Defending the web for today and the future


For anyone interested in the web, Tim Berners-Lee’s article in The Scientific American about its future is of course required reading.

Let’s begin by quoting the closing sentences of the piece:

The goal of the Web is to serve humanity. We build it now so that those who come to it later will be able to create things that we cannot ourselves imagine.

It is useful for us to reflect on what the web is and what it will become and see it, in this light, as presenting not just opportunities and threats, but responsibilities as well. As participants, we are all stewards of the web, not just users.

Despite what Maclom Gladwell may say, I agree with the web’s creator when he says:

The Web is now more critical to free speech than any other medium. It brings principles established in the U.S. Constitution, the British Magna Carta and other important documents into the network age: freedom from being snooped on, filtered, censored and disconnected

Berners-Lee’s article examines many of the threats to the continued evolution of the web based on its original approach:

Several principles are key to assuring that the Web becomes ever more valuable. The primary design principle underlying the Web’s usefulness and growth is universality. When you make a link, you can link to anything.

He focuses on a range of issues that could undermine the evolution of the web, including net neutrality, even on mobiles (which is where net neutrality advocate Google draws the line) and the walled garden instincts of social network giant Facebook. In fact, he says the web is endangered by any search engine or social web service that commands a near monopoly.

It is good to see that he broadens what access to the web means to include not shutting out large numbers of citizens, e.g. those with disabilities.

On this topic, take a look at a fantastic idea called Fix the Web, which crowdsources the process of checking the accessibility of websites ad sending helpful emails to administrators telling them what they need to fix. It’s supported by Citizens Online, a charity which campaigns for internet access as a human right, and for which I’m proud to serve as a Trustee.

Always the mantra for the web’s continued success has to be view it as a common resource, one which no one should own and everyone should defend.

“An open data movement”

The video below is a speech at TED by?Tim Berners-Lee on how open data around the world is being used from bike lanes in London to elections in Afghanistan. Thrilling to watch…

Open-mapping visualisations and how, after the earthquake, the Open Street Map of Port-au-Prince in Haiti quickly became *the* most accurate map of city following a collaborative effort of people around the world to process satellite data.

The Open Street Map map of Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Thanks to my colleague, Heather White Laird for the point.