The Internet’s 30th anniversary

On March 12, 1989 Sir Tim Berners-Lee, proposed an idea for a hypertext and TCP protocol based information management system to his boss at CERN in Switzerland.

Sir Tim: Now what, Internet?

I’ve always believed the web is for everyone. That’s why I and others fight fiercely to protect it.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee

On March 12, 1989 Sir Tim Berners-Lee, proposed a hypertext and TCP protocol based information management system to his boss at CERN in Switzerland.

His proposal for an information management system would lay the foundation for the birth of the Internet, the World Wide Web and online services.

30 years later the Net seems to be all that matters for a large portion of the world’s population.

At least for half of it.

The inventor of the World Wide Web has published an open letter to mark the 30th anniversary of his proposal.

Berners-Lee’s proposal was dubbed “vague but exciting” by his boss at the time.

The proposal outlines an information management system that Berner’s Lee and others later referred to as an Information Super Highway.

The proposal describes the use of hypertext combined with Internet TCP protocols and domain names.

Berners-Lee also designed the world’s first web browser and put together the first web server.

A few years later the first website was running on a NeXT computer at CERN, where Berners-Lee worked.

The rest is (internet) history.

A dysfunctional Net

Thirty years later the free, open and democratic online information system that Berners-Lee envisioned, has got very little to do with the Net and the Web we use today.

Berners-Lee notes that the web has become “a public square, a library, a doctor’s office, a shop, a school, a design studio, an office, a cinema, a bank, and so much more” – but not for all...

Tim Berners-Lee have persisted in insisting on what was (and still is) his beautiful dream:

A democratic information highway for all the people on earth.

The Net is NOT an academic, egalitarian paradise – far from it!

In fact, some might say that the Net today has degenerated into a platform for crime, fake-news, mis-information, mindless gossip and hateful outbursts.

Others might say that the Net is basically a digital platform for generating profit through online shopping, crypto-currencies and stock trades.

Some do say that fake news, hateful speech and the political correctness of the Social Media discussions have degenerated free speech to a point where there’s no longer consensus about anything.

But that’s just half the truth.

There is a Net that can be described as an academic, egalitarian paradise – for some.

There is a Net for generating profits – for some.

Online shopping is probably the Net’s biggest succes.

And there’s a Net for everything in between the two – for some…

One Small Step for the Web…

In 2009, Berners Lee said, “The web as I envisaged it we have not seen yet,” referring to how the Net at that time was primarily used for one-way document handling.

By then the Net had not materialized as a world-wide webcomputer for equal and democratic access and handling of read-write data – as intended by Berners-Lee and others back in the 1980s.

Tim Berners-Lee has been warning about how a few dominant platforms is destroying the Net.

They destruct the nety by acting as gate-keepers effectively controlling and setting the boundaries for which ideas and opinions are seen and shared.

In 2018 he started Inrupt, a new initiative for de-centralizing the web through new decentralization technologies.

Inrupt is an attempt to break the grip of the dominant digital platforms and to decentralize the web and restore power to the people.

He has also started Solid.

Solid is an online service offering Apps for people to use to separate their data from the applications that use it.

Power to the People!

In his anniversary letter urges people not to give up on the web:

If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web,” he writes.

Sir Tim’s open letter focuses the problem of web misuse into three areas:

  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,” Berners-Lee continues.

The second category requires us to redesign systems in a way that change incentives.

The third category calls for research to understand existing systems and model possible new ones or tweak those we already have.

He also warns against reacting to online problems with ‘simplistic narratives.’

You can’t just blame one government, one social network or the human spirit.

Simplistic narratives risk exhausting our energy as we chase the symptoms of these problems instead of focusing on their root causes.

To get this right, we will need to come together as a global web community,” Sir Tim suggests.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee: 30 years on, what’s next #ForTheWeb?

A set of core priciples

Last year Berners-Lee’s Web Foundation  launched a set of core principles for a ‘Contract for the Web‘.

The Contract is designed to make governments, the private sector and citizens work together on tackling problems of online abuse and misuse.

And to collaborate on contributions that drive “equality, opportunity and creativity,“‘ and “to ensure the web serves humanity.”

The Contract for the Web must not be a list of quick fixes but a process that signals a shift in how we understand our relationship with our online community, Berners-Lee suggests.

It must be clear enough to act as a guiding star for the way forward but flexible enough to adapt to the rapid pace of change in technology.

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

“The web is for everyone and collectively we hold the power to change it. It won’t be easy.

But if we dream a little and work a lot, we can get the web we want.”
Sir Tim Berners-Lee: 30 years on, what’s next #ForTheWeb?

Keep that beautiful dream alive

I have always believed the web is for everyone,” Tim Berners-Lee wrote in his blog post One Small Step for the Web… in late 2018.

The web has evolved into an engine of inequity and division; swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas,” he added.

Today, I believe we’ve reached a critical tipping point, and that powerful change for the better is possible — and necessary.

Keep that beautiful dream alive and kicking, Tim!

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