Happy Birthday, World Wide Web. It was 30 years ago that British engineer Sir Tim Berners-Lee effectively created the medium. To celebrate, Berners-Lee wrote a somber reflection on Monday on where the web—which along the way lost its early capitalization—is today. “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,” he wrote, but it is also rife with “dysfunction.” He then called on governments, companies, and users alike to unite in combatting those problems before they get worse.
The inventor of the World Wide Web questioned what it has become on the 30th anniversary of its creation, noting democracy and privacy were now under serious threat by the internet. Lee said that online users had found it “not so pretty” recently. But he added it wasn’t too late to straighten the ship’s course.
“They are all stepping back, suddenly horrified after the Trump and Brexit elections, realising that this web thing that they thought was that cool is actually not necessarily serving humanity very well,” Berners-Lee told reporters at CERN, the physics research centre outside Geneva where he invented the web.
“It seems we don’t finish reeling from one privacy disaster before moving onto the next one,” he added, citing concerns about whether social networks were supporting democracy.
People who had grown up taking the internet’s neutrality for granted now found the administration of US President Donald Trump had “rolled that back”.
There was also a threat of fragmentation of the internet into regulatory blocs – in the United States, the European Union, China and elsewhere – which would be “massively damaging”, Berners-Lee said.
In an open letter to mark the anniversary, he said many people now felt unsure about whether the web was a force for good, but it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume it could not change for the better in the next 30 years.
“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 wrote.
“It’s our journey from digital adolescence to a more mature, responsible and inclusive future.”
Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web while working as a fellow at CERN in 1989. His insight was to combine hypertext, or software that connected different documents with a mouse click, with the nascent Internet. On March 11, 1989, Berners-Lee submitted to CERN a proposal for an information-management system that would build a hypertext system on the distributed computers then linked by the Internet.
Read his WWW at 30 blog: 30 years on, what’s next #ForTheWeb?