Realising the Full Potential of the Web

Tim Berners-Lee, Director of the World-Wide Web Consortium Based on a talk presented at the W3C meeting, London, 1997/12/3

Abstract The first phase of the Web is human communication though shared knowledge. The second side to the Web, yet to emerge, is that of machine-understandable information. The original dream The Web was designed to be a universal space of information. There are a lot of sides to that universality. You should be able to make links to a hastily jotted crazy idea and to link to a beautifully produced work of art. You should be able to link to a very personal page and to something available to the whole planet. The first goal was to work together better. While the use of the Web across all scales is essential to the concept, the original driving force was collaboration at home and at work. For me, the forerunner to the Web was a program called ‘Enquire’, which I made for my own purposes. I wrote it in 1980, when I was working at the European Particle Physics Lab (CERN), to keep track of the complex web of relationships between people, programs, machines and ideas. In 1989, when I proposed the Web, it was as an extension of that personal tool to a common information space. Re-enter machines The second part of the dream was that, if you can imagine a project (company, whatever) which uses the Web in its work, then there will be an map, in cyberspace, of all the dependencies and relationships which define how the project is going. The computer renters the scene visibly as a software agent, doing anything it can to help us deal with the bulk of data, to take over the tedium of anything that can be reduced to a rational process, and to manage the scale of our human systems. Where are we now?

Web use is coming back into organizations. library catalogues. ‘Intranet’. When the industry agrees on protocols. There is also the ability to guess ahead and push out what a user may want next. ‘metadata’. We need information about information.W3C The Consortium exists as a place for those companies for whom the Web is essential to meet and agree on the common underpinnings that will allow everyone to go forward.The Web you see as a glorified television channel today is just one part of the plan. timeliness and relevance.. tools for structuring and The . Protocols are the rules that allow computers to talk together about a given topic. could adapt to differing demands. then a new application can spread across the world. such as using compression and enabling many overlapping asynchronous requests. It would be better if the ‘system’. Data about Data . This is key to the development of the Web. Search engines flounder in the mass of undifferentiated documents that range vastly in terms of quality. There is also a limit to what we can do by ourselves with information. Where is the Web Going Next? Avoiding the World Wide Wait One reason for the slow response you may get from a dial-up Internet account simply follows from the ‘all you can eat’ pricing policy. the collaborating servers and clients together.Metadata There should be a common format for expressing information about information (called metadata). and use pre-emptive or reactive retrieval as necessary. including privacy information. endorsement labels. for a dozen or so fields that needed it. The World Wide Web Consortium . to help us organize it. so that the user does not have to request and then wait. and new programs can all work together as they all speak the same language.But today there some things we can do to make better use of the bandwidth we have. It is not surprising that the most rapid growth was in public information. without the help of machines.

Those documents will be signed. yeah?’ So. Not only that. When we have this. Hypertext was suitable for a global information system because it has this same flexibility: the power to represent any structure of the real world or a created imagined one. you think. The Enquire program assumed that every page was about something. a group. When you created a new page it made you say what sort of thing it was: a person. when you created a link between two nodes. and it may introduce a new phase of the Web in which much more data in general can be handled by computer programs in a meaningful way.Consortium's Resource Description Framework (RDF) is designed to allow data from all these fields to be written in the same form. The Consortium will not seek a central or controlling role in the content of the Web. and therefore carried together and mixed. The W3C's role in creating the Web of trust will be to help the community have common language for expressing trust. ‘Oh. a concept. yeah?". Search engines will be able to take such endorsements into account and give results that are perceived to be of much higher quality. Data about things The most important aspect of it is that it is machine-understandable data. etc. and contain statements about those keys and about other documents. yeah?’ button on your browser. a program. . it would prompt you to fill in the relationship between the two things or people. You press the ‘Oh. signed metadata is the next step. before imparting personal information in a Web form. The Web of trust The Web of trust will be a set of documents on the Web that are digitally signed with certain keys. on how that information will be used. we will be able to ask the computer not just for information. Web of trust does not need to have a specific structure like a tree or a matrix. You are asking your browser why you should believe it. yeah?’ button. but why we should believe it. "Oh. Imagine an ‘Oh. a piece of machinery. A browser will be able to get an assurance.

well defined interface to all the data so that you can program on top of it. What we propose is that. that the same data should be available in RDF. SGML (and now XML) gives structure. and with a bit of human advice. There is so much data available on Web pages.HTML is a language for communicating a document for human consumption.such as phone books. These are tools that read pages. but I don’t think they will be sufficient without better security. library catalogues and existing documentation management systems. It is so powerful to have a common.Intercreativity . and the increasing number of browsers created more incentive for people to put up more Web sites. I have even had to coin a new word . A crying need for RDF The increasing amount of information on the Web was an incentive for people to get browsers. Even though it takes human effort to analyse the way different Web sites are offering their data. just from looking at the trouble libraries have had with the numbers of very similar. So the need for well defined interface to Web data in the short term is undeniable. recreate the database object. These servers typically had access to large databases . in such a way that the rows and columns are all labelled in a well-defined way. say a database record. and so merge information intelligently from many sources. because you get to click with a mouse and fill in forms! I have mentioned that better intuitive interfaces will be needed. Now here is the curious thing. when a program goes out to a server looking for data. Interactive Creativity I want the Web to be much more creative than it is at the moment. it is worth it.which means building things together on the Web. . This is a clear need for metadata. but slightly different ways of making up a catalogue card for a book. that there is a market for tools that ‘reverse engineer’ that process. but not semantics. I found that people thought that the Web already was ‘interactive’. That it may be possible to look up the equivalence between field names at one Web site and at another. They had simple programs which would generate Web pages ‘on the fly’ corresponding to various views and queries on the database. This has been a very powerful ‘bootstrap’ as there is now a healthy market for tools to allow one to map one's data from its existing database form on to the Web.

The Web already increases the power of our writings. leaving it clean and simple so that the next generation can learn its logical concepts along with the alphabet. but the power of our actions is again increased. we must be sure to generalise it cleanly. One of my key themes is the importance of the Web being used on all levels from the personal.g. but it might be difficult to explain that to a computer. you can cut corners in language and formality. as if security were only important where money is concerned. It is easy to know who we trust. I say this deliberately. you do things you would not do outside the group. each of which has pointers to help a computer understand it and relate it to terms it knows. and machines will turn a small profit matching the two. When you are working in a group. They can negotiate as to who will have what access to what and ensure that our personal wishes for privacy level be met. because in the past I have underestimated how long something will take to become available (e. where will this get us? The Web fills with documents. I think this will take a long time. from looking for pages containing interesting words. We only have to express a request for bids. through groups of all sizes. and that others won't suddenly have access to it. on the Web. The world is a world of human beings. They can ask for and validate proofs of the credibility of the data. Now we image the world of people with active machines forming part of the infrastructure. Letting go So. Search engines. You use a vernacular that will be understood. making them accessible to huge numbers of people and allowing us to draw on any part of the global information base by a simple hypertext link.It would be wrong to assume that digital signature will be mainly important for electronic commerce. You do these things because you trust the people in the group. You share half-baked ideas. it has been difficult to manage such groups or to allow one to control access to information in an intuitive way. reveal sensitive information. good editors in 12 months). Now we will have to find how best to integrate our warm fuzzy right-brain selves into this clearly defined left-brain world. To date. will start indexes of assertions that might be useful for answering questions or finding justifications. After seeding the semantic Web with specific applications. as it was before. or make a bid. Software agents acting on our behalf can reason about this data. . to the global population.

What becomes of us still hangs crucially on how we think individually. out of control. we must be prepared to be astonished at whatever might grow out of that new medium. and of great simplicity. It’s up to us One thing is certain. the path will either lead to jealousy and hatred or peace and understanding. the demise of distance will either homogenise or polarise cultures. The Web will have a profound effect on the markets and the cultures around the world: intelligent agents will either stabilise or destabilise markets. but mostly it will leave them to us. the ability to access the Web will be either a great divider or a great equaliser. . It may expose the questions in a starker form than before and force us to state clearly where we stand.If we can make something decentralised. We are forming cells within a global brain and we are excited that we might start to think collectively. The technology we are creating may influence some of these choices.

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