The web just turned 30. How far have we come?

It has been 30 years since Tim Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web. I attended the celebration at the Science Museum in London where Tim shared his thoughts on how he started the web, and his vision for it; and it made me think about how much the web has changed in this time.

To share a brief history, Tim created the web in 1989 while working at CERN as a way of automating the sharing of information that was stored on computers. The idea was that it provided a way for scientists to collaborate better. When Tim prepared his memo on the idea his boss said it was ‘vague but intriguing’. But it was enough for him to allow Tim to continue with his idea.

The very first web server on the internet.

The system Tim developed could have been licensed and commercialised, but he chose to make the web free and open to all.

Just 30 years later, half the world is online.

While we should of course celebrate this, we should also look at the opportunities of how we can evolve and improve the web for future generations.

The thing that strikes me most about the web is that at its core, every person potentially has an equal voice – when you publish something online, your content has an equal chance of being heard as anyone else’s. Of course, with the likes of Google, we lose this sense of equality as different websites are promoted in different ways. However, you do still have the opportunity to reach a much larger and wider audience than ever before. And with that comes a whole set of challenges.

We’re now at a time of shaping the third generation web

When the web was introduced, it was simplistic, with basic pages and information sharing. Then we moved into a more complex world of web applications, e-commerce and social networks.

Today, I would argue that both the internet and the web are entering a third age – an age of responsibility. It’s a cliché, but the world is changing and we should all be asking ourselves “just because we can do something, does it mean that we should?”.

Money now plays a huge part in the motivations of users of the web. Today, the internet is dominated by giants like Google and Facebook. These companies are businesses who make profit and have to report to shareholders. Without that money their innovation would be delayed.

But, I ask, what is the cost to us?

Most of the people we know will likely have access to the web and will have had some sort of interaction with Google, Facebook, or other tech giants. We hear reports in the news of how technology is having an adverse effect on all of us – whether that is loss of privacy, or contributing to mental health issues, to name just two.

Social media is becoming a growing concern for these groups. So too is it partially blamed for the rise in ‘fake news’ that has potentially changed the political landscape across the globe. However, there seems to be a disconnect between legislation, how the population is responding to what it sees on the web, and the self-regulation of these companies.

Although not exclusively about the web, GDPR is the first in what I think will be a long list of new legislation that governments will bring in to address the issues created by technology. But we all, as citizens of this World Wide Web, have to take some level of responsibility.

We should all fight to make the web a better place

The Web Foundation is working with governments, organisations and of course, people, to design a contract for the web. We acknowledge that half of people have access to the web. That also means that half of the world’s population does not. Those that can get online might have access to a whole world of treasures – satellite navigation, instant news, on demand tv programmes… But we are all faced with challenges that we are not yet quite equipped to face.

The Contract has core underlying principles that The Web Foundation wants governments, companies and citizens to commit to. These principles are built on bringing people together and creating content, ensuring everyone has access to the web, keeping the web as an open and free resource and also ensuring it is not a playground for malicious intent.

The Contract is designed to deliver what we as citizens want the web to be. We should all think about what is important to us and take action so that we can all continue to take advantage of such as great creation. Web Foundation Principals

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