africa and parts of South America and Asia had little to no Internet access. But for those parts that had, in many countries, it was possible for a private individual to send or receive information from anywhere else in a way that seems inconceivable now.

Many things caused that to change. The network infrastructure was always US-based and US-oriented. Originally ASCII-only, it grew to encompass Unicode and UTF-8 became deployed, then widespread, and finally mandated. It seemed for a time that we had something the World could use to communicate, in whatever language. There were some hiccups, at one point in the early noughties it looked as if China and Korea would deploy their own DNS just so people could type Web addresses in their own language. That eventually happened, but not due to character encoding.

The stimulus was the DNS root node being controlled in the US, and following the passing of the Trans-Atlantic Partnership in 2015 the increasing requirements to channel all fibre-optic communication through the US or the UK so that the Global Safety Commission (a group formed in 2016 by the merger of the US NSA and the UK GCHQ) could ensure the safety of the Web for children and freedom from terrorist extremist propaganda. This was optional, in theory, although all non-routed content was not indexed by the two authorized search engines (Google2 and Bing, by Google and Fox News respectively) and was blocked from being accessed by non-corporate persons. The Always-on Backup™ policy of GSC was popular, and soon became essential when non-corporate persons were banned from using non-Cloud storage in the wake of the Save Hollywood campaign and the Freedom from Defamation act.

There were a few short-lived alarms - the German Chancellor complained in 2017 when it was revealed that all internal data from European corporations was being made available to US corporations to give them an unfair advantage when tendering for defence contracts, but the story was quickly forgotten. A consumer rights group claimed later that year that backups were not 100% reliable, with strange deletions and alteration of data, but no-one took such crackpot claims seriously. In retrospect, though, such incidents seem to have been the impetus for the hardening of the Brazil-Africa-India-China pipeline that seems to have happened ahead of the Miami Incident in 2019 - an apparent terrorist attack on the Miama data center severing the link from the BRIC network into GSC, followed by gallant reconstruction efforts where a replacement, higher bandwidth connection was installed free of charge. Inexplicably, this too became severed at several points and there were reports of armed clashes between Venezualan and Columbian forces at repair points.

No-one really seems to know what happened next, but a year later there was a joint declaration by Russia, China, Brazil, Venezuela and India that they would leave the safe confines of Global Safety and administer their own Internet2, with their own root DNS and no connection to the "West World" Internet, as it became known. And so, for most of us, the world continued on. Countries whose languages we didn't speak no longer appeared in Google searches, which many saw as a plus. W3C changed the "World Wide" to "West World", explaining the decision as sound fiscal sense and a re-commitment towards essential priorities.

But I guess I should press on and explain the Webkit part of the corporate name. Again, some of you may not remember this, but at one time there were many different browser engines. One by one, these disappeared. Opera Presto was one of the first, abandoned as a cost saving measure in favour of Blink. Here in Europe we noticed that, although in the US where the Opera 5% market share was replaced by Apple, it barely merited a mention. This was not the case for Trident, the engine in Office IE. Microsoft, you may remember, was a major industry player back when people used large "personal computers". Their sudden realization in 2014 that their market share was actually 14% rather than the 90% they had assumed led to a rapid realignment around their most popular product, Office 365. As many corporations have done before them, they renamed themselves after their core product. Office Bing was sold to Fox Corporation, who wanted to safeguard fair and balanced search indexing after their brief armed struggle with Google led to a cooling off between the two corporations and claims of unfairly low search placement. By 2016, reeling from a series of corporate downsizings and top-level management shuffles, Office announced that the Trident engine would be discontinued and that Office IE would henceforth use their own fork of Blink, a Webkit-derived engine. This was presented as a cost-saving and quality-assurance benefit, and also allowed Office IE to be installed on iOS devices.

Many Web developers greeted the news with relief, as a reduced testing burden. At W3C, there was little opposition to an emergency Process change which redefined Candidate Recommendation to include "testing on two or more Webkit implementations" and the name change from Web to Webkit followed soon afterwards.

An unconfirmed rumour holds that the original Trident source code, made available to educational institutions as a result of a 2008 EU anti-competitive court ruling, is still in use today. The more recent IE12 and OIE13 source code was never released, but apparently in Brazil and Korea, IE6 lives on. Naturally I have no way to tell what browsers are actually used over there in Eastworld.

By 2018, armed conflict between corporate persons was becoming more widespread and in an inspired funding proposal, W3C sought and gained approval for a peacekeeping role among warring corporations. We had always, it was pointed out, been associated with blue helmets or blue beanies. We had a proven track record of getting antagonistic corporations around a negotiating table. Soon, with US and European funding, the blue W3C flag was flying over the Palo Alto W3C headquarters to mark out a safe, ceasefire zone for technical innovation. It was also at that time that W3C became a corporation, primarily to assure corporate rights and to extend them to W3C employees and collaborators as corporate dependents. Of the various options, we chose to incorporate under the quasi-national entity of Google.

Having weathered these storms, and with West World Webkit finally being an interoperable, geographically defined commodity - people stopped caring. Mission achieved. The new battleground was a layer above, and W3C Members steadily dropped off their membership in favour of the JavaScriot Framework (JSF) corporation. Ironically the move to a non-Membership corporation gave us greater freedom and neutrality to do sound technical work, and the peacekeeper funding kept us afloat for several years.

Now that is gone.

Disclaimer

This is a work of fiction, produced for the W3C 2024 futures exercise. it identifies certain key risks for W3C as an organization, and how the global Web in which it operates might change and affect the W3C mission.

I was intending to work in a publishing or entertainment industry backlash against private publication (and open publication). This would also tie in to the concept of "corporate persons" and (via Animal Farm and "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others") to the gradual disenfranchisement of non-corporate persons. Traces of this remain, but I didn't have time to really work through the concept.

Despite all the changes described above, notice that eventually I predicted that W3C falls because the funding dries up.

Resources

As a futuristic work of fiction, I can't really cite sources. But I can cite information from which a future could be extrapolated.