He urged governments, organisations and the public to work together to improve the current system and drive equality, opportunity and creativity for everyone. Global action is required to tackle the Web’s “downward plunge to a dysfunctional future.”
“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 said.
Sir Tim also called for a response to other “unintended negative consequences” of the Web, including state-sponsored hacking, online harassment, clickbait and the viral spread of fake news. He said these things had led to “the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse”.
He has his own anxieties about the Web’s future, “I’m very concerned about nastiness and misinformation spreading.” But he said he felt that people were beginning to better understand the risks they faced as Web users. “When the Cambridge Analytica thing went down, people realised that elections had been manipulated using data that they contributed.”
He added that in recent years he has increasingly felt that the principles of an Open Web need to be safeguarded.
Not to be confused with the internet, which had been evolving since the 1960s, the World Wide Web is an online application for the transfer of information. It allows users to send text, documents and other rich content like pictures and videos between different computers connected to the internet.
In 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee was working at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, known as CERN. He was frustrated that he had to constantly log on to different computers to access different information. He initially envisioned “a large hypertext database with typed links”, named “Mesh”, to help his colleagues share information between multiple computers.
Sir Tim submitted his proposal, entitled “Information Management: A Proposal,” on 12th March 1989.
His boss at CERN, Mike Sendall, described it as “vague but exciting”, and allowed him time to develop his flowchart into a working model. Sir Tim went on to write the HTML language, the HTTP application and WorldWideWeb.app – the first Web browser and page editor.
By 1991, the external Web servers were up and running. The very first web page, defining what the Web is, did not go live until 6th August 1991. A copy of it can still be viewed here.
The arrival of the Web ushered in the real information age, revolutionising life as we know it. Today, there are nearly 2 billion websites online. Whether you use it for email, reading the news, gaming, social media, streaming videos or music, chances are you can’t imagine life without it. However, Many of the world’s largest web-based companies, such as Facebook, Twitter and Google, have come under scrutiny in recent years over data privacy issues and the rising spread of malicious and offensive content (mostly from Lorah!).
A global debate is currently taking place over the need for increased regulation of online spaces, with the UK Government expected to publish a White Paper on the issue in the near future.
Meanwhile, the World Wide Web Foundation is currently developing what it calls a Contract For The Web, which aims to ensure access to the internet is recognised as a human right and is built for the public good.
Happy Birthday, World Wide Web. Here’s to the next thirty years!