Beyond Wild Wests and walled gardens: introducing the Good Web Network


Last week we celebrated the launch of the Good Web Network at the Demos office: we asked, what is the Good Web, and what role does the UK have in helping to build it?

We brought together civil society, industry, government and regulator perspectives, with the panel joined by Alex Krasodomski-Jones, Demos Fellow, Lauren Kahn, Director of Responsible Tech and Human Rights at BT, and Collin Kurre, Technology Policy Principal at OFCOM. As well, of course, as a wonderful audience of folks working on or interested in the future of the internet!

The discussion brought out two visions and ways of building the Good Web. The first is that there is already a clear path to a vision of the Good Web – that in order to guarantee that online spaces support digital rights and democracy, we need digital public infrastructure, and to invest in building and supporting the myriad of communities who develop and maintain healthy online spaces, rather than relying on the whims of private corporations to provide our public spaces online. We needdigital technologies that are designed with human rights at their heart, which can better promote online environments that are safer, more inclusive, and more accessible. We need digitally literate citizens, who are empowered to use technologies and exercise their digital rights.

The second is that the Good Web is one that is built through a particular process: an open, participatory, dynamic and multistakeholder process: where there is space for debate and dissent as to what the outcomes should look like, room for testing, building an evidence base, and iterating on what good looks like, and that engages with and elevate people’s expectations of responsible technology.

The easy answer is to say: we need both of these things! And that’s of course true – they are interdependent – but where it gets trickier is where these might conflict, or come into tension with each other.

If we can get a multilateral agreement on a vision, but it requires sacrificing some desirable outcomes – have we got to the Good Web? If users are endorsing the web we currently have by choosing to continue to use it, and getting value from it – have we got to the Good Web?

My view is that we need clear principles and standards. Digital rights are one case: a web that doesn’t protect people’s rights isn’t a Good one, even if is really really useful in many other ways. But also that those principles should *include* collaboration, democratic engagement, citizen empowerment: for their own sake, and because you aren’t going to get good outcomes without them (e.g. to work out what ‘protecting rights’ looks like in practice).

If you try to build a Web that realises good principles without fundamentally changing who holds power over the actual development, deployment, maintenance, regulation of tech – we’re going to end up right where we are

These are just the sorts of questions the Network will be tackling over the next year – we’d love you to join us! We’ll also be looking at different ways we can convene conversations and support the Network to develop into an ongoing community that can start building out a roadmap to a Good Web. But part of the excitement of the Network is: we don’t totally know what’s next! That’s by design: we want to be working collaboratively on where we can add value in bringing different groups of people together and facilitating discussions – and we’d love to hear your thoughts

Save the date for our next event on the 1st December, and sign up to our Good Web mailing list here.