~ A few times now I’ve referred to Gilmore’s Law and wanted to share a bit more about its author. John Gilmore is one of the true mavericks of the internet, and he is a self described entrepreneur and civil libertarian. His ideas are further out on the edge than most, but I think our society needs people who question and push the boundaries.
On his website under the heading “Things I’ve Said (That People Sometimes Remember)” he discusses what has come to be termed Gilmore’s Law:
“The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”
— John Gilmore, 1993
It has been popularised as a law by Mark Pesce who has discussed it in a number of places, for example in Understanding Gilmore’s Law.
And as Gilmore says:
This was quoted in Time Magazine’s December 6, 1993 article “First Nation in Cyberspace”, by Philip Elmer-DeWitt. It’s been reprinted hundreds or thousands of times since then, including the NY Times on January 15, 1996, Scientific American of October 2000, and CACM 39(7):13.
In its original form, it meant that the Usenet software (which moves messages around in discussion newsgroups) was resistant to censorship because, if a node drops certain messages because it doesn’t like their subject, the messages find their way past that node anyway by some other route. This is also a reference to the packet-routing protocols that the Internet uses to direct packets around any broken wires or fiber connections or routers. (They don’t redirect around selective censorship, but they do recover if an entire node is shut down to censor it.)
The meaning of the phrase has grown through the years. Internet users have proven it time after time, by personally and publicly replicating information that is threatened with destruction or censorship. If you now consider the Net to be not only the wires and machines, but the people and their social structures who use the machines, it is more true than ever. “
Some of the other things Gilmore has started include:
- Electronic Frontier Foundation (with Mitch Kapor, John Perry Barlow, and Steve Wozniak)
- Cypherpunks (with Eric Hughes and Tim May)
- the “alt” newsgroups on the Usenet (with Brian Reid and Gordon Moffett)
- Cygnus Solutions (with Mike Tiemann and David Henkel-Wallace)
- The Little Garden (with John Romkey, David Henkel-Wallace, and Steve Crocker)
- GNU Radio (with Eric Blossom)
- Gnash, the GNU Flash player (with Rob Savoye)
No matter what one might think of Gilmore’s politics and activism it is worth remembering his leadership in some fundamentals that we take for granted with the internet. His ongoing battles over personal freedom are fascinating to read about on his website.