It's not that long ago that to learn about something meant getting in the car or hopping on a bus to go spend the better part of your day in a library. If you were lucky, your family might have “invested” a thousand or more dollars in an encyclopaedia. If you wanted to research a product purchase it meant collecting brochures, buying magazines and getting on the phone to ask people about it. The Internet changed all that.
But on the publishing side, things haven't changed so much - the voice that shouts the loudest is still the one that gets heard.
Television, newspapers and radio are traditionally the megaphones powerful people and corporations use to control what we hear. Recently web sites, blogs, forums, social networks have made it possible for many more people to be heard - but increasingly, the old-media dynamics are taking over. Your message now won't be heard unless you pay for advertising or “search engine optimisation” or unless a powerful blogger picks it up.
If you have a message, whether it's a social cause, an opinion, a new service, a job offer, an observation - there are people who want to hear it. In a “free” medium there should be no corporation-controlled "toll booth" that your listener, or you, need to go through just so you can communicate.
That's what we mean by equality of access. The Internet should be for everyone – not just for those with the money or skills to “work” it.
There's no simple answer to this problem. Commerce is important – today's Internet wouldn't be where it is without it. Some barriers, even toll booths, are appropriate - e-mail spam is an example of what you get if there are no barriers whatsoever. But we need to look at each and ask “Is this an artificial barrier?” and “Is this fair
Where we can, we need to support initiatives that make it easier for you and me to be heard. The wik.me
initiative, for example, seeks to democratise the creation and discovery of knowledge. It does this by extending the community-focussed principles of sites like Wikipedia to the broader areas of Public Data Management and Search.