First, there was the Readable Web. It started as a one-to-many conversation accessible to anyone who had internet connection. Masses of internet users were allowed to read what the elite ones put on-line.
But for many people, the permission to read wasn't enough. The result of that was the Writeable Web. This was a many-to-many conversation and the Web has started to fill with user-generated content. Everyone with internet connection was able to both read and write to the Web.
Increasingly, the Web was not only of documents but it was also a web of applications. Next up was the Executable Web. The web applications exposed standard interfaces — APIs. The new paradigms of software as a service and the Web as a platform have started to get attention. The Web was available for anyone with internet connection to read, write and execute.
Now that we've got all of these permissions to the Web we are able to do lots of powerful things, we can even do damage with them. However, it seems we still lack one permission — the permission to delete.
On the Web everything is recorded and stored (forever). To forget is human, to remember is Google. Every time we use the Web, we leave digital trails. Our foot-print gets stored. For instance, Google stores all queries entered into its search box, even though they get anonymized after 9 months. Another example, Facebook doesn't allow you to delete your account permanently, you have only the permission to de-activate it.
Digital information is not prone to disappear. And we have the methods of digital preservation, such as LOCKSS, to fight the processes of natural degradation of digital information, such as bit-rot (or link-rot), to make it even harder for it to get lost. And even though the bits vanish and links break, these are the natural phenomena of the Web, not something one can control and use on purpose.
The next step in endowing users with more permissions might be the Removable Web, where everyone is able to delete the content their own from the Web. Now, there are some people that enjoy the authority to delete the content from others from the Web. We call it filtering or censorship. There are even some people that can at least temporalily remove the whole Web, as you can see in the recent example, when the internet was switched off in Egypt.
We could benefit from the ability to remove our content. We could get rid of all the embarrassing photos and statuses we have ever posted. Forgetting is an essential human virtue that enables us learn from our mistakes, get a second chance, and re-establish your reputation. Forgetting also helps us to forgive, wrote Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, the author of the book Delete: the virtue of forgetting in the digital age.
With great power comes great responsibility, said Voltaire (and also Spider-Man). Therefore, we should be more conscious of what we write to the Web knowing that it will stay there. The following is often true on the Web: What was published cannot be unpublished. The Web doesn't forget.
We should have a right to delete our own content. Or, as Mayer-Schönberger suggests, we could add expiration dates for digital information. This shouldn't be that hard. We already have a verb for it. Just as we can HTTP GET something to read, HTTP POST to share something, we should be able to HTTP DELETE what we've published.