Thirtieth birthdays often inspire celebration and introspection in equal measure and this is certainly true of the World Wide Web, which was first proposed by computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee on this day in 1989.
- Malicious intent, which he said requires new laws (which, in turn, means electing “open web champions” to office)
- Ad-based revenue models that reward misinformation, which he said requires a system redesign to protect human rights, democracy, scientific fact and public safety and for consumers to stop clicking consent without demanding their data rights be respected
- And polarizing online discourse, which he said requires new models to enhance privacy, diversity and security and for consumers to foster constructive, healthy conversations.
Berners-Lee also urged the public not to give up because much has changed since 1989 and the web may still change for the better. (He has a point—in 1989, George H.W. Bush was president, the Cold War ended, acid-washed jeans were high fashion, New Kids on the Block topped the charts and Seinfeld premiered.)
Change is in the works already. For instance, the nonprofit Web Foundation is working on a Contract for the Web, which seeks to establish new norms, laws and standards for it.
“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,” Berners-Lee wrote. “It’s our journey from digital adolescence to a more mature, responsible and inclusive future.”
In October, Berners-Lee announced his new startup, Inrupt, which is working on an open-source platform to decentralize the web—using peer-to-peer communication to store and exchange information without an intermediary like Facebook, Google or Amazon—and “[give] individuals complete control over their data rather than “[handing] over personal data to digital giants in exchange for perceived value.”
Per Berners-Lee, personal empowerment through data is key to a happy future for the web. Or, as he previously said of Inrupt: “People want to have a web they can trust. People want apps that help them do what they want and need to do—without spying on them. Apps that don’t have an ulterior motive of distracting them with propositions to buy this or that. People will pay for this kind of quality and assurance.”