The World Wide Web turns 30 years old today. But like many 30-somethings, the web still needs to mature. In his annual published letter, the father of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee, identifies three dysfunctions and solutions.
While he calls for laws and code to minimize misuse such as state-sponsored hacking, criminal behavior and harassment, Berners-Lee believes it will be impossible to erase completely such behavior -- but the world needs to try.
He also suggests redesigning system flaws that allow people to earn money through clickbait and the spread of misinformation -- and what he calls the unintended consequences of benevolent design, which enable polarized discourse and will require research to understand existing systems and potentially create new models or change those already in place.
"Given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, 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," he wrote. "If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web."
When is the first time you used the World Wide Web? For me, that experience happened while working at Ingram Micro, a computer distributor located in Santa Ana, California. I worked in the communications and marketing department writing copy for marketing material and advertisements. I used it for research.
Thirty years later at MediaPost I’m working remotely and feeding articles to a CMS system that publishes newsletters like this one to you. I'm writing articles about search, programmatic ad buying and serving, metrics, and machine-learning technology that support, theoretically, knowing when to serve an ad and when not to serve that ad.
In a way, Larry Page and Sergey Brin -- the co-founders of Google -- Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, and others owe their business model to Berners-Lee. For without the web, these companies would not have been possible. Search marketers owe their livelihood to Berners-Lee.
“Most important of all, citizens must hold companies and governments accountable for the commitments they make, and demand that both respect the web as a global community with citizens at its heart,” he wrote. “If we don’t elect politicians who defend a free and open web, if we don’t do our part to foster constructive healthy conversations online, if we continue to click consent without demanding our data rights be respected, we walk away from our responsibility to put these issues on the priority agenda of our governments.”
It’s been increasingly important to protect the web and the companies that make business across it possible. Cherish the technology. Don’t abuse it. Or misuse it.