Openness. It's a word that denotes opportunity and possibility...Everywhere the world is opening up, and that's a good thing. Why is this happening? The technology revolution is opening the world. Yesterday's Internet was a platform for the presentation of content. The Internet of today is a platform for computation. The Internet is becoming a giant global computer...that we all share.
In stating that the Internet should be kept as open (rather than letting it become closed) begs the obvious question, what do we actually mean by open, and why it this an apt term for defining characteristics of the Internet? A good proportion of this project will seek to explain how a notion of openness applies to the Internet at a layer-by-layer basis. This section briefly investigates the notion of open, including a glance at the term's etymological roots and some examples of other uses of the term outside of the world of computer networks.
Etymonline.com traces the earliest use of open as an adjective to around 1200 AD in describing physical spaces as unobstructed or unencumbered, the use of it to mean frank or candid to around the 15th Century, and available for business to 1824. It was used in Old English to mean not closed down, but also exposed, well-known or public, and to denote notorious or shameless in a negative context. Open up meaning ceasing to be secretive is sourced to 1921. Many of the Indo-European languages have their equivalents of open being used as an antonym for closed or shut.
Open is widely used as an evocative metaphor. Whitman (1856) wrote of the open road:
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road, Healthy, free, the world before me, The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
The expression here is used in a romantic sense, to indicate 'travelling as an expression of personal freedom'. Whitman was writing ten years after the first message sent over the first American commercial telegraph line, the global electric communications system which laid the groundwork for the Internet to follow over a hundred years later (via telephony), an earlier international effort to shrink time and space and begin opening the world up. It is also widely used with reference to different parts of the body - open heart, open hands - and to the pysche - open minded.
In 'The Open Society and Its Enemies', Popper (1945: p. 165) defined an open society as one where 'individuals are confronted with personal decisions', which he contrasted with magical, tribalist or collectivist societies that he defined as closed societies. This 'open society' was typified by institutions that pursued pragmatic rather than dogmatic solutions to social and political problems, institutions supposedly characteristic of a modern liberal democracy (Howarth, 2002). This is not to say that Popper identified his notion of the open society with either social democracy or with laissez faire capitalism, but more with individuals within a society deploying a critical frame of mind rather than relying on 'groupthink' (Jarvie and Pralong, 1999).
We are open, first, as to people... Wherever there is an unprovided need for higher education, supplementing the existing provision, there is our constituency. There are no limits on persons.
So spoke Lord Crowther at the inaugural lecture of Britain's Open University, in 1969. This educational institution, the world's first successful distance teaching university, was founded with the then radical admissions policy of accepting students without any prior educational qualifications, and on the belief that communications technologies could enable high standards of learning for those had not been able to attend a traditional university. Graduating from the use of television and radio to facilitate learning, the OU later quickly grasped the potential of offering courses over the Internet, even giving many materials away for free online as part of the OpenLearn venture.
So, by open, we can mean several things. Open is unobstructed, available for business, not closed. Open is public, well-known, not secretive. Open is a personal freedom, an individual choice, of body and mind. Open is pragmatic, critical, unlimited. These are all terms and expressions also widely used in rhetoric about the Internet.