The fight for the web is one of the most important causes of our time.Tim Berners-Lee
One of mankind’s greatest developments just turned 30 and its inventor has some serious reservations about the wacky, wonderful, winsome world wide web.
Today we’re going to get an up-close-and-personal look at the warts of the web, straight from the guy responsible for creating it.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web.
Don’t confuse that with the Internet though — the web is a set of software services that runs on the Internet. The Internet itself is an interconnected network of computing devices.
And while the Internet is based on hardware liked computers, cables, and wireless networks and governed by the Internet Protocol, the world wide web is based on software composed of files, folders, and documents stored on various computers, governed by the Hyper Text Transfer Protocol, or HTTP.
In March of 1989, Sir Tim submitted a proposal for the web to his boss, who called it ‘Vague but exciting…’:
By late 1990, an application called WorldWideWeb – not to be confused with the ‘actual’ web – was deployed at The European Organization for Nuclear Research (known as CERN) in Switzerland. Thus, the web was born.
CERN actually hosts a rebuilt WordWideWeb on their own site, giving users a feel for what life was like before social media, troves of trolls, and gaggles of government-sponsored hackers. And that’s where Tim Berners-Lee’s recent blog post comes in.
You see, he’s very transparent about what he enjoys about the web, but he’s also been around long enough to see the failings and perversities of what the web has become in a relatively short time span. Like any good techie, he explicitly details and warns us of the three major problems we’re facing in this new era:
1. Deliberate, malicious intent, such as state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behaviour, and online harassment.Sir Tim Berners-Lee
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.
What’s sadly ironic is that if these three things were not implemented by the movers and shakers of the web, we would be without most of the web almost overnight. No more social media; no more Google search engine or ANY Google services from the cloud to Gmail to YouTube; no more news sites or blogs that include chum box ads (which are in soooo many popular blogs). So much of the web depends on shady practices and the proliferation of outrage mobs to be financially viable.
“If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us,” Berners-Lee writes in his open letter. “We will have failed the web.”
The backbone of what we consume online is based on something that is both invasive of our privacy and obscenely obsessed with capturing our attention with disgusting and weird ads or content. Like, if I see that disgusting “skin porn” ad with a bunch of God-knows-what on her knees or fingers or whatever the heck body part that is of hers while trying to read an article on GraphQL one more time, I’m going to vomit.
Straight up, just all over this keyboard: chunks, guys. Chunks.
But again, we can tell Tim Berners-Lee is a real programmer and a true developer: he offers a practical solution these issues in the very same blog post. He suggests we embrace a Contract for The Web, just as we have things like the Law of Sea and the Outer Space Treaty. In fact, work on this contract actually started in 2018, and the World Wide Web Foundation compiled three principles each for governments, companies and citizens to follow. For example, companies will:
World Wide Web Foundation, Contract for the Web
Make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone so that no one is excluded from using and shaping the web.
Respect consumers’ privacy and personal data so people are in control of their lives online.
Develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst so the web really is a public good that puts people first.
While citizens will:
Be creators and collaborators on the web so the web has rich and relevant content for everyone.World Wide Web Foundation, Contract for the Web
Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity so that everyone feels safe and welcome online.
Fight for the web so the web remains open and a global public resource for people everywhere, now and in the future.
Can the web be saved from government malfeasance; trash content; commodification of humans; and hive-minded, militant social media mobs? Or will the web continue to serve as one giant porn machine?
Humans shall decide. Tim Berners-Lee has issued the warning in no uncertain terms.
Happy birthday World Wide Web, thank you Sir Tim Berners-Lee for developing something that changed my life and served as a refuge as a ticked-off teen.
This whole Web Birthday thing got me thinking: if I had the power to bulldoze the web and start from scratch, would I do it?
You know, I wouldn’t…But I would architect it to make it impossible to use Curly Sue as clickbait. I mean, come on: Curly Sue — Curly freaking Sue!? I’m outta here. Thanks for reading — I hope you’re having a great day, and I’ll see you in the next blog post.