Celebrations and Calls for Reform as the World Wide Web Turns 30

March 12, 2019

By Spencer Feingold

Happy Birthday to the World Wide Web! The invention that revolutionized the internet turned 30 on Tuesday.

The anniversary is cause for celebration, but also for a renewed effort to improve and democratize the internet, Sonia Jorge, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Internet, told Cheddar.

"The privileged of the world benefit from the Web but over 50 percent of the population in the world cannot," Jorge said.

The inventor of the World Wide Web, British computer scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee, agrees.

In an article published Tuesday, Berners-Lee said "it is more urgent than ever to ensure the other half are not left behind offline, and that everyone contributes to a web that drives equality, opportunity and creativity."

Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989 while working as an engineer at the European Organization for Nuclear Research ー better known as CERN ー in Geneva, Switzerland. The invention fundamentally changed the internet by creating web pages, i.e. URLs, and connecting them with hypertexting technology.

Berner-Lee then made the even more revolutionary move of demanding that CERN make the computer code available to the public and free of charge.

"The decision to make the Web an open system was necessary for it to be universal. You can't propose that something be a universal space and at the same time keep control of it," Berner-Lee wrote in 1998.

Thirty years later, however, experts agree that the Web is in urgent need of improvements.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” said Jorge, whose organization works to reduce the cost of internet access in developing countries.

In his article, Berners-Lee acknowledged major shortcomings of his brainchild, saying people “feel afraid and unsure if the web is really a force for good.”

He outlined three sources of online dysfunction: deliberate and malicious use, such as hacking and criminal behavior; perverse system designs that sacrifice user value, such a clickbait; and the negative consequences of benevolent designs, such as the polarized quality of online discourse.

“The reality is there are a lot of threats and negatives,” explained Jorge. The threats stem from a lack of security, privacy, and personal data protections, as well as, the proliferation of bad actors online.

Nonetheless, Jorge encouraged increased access to the internet but added that society must ensure that the platform is "safe and secure” for users.

As Berners-Lee wrote, “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.”

For full interview click here.