And here we go. If all else fails--and I suspect it will--this will happen, eventually. And it will simply be the death of what most of us know as the World Wide Web. But of course this is silly, alarmist thinking, right? How can you ever regulate the wild-wild-west Internet?
Well, they've already started doing it in Korea. Everybody gets a 13-digit PIN and you've got to enter it any time you want to leave a comment somewhere. They enforce it site by site, via a government agency (the Korean version of the FCC). They've started from the top down, forcing every site with more than 200,000 visitors to require the PIN, and they're going to expand it to every site with 100,000 or more.
There's a similar movement in Brazil and years ago they tried to do it in France. And don't forget that American lawmakers are pushing for the same.
And no, there is nothing about the Internet that would keep them from making such tracking universal. All they need is a redesign of the protocols, which is why the US military is doing exactly that. Once they've got their secure, transparent network in place, it's just a matter of forcing its adoption.
If Web 2.0 was about social networking, Web 3.0 will be about the death of anonymity. You say nobody wants that, but there are three very important and powerful somebodies who do:
1. Copyright holders who want to be able to track pirates;
2. Law enforcement agencies who want to track child predators (don't forget the Oprah moms demanding the same) and to hunt down hackers;
3. Online advertisers who want to make billions off that 92% of housewives and adults who don't use social networking for fear of being called a Shitwhale in public.
Yes, it turns out there's a reason the Wild West didn't stay wild. The gunslingers loved it, but the other 99% of the world wanted laws and security and highways. And they were the ones with the money.
To get legislative momentum for this, all it'll take is some highly publicized deaths. You know, like that girl that committed suicide a year ago after a MySpace prank. Or Choi Jin-sil, the 40 year old entertainer from Korea who killed herself after relentless online harassment. Or Kathy Sierra, a popular blogger who canceled public appearances after getting death threats in her comments (and we're talking about the kind that come with people posting her home address). And don't forget this horrifying article in the New York Times chronicling the kids who very smoothly transitioned from online trolling to doing real-world harm without blinking an eye.
Next we'll get experts explaining that it's not just that anonymity makes offenders harder to catch, but in fact actually causes the bad behavior. Like this article does ("They are not the first to be grotesquely transformed by a new technology that offers easy availability and anonymity to its users").
Or this research paper that says due to that interpersonal disconnect, some people are unable to recognize anything that happens on a computer screen as having real-life consequences.
Now we've elevated anonymity itself to a public safety threat. We'd better do something about it! With laws!
And, behind every politician trying to kill anonymity "to protect our children," there will be an ocean of Time-Warner stockholders applauding the effort, dreaming of a future where every P2P downloader gets a knock on the door from the cops minutes later.
Sure, there'll still be untamed corners of the web in the future, just as there are still some cowboys around. But in that future, 10 or 20 years from now, us holdouts will all just be sad, deluded men in ridiculous hats.
To find out how the trolls got that way, check out Dave's look at 7 Reasons the 21st Century is Making You Miserable. And to find out how the 21st Century got that way, you should probably let Dave answer the most important question you never asked: What is the Monkeysphere?. Or, find out how you can write for Cracked here.