The World Wide Web Is 30, but It Still Has a Lot of Growing Up to Do

By Dagny Taggart

Today is the World Wide Web’s 30th birthday, and its father has some serious concerns about his brainchild.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, – “the Father of the World Wide Web” – published an open letter on the World Wide Web Foundation website (an organization he also founded), in which he reflected on how far the web has come, and how far it has yet to go.

In the letter, Berners-Lee called the “fight” for the web “one of the most important causes of our time.”

“And while the web has created opportunity, given marginalised groups a voice, and made our daily lives easier, it has also created opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred, and made all kinds of crime easier to commit,” he wrote.

There are several problems that are infecting the web.

Berners-Lee outlined three “sources of dysfunction” that are impacting the web:

  1. Deliberate, malicious intent, such as state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behaviour, and online harassment.
  2. System design that creates perverse incentives where user value is sacrificed, such as ad-based revenue models that commercially reward clickbait and the viral spread of misinformation.
  3. Unintended negative consequences of benevolent design, such as the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse.

While the first category is impossible to eradicate completely, we can create both laws and code to minimize this behaviour, just as we have always done offline. The second category requires us to redesign systems in a way that change incentives. And the final category calls for research to understand existing systems and model possible new ones or tweak those we already have. (source)

“Now too, as the web reshapes our world, we have a responsibility to make sure it is recognised as a human right and built for the public good,” Berners-Lee wrote.

Two big projects seek to improve the Web in various ways.

Last year, Berners-Lee launched two major efforts to improve the web. The first is the Contract for the Web, which he says will make the web more trustworthy and less susceptible to some of today’s problems. That project involves participation from governments, companies, and citizens. The other is a platform called Solid, which gives users control over their data.

Under the contract’s sweeping, broad ambition, governments are supposed to make sure everyone can connect to the internet, to keep it available and to respect privacy. Companies are to make the internet affordable, respect privacy and develop technology that will put people — and the “public good” — first. Citizens are to create and to cooperate and respect “civil discourse,” among other things. (source)

At a Web@30 conference at CERN today, Berners-Lee said it was important to find a balance between oversight and freedom, but acknowledged it will be difficult to determine how to do that.

“Where is the balance between leaving the tech companies to do the right thing and regulating them? Where is the balance between freedom of speech and hate speech?” he said.

Exploitation of our private data is also a huge problem and needs to be addressed.

Data protection is a big concern for Berners-Lee. “You should have complete control of your data. It’s not oil. It’s not a commodity,” he explained.

When it comes to personal data, “you should not be able to sell it for money,” he said, “because it’s a right”.

Berners-Lee, who last year launched a development platform called “Solid” aimed at giving users control of their data, described a frightening future if we do not rise to the challenge of privacy protection.

“There is a possible future you can imagine (in which) your browser keeps track of everything that you buy,” he said.

In this scenario, “your browser actually has more information then Amazon does”, he said, warning against complacency in expecting no harm will come from this loss of control over one’s own data.

“We shouldn’t assume that the world is going to stay like it is,” he said.

People needed to do more to protect themselves and their data and not to simply expect that governments will look out for their best interests, he argued. (source)

In his letter, Berners-Lee explained that improving the web won’t be quick or easy, but is worth the effort:

Against the backdrop of news stories about how the web is misused, it’s understandable that many people feel afraid and unsure if the web is really a force for good. But given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better in the next 30. If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web. (source)

“It’s our journey from digital adolescence to a more mature, responsible and inclusive future,” he wrote.

What do you think about the state of the World Wide Web?

Do you think the web has more pros than cons? Do you think the situation will get better or worse over time? And, what do you think about the plans Berners-Lee has to improve the web?

About the Author

Dagny Taggart is the pseudonym of an experienced journalist who needs to maintain anonymity to keep her job in the public eye. Dagny is non-partisan and aims to expose the half-truths, misrepresentations, and blatant lies of the MSM.

Dagny Taggart

About the Author

Dagny Taggart

Dagny Taggart is the pseudonym of an experienced journalist who needs to maintain anonymity to keep her job in the public eye. Dagny is non-partisan and aims to expose the half-truths, misrepresentations, and blatant lies of the MSM.

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