In March 1989, IT engineer Tim Berners-Lee came up with an idea which would change the world. We are talking about the World Wide Web, a hypertext network based on the http protocol and navigable via a browser. It all started at CERN in Geneva (where the thirtieth anniversary celebrations are due to start this year), with the decision to set down a written proposal for the creation of a system which would be able to guarantee a simple and fast method of sharing information among multiple computers.
In his document ‘World Wide Web: Proposal for a HyperText Project’, Berners-Lee explained that the internet network, first developed in the seventies thanks to considerable investment in the military field, could be equipped with a universal interface. This immediately turned out to be extremely intuitive and straightforward to use. It meant that each individual user could not only publish information, but also link various information together via hypertext links.
Four years later, at the end of 1993, only 1.1% of internet traffic involved the web. A closer inspection of the figures for 1994 however, reveals a very different picture, characterised by the presence of over ten million users and over ten thousand sites.
Much more than technological innovation
When considering the World Wide Web, it is important to remember that this invention goes much further than technological innovation. The original idea is very important, that is the desire to build a free de-centralised network, free to use and without any authorities to control it. The initial ‘www’ project actually envisaged that people would use it to exchange information and for organising forms of collaboration aimed at resolving problems.
This optimistic and somewhat Utopian vision remained a part of the web’s DNA for many years. The turning point was without doubt the inception of web 2.0, which moved away from those original principles and led to the development of a new ecosystem, radically different from the one first developed at CERN, Geneva in the late eighties.
How the web has changed in the last twenty years
In the last twenty years, the World Wide Web scenario has changed considerably. This has been due mainly to the increase in the popularity and importance of the huge corporations now operating search engines, social networks and e-commerce. Their rise has led to major issues regarding the management of privacy and data security, as data is often gathered without the required authorisation of users and then used for commercial or political purposes such as the manipulation of electoral consensus.
These huge transformations and their consequences (a case in point is the Cambridge Analytica scandal) have been commented upon by the founder of the World Wide Web. In an interview conducted at a public meeting organised by a well-known US news organisation, Berners-Lee compared the current state of his creation to that of a platform over-run by an epidemic of disinformation and the rampant violation of personal privacy.
Now aged 64, the father of the web has therefore decided to launch two projects aimed at resolving these issues. The first, known as ‘Contract for the Web’, may be defined as an ethical code which signals a return to the original values that led to the creation of the ‘www’. Central to this idea is the principle that the network must remain independent, neutral and able to host information in any language. The second project is called ‘Solid’ and is a platform designed to help users manage and control how their personal data is used more effectively.
Translated by Joanne Beckwith