Written 1997-09-24. This paragraph added 1999-02-26. Not otherwise updated.

Communal Web Browsing

There's a lot of concern about the ``dangers'' of the Internet to people's ignorance. The concern is that people could use the Internet to learn things that they would have no other way to learn, access information they could not otherwise access and that their social context would not sanction them accessing.

The essential problem is that web-browsing is a solo activity, which is difficult for people to share. In this way, it is much like reading a book silently, but taken to an extreme.

Several companies have sprung up to deliver software ``solutions'' to this problem. These consist of filters that prevent the user from accessing parts of the Internet whose owners do not agree with the makers of the software on certain issues -- political, ethical, sexual. For more information on this approach, Peacefire is a good resource.

The trouble with this approach is twofold.

  1. It's not very effective. The censors can't keep up with their opponents, the people they'd like to muzzle.
  2. It's dangerous. You can't tell what sites the software you buy is going to block, and so you may find that you are able to access information about the NRA, but not information about the NOW. You're essentially at the mercy of the software makers.

I propose another solution.


Let each user be a member of a small group -- perhaps three to ten -- other people. Let them all use a single proxy server. Let them all see, in real time, what their groupmates are viewing. Give them some means to converse with one another about what they are doing -- auditory, textual, whatever.

Ideally, this would take place in a shared document space, like Pad++'s document space combined with wb, so that people could easily see what their other groupmates were doing. Otherwise, it is likely that one's groupmates would forget about one for long periods of time while they did their own reading.

This brings many of the advantages of the Gopher Slate to the Web -- although it brings some of the disadvantages of the classroom to the web as well. It has applications that go beyond social control of people's thoughts -- it could be an exciting and interesting way to explore the Web serendipitously. I often use ICB for something similar myself.