The Web, on the other hand, breaks the traditional publishing model. The old model is about control: a team works on a document, is responsible for its content and format, and releases it to the public when it’s been certified as done. Once it’s published, no one can change it except the original publisher. The Web ditches that model, with all its advantages as well as its drawbacks, and says instead, «You have something to say? Say it. You want to respond to something that’s been said? Say it and link to it. You think something is interesting? Link to it from your home page. And you never have to ask anyone’s permission.» Then it adds: «And how long will it take to do this? I dunno. How fast do you type?» By removing the central control points, the Web enabled a self-organizing, self-stimulated growth of contents and links on a scale the world has literally never before experienced.
The result is a loose federation of documents — many small pieces loosely joined. But in what has turned out to be simply the first cultural artifact and institution the Web has subtly subverted, the interior structure of documents has changed, not just the way they are connected to one another. The Web has blown documents apart. It treats tightly bound volumes like a collection of ideas — none longer than can fit on a single screen — that the reader can consult in the order she or he wants, regardless of the author’s intentions. It makes links beyond the document’s covers an integral part of every document. What once was literally a tightly-bound entity has been ripped into pieces and thrown into the air.
What the Web has done to documents it is doing to just about every institution it touches.