How the Internet has revolutionized publishing, and why the Internet will not change fiction publishing one iota

This is actually very fundamental with respect to online literacy, so in case you’re distracted, please either turn off whatever is distracting you or just come back later when you’re not distracted. Reading this while you’re distracted will do neither of us any good — if you’re never not distracted, then never mind, forget about it and go on doing whatever is distracting you some more. ;)

Now, for the rest of you: For many centuries — perhaps even millenia — publishing has been about authors. The Internet changed that. Why? Because now it’s about topics.

Let me give you an example: facebook.com is not about Mark Zuckerburg. It is the online version of what used to be the telephone directory… or at least one of them. Just as there used to be many phone directories, I expect there will at some time be several online versions (for example: personally, I think the .TEL top level domain is a far better system than facebook — it is very user-friendly, easy to understand and at the same time much more advanced technologically). The main point is: Websites are not about people, websites are about topics.

Of course there are websites where the topic of the website happens to be a person — for example: marianne.com or nmw.tel, or the many millions of websites that exist first and foremost on the bottoms of business cards. Among such websites, fiction will continue to thrive as it has always thrived: readers follow fiction by author — as they used to visit the library shelves devoted to the author of paper books, so today they will visit the domain of the author who publishes his or her work online. What readers of fiction hunger for is in the author’s mind: stories, ways of telling a good story, expertise in the use of language, and so on.

On the other hand, when they hunger for information about a topic, users will key in that topic and probably arrive at a website about that topic — in this case by-passing the author. Think about this for a moment. Just imagine several authors — whether Johannes Kepler or Gallileo Galilei, Sir Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein, a Pope or a Protestant — had all written books about the same topic… for instance: physics. Each of these people could have published such a book and called the book “Physics”. These days, they could even publish several books about the same topic, and give them all the same title, simply adding “revised edition” or something like that.

Yet online, there is only one physics.com (apparently owned by Ray Kopsa or perhaps someone at CoVariant Systems), there is only one physics.net (but it is available / for sale, apparently from a colleague of mine at fabulous.com), only one physics.org (which is apparently the address of the “Institute of Physics”), and so on. As there are several hundred top-level domains, there are several hundred opportunities to write about “physics” on the open market of the world-wide web.

Beyond that, ICANN has come up with a very stupid idea — namely to auction off all the other top-level domain strings anyone cares to bid on to the highest bidder. If, for example, Google or the Pope were to be the highest bidder for the string “physics”, then they would become the dictators of what anyone may publish at that address (and they would thereby also be able to dictate the price for how much that would cost). Since this essentially closes off the rest of the world-wide web to private development, I think it is useful to refer to all such domains as the closed web.

Note that there is no longer really much of an opportunity to publish information on any particular topic unless it is under the constraints of either the competitive (and hence presumably “fair”) open web or according to the stipulations (which may be rather idiosyncratic and/or dogmatic) of the closed web.

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