Fifteen years ago, in March of 1989, British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee introduced his paper, Information Management: A Proposal. In it, Berners-Lee laid out a plan for structure of a “global hypertext,” which would soon be known as the World Wide Web. Twenty five years later, the world has changed prompting for Berners-Lee to urge the web to change with it.
It is important to note that the World Wide Web is actually not the same thing as the internet. The internet came along when the U.S. military desired a way of communication that could replace telegraphs and telephones. The internet became a global connection of computer networks. But, it was not the easy to use network that many use today for satisfying online content cravings. That came to fruition due to Berners-Lee’s proposal.
While he originally referred to it as Mesh, a new system for managing data, it soon evolved into the World Wide Web. Brad Templeton, professor at Singularity University, compares this data before the web to the dewey decimal system: “‘Let’s look up information on a science [you’d say], and in science there’ll be Anthropology, and so you’ll go down and find things.”
Things changed after Berners-Lee argued that this information should be free of structure. “[Now], it’s just a big sea of documents,” said Templeton. The documents became web sites, which Berners-Lee created in 1994 when the first web browser, Netscape, was introduced and was open to the public.
Now, in the age of mass surveillance, net neutrality arguments, and copyright infringements, the Information Management author is urging that the World Wide Web, which has seen 25 years of change, needs to further evolve. “Web users are realizing they need human rights on the web […] we need independence of the web in order to support press,” Berners-Lee told CNN. “It’s becoming very important to sort out all that.”
Berners-Lee names threats to the World Wide Web, including spying on users and censorship on the web. He reflects on when the internet was cut off in Egypt, at the height of governmental and social unrest in 2011. “[That] was the first time [people] realized you could turn it off, and they asked themselves, who could turn it off for me?” said Berners-Lee.
The 58-year-old is proposing a new initiative called the Web We Want, which introduces a new World Wide Web in which users have a sort of Bill of Rights. The initiative focuses on expanding the reach of the internet to the nearly two-thirds of people in the world who do not have it. Another point: protection of user personal information, along with clear regulations.
“People are worrying about what other people are doing with their data,” said Berners-Lee, without realizing the potential they have with their own data. He sees a World Wide Web in the future that enables users to take better advantage of a personalized online experience.
While the World Wide Web has seen an enormous amount of change in the past 25 years, Berners-Lee sees a further evolution over the next 25. He compares it to a young adult. “Suddenly it needs its independence,” he adds. “[The web is] reaching the age when things suddenly get more serious,” he said, noting that he counts himself an optimist with the influence to work with others to get it done.
By Nathan Rohenkohl