Do We Need to Impose More Regulation upon the World Wide Web?-A Metasystem Analysis

Article excerpt

Defining the Web as an Organization

Let us first make a list of the agents and components constituting the web.

* Equipment, such as satellites, computers, servers, switches, and other ancillary hardware and software used to create the web.

* Web Sites, of which to date there are millions.

* Information, in the form of data, messages, e-mail, records, files, reports that either circulate through the web or are stored in the storage devices of web members.

* Individuals, who, at any one time or another, are logged-in and interact in cyberspace. All individuals are "created equal," in the sense that nothing distinguishes "good guys" from "bad guys," hackers from non-hackers. Individuals represents anyone who has any connection to the web, either as a customer, an Internet Service Provider (ISP) operator, a member of a firm, or just a single participant without any formal affiliation.

* Providers, such as the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who have gone through the legal formality to obtain a corporate identity. America-On-Line (AOL) is an example of a company that charges a fee for connecting individuals to the web and provides others with access to web resources.

* Companies that carry out activities on it and whose employees use the Internet to transact their company's business. Each company has a network of servers that are connected to the web through many portals.

The web is said to be a "virtual organization" as distinguished from the so-called "traditional organization." This leads to the question that needs to be answered at the outset. Has the advent of cyberspace changed what is meant by the concept of organization?

The Traditional Organization

Until recently, organizations could be defined as congregations of individuals committed to the achievement of a common mission or goal. A traditional organization was defined in terms of a hierarchy of jobs and its incumbents who reported to each other. The top of the hierarchy was occupied by the individual with the most responsibility. Lower levels reported to higher levels and so on. Other conceptualizations of the organization exist. However, they mostly revolve around the way that its members are physically related to accomplish a definite goal.

Physical Space and Cyberspace.

The concept of Cyberspace is still evolving, but several configurations can already be perceived. Cyberspace can be viewed as:

a) a community of individuals (connected through a network of electronic connections),

b) a network of computers and other machines that communicate with each other, and

c) a virtual organization, a connotation discussed below.

The differentiation between physical space and cyberspace is subtle. Physical space refers to that aspect of reality visible to the naked eye. Cyberspace refers to an ethereal reality in which information in the form of communicated messages are transmitted and coexist. Cyberspace is "real"--it is not imaginary--but it does not exhibit physical reality. One cannot touch cyberspace, although the servers, switches and messages that make cyberspace possible do themselves exhibit a physical reality.

The Meaning of Virtual

One definition of "virtual" given by the Oxford dictionary (1976) is "for practical purposes." Labeling cyberspace as a virtual organization means that for practical purposes we can view it as an organization, but in actual fact, it is not. "Virtual" can also be used in the sense of "fictitious" i.e. the "virtual organization" does not exist in "the real sense," but exists "in lieu of the real thing." "Virtual" has also been used to denote an object or event that has the properties that are similar to the object or event it purports to replace. To state that cyberspace is a virtual organization denotes that the entity in question differs from the traditional embodiment of the organization. …