In brief: Thirty years ago this week, Tim Berners-Lee proposed an information management system that would eventually become the World Wide Web we know today. In the annual letter celebrating his invention's birthday, the British computer scientist said the web has plenty of problems, but he remains optimistic about its future.
Berners-Lee spelled out what he believes are the web’s biggest issues, which include state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behavior, and online harassment. He also named ad-based revenue models that commercially reward clickbait and the spread of fake news, and the unintended consequences that come from the outraged and polarized tone of online discussions.
Berners-Lee believes users had found the web “not so pretty” recently. Speaking to reporters at CERN, he said: “They are all stepping back, suddenly horrified after the Trump and Brexit elections, realizing that this web thing that they thought was that cool is actually not necessarily serving humanity very well.”
The engineer lamented the privacy issues and election influencing within social networks such as Facebook, and the “massively damaging” fragmentation of the internet into regulatory blocks in different countries. He also urged users to maintain "complete control" of their data.
But Berners-Lee is optimistic about the future of the web, which he sees as constantly evolving. “…given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better in the next 30. 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.
Back in November, Berners-Lee unveiled the ‘Contract for the Web,’ which asks governments, companies, and citizens around the world to commit to protecting the freedoms and rights of internet users. The Contract is already backed by the likes of Google and Microsoft, and anyone can sign up to contribute.