It’s hard now to imagine life without the Internet – but is it turning into something its founders no longer recognise? And is that necessarily a bad thing, if not actually inevitable?
An interesting article by Stuart Jeffries from Sunday’s Guardian poses these questions and more:
How the web lost its way – and its founding principles
[At] a recent Ted talk, Berners-Lee [Sir Tim, inventor of the Internet] cited as evidence of the help the web can be to humanity the case of GeoEye, a company that shortly after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake released satellite imagery of the devastated areas, with a licence that allowed people to use it. Quickly, relief workers zoomed into it – and added to OpenStreetMap details about the devastated area – to build up a picture of which roads were blocked, which buildings damaged, where refugee camps were growing and when medical ships were reaching port. “The site rapidly became the map to use on the ground if you were doing relief work,” said Berners-Lee.
This sort of thing was what he hoped would be made possible after the birth of the world wide web at Cern in Geneva in December 1990. “It consisted of one web site and one browser, which happened to be on the same computer,” he recalls. The simple setup demonstrated a profound concept: that any person could share information with anyone else, anywhere. In this spirit, the web spread quickly from the grassroots up.
“The web evolved into a powerful, ubiquitous tool because it was built on egalitarian principles and because thousands of individuals, universities and companies have worked, both independently and together as part of the World Wide Web Consortium [established by Berners-Lee so that stakeholders could work together in open groups to build a better web than any company could build by itself], to expand its capabilities based on those principles.”
But, in spreading from the grassroots up, his invention has arguably lost many of the egalitarian principles Berners-Lee hoped for. It has become less straightforwardly a force for good. Earlier this month, Charles Leadbeater, former policy adviser to the Labour government and a champion of the web’s potential to give power to hitherto deprived groups, published a report called A Better Web for the Nominet Trust pointing to the pervasive misogyny of the web as an example of how the democratising potential of the internet has not been fulfilled. Read the full article here…