According to Tim: Prognostications from the Web's Inventor

Ransom Riggs

Back in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee (now Sir Tim) implemented the first successful communication between an HTTP client and a server -- and so became the father of what we know today as the World Wide Web (not to be confused with the Internet, which had already been around for awhile). Ever since then, Sir Tim has been looked upon as something of the ultimate guru, and his fatherly advice is frequently solicited vis a vis the web, its current state, its future, etc. Here are a few things Tim has prognosticated over the years.

Misinformation propagates too easily on the web

Sir Tim has worked at CERN, the international lab which recently completed construction of the (in)famous Large Hadron Collider, which has yet to destroy the world by creating a black hole. But the ease with which the rumor that the LHC was a threat to humanity spread -- primarily via the internet -- concerned Sir Tim deeply. He said:

"On the web the thinking of cults can spread very rapidly and suddenly a cult which was 12 people who had some deep personal issues suddenly find a formula which is very believable. A sort of conspiracy theory of sorts and which you can imagine spreading to thousands of people and being deeply damaging."

The solution? Devise a way to label websites according to their trustworthiness, once they've established themselves as such; a kind of ratings system which would prevent ridiculous fabrications from spreading, virus-like and unchecked. (He's working on it.)

A New Kind of Web for Emerging Parts of the World

Currently, only 20% of the world's population has access to the web. Berners-Lee worries that the web has been created "for the West by the West," and in its current state isn't easy to use in places like Africa. "Has it been designed for the executive and the teenager in the modern city with a smart phone in their pocket? If you are in a rural community do you need a different kind of web with different kinds of facilities?" In Africa, after all, there aren't a lot of computers -- but there are an increasing number of mobile phones, which could benefit from a new kind of web.

The web is in its infancy

According to a BBC interview, Sir Tim believes "the future web will put 'all the data in the world' at the fingertips of every user."

"The experience of the development of the web by so many people collaborating across the globe has just been a fantastic experience. International collaboration continues. Also the spirit that really we have only started to explore the possibilities of [the web], that continues."

"What's exciting is that people are building new social systems, new systems of review, new systems of governance. My hope is that those will produce... new ways of working together effectively and fairly which we can use globally to manage ourselves as a planet."

Rejecting net neutrality would bring on a "Dark Age"

Various proposals have been made in the U.S. to create a two-tiered internet, in which users would have to pay more to have access to the whole shebang that we currently enjoy. Sir Tim thinks this is a terrible idea, and that implementing it would lead to a "dark period." "What's very important from my point of view is that there is one web," he said. "Anyone that tries to chop it into two will find that their piece looks very boring." The status quo is ideal; right now "you get this tremendous serendipity where I can search the internet and come across a site that I did not set out to look for."

Looking forward: the web at 30

"When it's 30, I expect it to be much more stable, something that people don't talk about. Really when you talk about an article, you don't say, "Oh, I'm going to write an article on paper!" The fact that we use pen and paper is sort of rather understood.

Similarly the web will be, hopefully, will be something which is sunk into the background as an assumption. Now, if as technologists develop, we've done our job well, the web will be this universal medium, which will be very, very flexible. It won't, itself, have any preconceived notions about what's built on top.

One of the reasons that I want to keep it open like that, is partly because I want humanity to have it as a clean slate. My goal for the web in 30 years is to be the platform which has led to the building of something very new and special, which we can't imagine now."