The Internet's Original Sin


In 1996, we noticed that the majority of our users were coming from four countries: the United States, Canada, the U.K., and Malaysia. Since none of our content was in Bahasa Malay and since we’d never done any outreach to Malaysian users, this was a surprise. I started printing out heavily trafficked webpages posted by Malaysian users and brought a sheaf of them to a professor at nearby Williams College, who read them over and informed me that we had become a major vehicle for expression for Malaysia’s opposition political group, Anwar Ibrahim's Reformasi movement.

The adoption of Tripod by Malaysian activists was not directly due to our use of an ad-supported model, but it was an unintended, positive consequence. We couldn’t find a way to make money from advertising to Malaysian users, and we had internal discussions about whether we should “cut our losses” and provide services only to users in countries where we could sell advertising, conversations that Facebook and other ad-supported companies are now wrestling with as they expand in the developing world. I’m glad that we made the right decision (morally, if not fiscally) and that Facebook, thus far, has done so as well.