Web’s Inventor “Disturbed” By Current State of Creation

Tim Berners-Lee Calls Out Facebook, Google, Apple, Wireless/Cable Carriers, and More

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The inventor of the web is not thrilled with the current state of his creation or the direction it’s taking. Tim Berners-Lee has released a new report at Scientific American, entitled Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality, with the subtitle: "The Web is critical not merely to the digital revolution but to our continued prosperity—and even our liberty. Like democracy itself, it needs defending."

His sentiments are reflected by open standards advocates everywhere, and those that appear to be diminishing the principles Berners-Lee and the like stand for are among some of the biggest players on the web. 

Berners-Lee calls out social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Friendster for closing off data, as well as wireless providers and governments for hindering progress. "Large social-networking sites are walling off information posted by their users from the rest of the Web," he says. "Wireless Internet providers are being tempted to slow traffic to sites with which they have not made deals. Governments—totalitarian and democratic alike—are monitoring people’s online habits, endangering important human rights."

Tim Berners-Lee Talks About what's wrong with the web"If we, the Web’s users, allow these and other trends to proceed unchecked, the Web could be broken into fragmented islands. We could lose the freedom to connect with whichever Web sites we want," he adds. "The ill effects could extend to smartphones and pads, which are also portals to the extensive information that the Web provides."

"Several threats to the Web’s universality have arisen recently," he later adds. "Cable television companies that sell Internet connectivity are considering whether to limit their Internet users to downloading only the company’s mix of entertainment. Social-networking sites present a different kind of problem. Facebook, LinkedIn, Friendster and others typically provide value by capturing information as you enter it: your birthday, your e-mail address, your likes, and links indicating who is friends with whom and who is in which photograph. The sites assemble these bits of data into brilliant databases and reuse the information to provide value-added service—but only within their sites. Once you enter your data into one of these services, you cannot easily use them on another site. Each site is a silo, walled off from the others. Yes, your site’s pages are on the Web, but your data are not. You can access a Web page about a list of people you have created in one site, but you cannot send that list, or items from it, to another site."

Google and Apple are a couple more major companies that fail to escape Berners-Lee’s criticism. He calls out Apple for making iTunes a walled garden and Google’s joint proposal with Verizion, suggesting that wireless should be treated differently than wired, when it comes to net neutrality. 

He also says it’s "disturbing" that magazine publishers are turning to smartphone apps rather than web apps, because these too are closed off from the web itself. 

Interestingly, Berners-Lee cites web giant Amazon as more of an example of what can be accomplished because of open standards, noting that they were able to grow into the powerhouse they’ve become as a result of access to free, basic web technologies and standards. He also mentions Craigslist and Wikipedia as positive examples. 

Berners-Lee’s six-page report is an interesting look at the direction the web has taken after 20 years, from the guy that’s been there every step of the way. While much of his assessment is indeed a bit dark, there is some optimism sprinkled throughout. He admits that it is an "exciting time", and calls upon developers, businesses, governments, and citizens to work together to shape where the web goes from here. 

With some of the "closed" entities taking up such an exceedingly substantial amount of web user attention, however (not to mention the other powerful elements in play like the wireless/cable companies’ practices) it’s hard to imagine the direction changing drastically anytime soon. 

Facebook is reportedly accounting for about a quarter of all page views in the U.S. and it’s starting to push itself as users’ entry point to the web at large, while simultaneously moving to become users’ main entry point of communication (and likely payments in the not-too-distant future). 

Is Berners-Lee’s web doomed to become just an important part of history? An important step in the evolution of technology and communication? Can it survive on any mainstream level with all of these forces seemingly working against it while using it at the same time? 

Let us know what you think.

Web’s Inventor “Disturbed” By Current State of Creation
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  • http://www.sitebyjames.com/ James

    There has been a huge push from the media outlets to sculpt popular belief. I mean, CNN has affiliation with Mashable, and TechCrunch has affiliation with AOL. Both organizations are bound to use the outlets for less shilling and probably more opinion polling, persuasion and in the case of FB, propaganda.

    500 million users, the majority are in Turkey. I’ll be honest, I don’t even think they’ve made a major impact in the USA, Canada, sure, UK, sure, but I think most of what they say is just bull.


    But that is just my opinion. In any event, apparently Youtube hit 1 Billion subscribers. It’s growth all around.

    The web is not in any threat. If anything, Marketers who live eat and breathe education from the web, are going to follow the crowd as usual. That’s the way it goes.

    I have nothing against paywalls or closed source apps, it’s just a shift, and I’m interested in seeing how develops.

  • Stupidscript

    To me, Sir Berners-Lee’s commentary seems more to be an appeal to those of us who still believe in the World Wide Web as a shared resource designed to share information and to thereby elevate humankind.

    Virtually all of Sir Berners-Lee’s comments call out commercial provocateurs and warn against perverting the WWW into a purely capitalist machine.

    Let’s remember that commercial activity was outright banned on the WWW (as distinct from the Internet at-large) until 1995, IIRC, because the WWW was never intended to be for commercial purposes. It was intended to be a resource for human growth through education.

    While I fully understand and accept that people who spend a large amount of money developing Internet properties wish to see some return on that investment, I also miss the days when we were all part of an exciting community project. Facebook, Apple and many others are putting the very notion of a “community” WWW at risk by slicing off chunks of it with their velvet ropes. I do not include Google in that group, because of the openness of their work (as defined by Sir Berners-Lee, not as defined by Apple.)

    When I read Sir Berners-Lee’s report, it made me sad to realize how this noble idea is being consumed by money-changers and thieves. I truly hope that his baby can still grow up to have a substantial “caring” facet to its personality, and not simply highly-polished, price-tagged “me first” facets.

  • Stupidscript

    Scott Rosenberg (Salon, et al.) speaks well to one of the notions Sir Berners-Lee brings up … that walled gardens are less useful than open gardens, which is why an open WWW is more valuable than the closed WWW that we see forming underneath our feet.

    In today’s blog post (http://www.wordyard.com/2010/11/21/why-the-daily-murdochs-tablet-newspaper-will-be-doa/) he talks about why Rupert Murdoch’s dream for a tablet-only newspaper will likely fail, and he does it by bringing up some of the things Sir Berners-Lee brings up with regard to operating within walled gardens. A brief quote (my emphasis):

    “Why do people love getting their news online? It

  • Guest

    the internet as we know it today will no longer exist shortly. the end is nigh!

    Tiered internet structures are being built, walls being put up and lines being drawn.

    Google are at the head of table and Apple sit along side them, they have helped sculpt the future of the corporate network that was known as the FREE INTERNET of the 90’s,00’s,10’s.

    It’s all over bar the screaming and shouting and our governments will suppress our discontent.

    The start of this is COICA!

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