Dan Gillmor: How did technologists, government officials and a host of other early players turn something with no obvious business model into a system that has become so intrinsic to the new century?
Decentralization was the key, linking together existing network protocols, deciding on routed packets rather than circuits. There are plently of standards that use this model but not all of them succeed (where success = adoption on a massive scale). HTML is one that did, XML is another; WAP is not, nor were the closed computer networks CIX, Compuserve or (early) AOL. The framework is laid down by a central authority but the users and implementors are given enough leeway to express themselves via the medium.