September 19, 2009

The World Wide Web Isn't World Wide Neutral

Leaving aside socioeconomic issues that prevent many parts of the world from having access to computers, mobile phones, or broadband, the panacea of an always-connected populace to access with all content, regardless of location, computer or Web browser, is still very far away. Thanks to overzealous individual governments or convoluted legalities that often involve copyright, the Web you see is likely far different from that enjoyed by the country bordering yours. Even in my short visit to the UK this week, I was annoyed to find that some of my data was blocked thanks to my newfound geography.

The phrase "geotardation" is one I often see from my cranky Canadian friend Steven Hodson, or his colleague, Duncan Riley, as the pair fight through blockades from the north or from Australia. But I haven't had to experience it, thanks to being in the domestic United Stats for the vast majority of my life - and started think about it more this week as I hit site after site that behaved differently if I was surfing via an IP address that resolved to "" instead of a simple US IP address.

But YouTube Would Still Work, Right?

Blasting through items in my Google Reader queue on Wednesday, I ran into a shared item that contained an embedded Hulu video. As you know, Hulu is, so far, limited to viewing in the United States. If I were physically located at home, seeing the clip would have been no problem, but in London, it was as good as dead.

Does this mean I add U's, and change Z's to S's?

Then, I turned to Facebook. After finding Facebook kindly asked me to help translate their site into "English (UK)", I checked my available Scrabble games, only to find that Scrabble was for North America only and that using it from the UK was "invalid". All my games had to wait until I got back last night.

Really, Scrabble? No UK players?

During the Thursday presentation, while discussing Twitter and other social networks, I mentioned Foursquare, the hip location-based game that is gaining momentum. But I was quickly reminded that Foursquare was not available in the UK.

In the reverse, we have the issue of Spotify, and the intriguing music service's new iPhone application, which has been approved by Apple, but isn't available in the United States. Hopefully, I plugged in my iPhone, fired up the UK version of the iTunes store, and tried to download it while I was there. Total fail. Apple told me my account was only active for the US version of the store, so my quest had been stopped cold.

Also while in the UK, I logged into my Gmail and saw yes, "Google Mail" where GMail was expected to be. It still worked the same, but again... different.

Meanwhile, we know about Google and other portal's challenges with more-controlling countries (read: China), where data comes and goes based on the governments' requests, or individual's identities, once thought anonymous, are unveiled. The concept of a decentralized, open, anonymous, equal Web where anybody can get to any site and share the same experience is far from a reality today. While my trivial annoyances of not being able to play Scrabble or view a Hulu clip haven't scarred me for life, I wonder just how different it is to try and use the Web on places much more far-flung than our former colonial overlords. Should their be a UN for the Web that works to get all things equal, or should every service kowtow to the rules of those far and near?