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Tim Berners-Lee on the Web at 25: the

past, present and future
T E C H N O L O G Y ( /T E C H N O L O G Y ) / 0 6 F E B R U AR Y 1 4 /

T I M B E R N E R S - L E E ( /S E AR C H /AU T H O R /T I M+ B E R N E R S - L E E )
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Recom m end

This article was taken from the March 2014 issue of Wired
magazine. Be the first to read Wired's articles in print before
they're posted online, and get your hands on loads of additional
content by subscribing online
In 1989 I delivered a proposal to CERN for the system that went
on to become the world wide web. This year, we celebrate the
web's 25th birthday.
Like the average 25-year-old, the web has been shaped by a
vast array of influences -- in fact, it was built through the efforts
of millions. So this anniversary is for everyone. We should look
proudly on what we've built. And as with most
twentysomethings, the web's full potential is just starting to
show. A radically open, egalitarian and decentralised platform,
it is changing the world, and we are still only scratching the
surface of what it can do. Anyone with an interest in the web's
future -- and that's everyone, everywhere -- has a role in
ensuring it achieves all it can.
Looking back for a moment, what is the web we celebrate this
year? It is not the wires connecting our computers, tablets and
televisions. Rather, it is the largest repository for information
and knowledge the world has yet seen, and our most powerful
communications tool. The web is now a public resource on

Tim Berners-Lee Nadav Kander

which people, businesses, communities and governments

depend. It is vital to democracy and now more critical to free
expression than any other medium. It stores and allows us to
share our ideas, music, images and cultures. It is an incredibly
intimate reflection of our interests, priorities, disagreements and
values. That makes the web worth protecting.
At the heart of the web is the link, represented by banal strings
of characters, notably those that start with http://. When we
link information in the web, we enable ourselves to discover
facts, create ideas, buy and sell things, and forge new
relationships at a speed and scale that was unimaginable in the
analogue era. These connections transform presidential
elections, overturn authoritarian regimes, power huge
businesses and enrich our social networks.
Through this concept of linking, the web has grown up
significantly in 25 years, from a collection of interlinked static
documents to a much richer environment of data, media and
user interaction. Millions of developers are using this open web
platform to create distributed applications that can run on
desktops, phones, tablets, televisions, automobiles, digital
billboards, watches everywhere.
Very soon, millions more sensors, appliances and other devices
large and small will take the web to new places. The potential
excites me and concerns me at the same time -- that makes the
web worth our ongoing stewardship. We must build and defend
it now so that those who come to it later will be able to create
things that we cannot ourselves imagine.
I believe that the future of the web is under threat from some
governments that may abuse their powers, some businesses that
may try to undermine the open market, and from criminal
activity. In recent years we have seen a steady increase in
censorship of the web by governments around the world. We've
seen a proliferation of corporate walled gardens, excessively
punitive laws pertaining to copyright and computer misuse, and
attempts to undermine or disregard net neutrality. But mass
surveillance, and particularly the reported attempts by
intelligence agencies in the US and UK to break commercial
encryption systems to make it easier to spy on people, is the
most worrying of all, because it could engender a loss of trust
and lead to Balkanisation of the web. We risk losing all that we
have gained from the web so far and all the great advances still
to come. The future of the web depends on ordinary people
taking responsibility for this extraordinary resource and
challenging those who seek to manipulate the web against the
public good.

The good news is that the web has openness and flexibility
woven into its fabric. The protocols and programming
languages under the hood -- including URLs, HTTP, HTML,
JavaScript and many others -- have nearly all been designed for
evolution, so we can upgrade them as new needs, new devices
and new business models expose current limitations.
I have several goals for the web of the next quarter century.
Through them, I believe we can continue to advance our society
and reduce some of the threats posed to and by a system
capable of such reach and power."


10 more experts comment in our Web at 25 series
By design the web has no centre. Anybody can create a new
website. When one site fails, the rest of the web continues
unabated. Individual links are allowed to break so the entire
web does not. This architecture enabled the web to scale and
produced the long-tail distribution of sites so conducive to
innovation and an open market. However, some popular and
successful services (search, social networking, email) have
achieved near-monopoly status. Although industry leaders often
spur positive change, we must remain wary of concentrations of
power as they can make the web brittle.
By continually "re-decentralising" the web, we will unleash the
next generation of technology, business and social innovators.
In particular, I look forward to new approaches to video,
photos, music and game distribution. We have seen some
progress (such as DRM-free music) but there are still hard
technical, business and legal problems to solve. Some solutions
may disrupt people's lives and livelihoods, an important reason
to pursue social inclusion via the web.
In software, "open" refers to free or open-source software,
standards, data, platforms, access and scope. These push
control to the edge, where innovation thrives. Open platforms
let users choose which software to install. The open-data
movement seeks to boost governments' economic efficiency,
knowledge and public trust by liberating people's data. Like
decentralisation, openness empowers people, contributing to
the innovation that produces economic and social gains.
The web runs on open standards: globally accepted agreements
that allow software to talk to each other. When they succeed,
they dramatically lower the cost of creating something. That is
why the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and its OpenStand

partners IEEE, IETF, ISOC, the IAB and others defend open
standardisation. Open standards are formed by consensus and
form a fertile base: an idea, a search and some open-source
software, and that idea is live.
The power of the web flows from its universality, but it is far
from available to all. Research suggests that more than 60 per
cent of the world's population do not use the web at all. Often
this is due to the costs of mobile and fixed-line internet access.
To tackle this, the World Wide Web Foundation and partners
have launched the Alliance for Affordable Internet to ensure fair
and competitive markets in broadband.

Tim Berners-Lee at his desk in CERN, 1994 CERN

People with disabilities must be able to use the web, and can do
so when standards bodies, developers and content authors all
do their part. An accessible web is a better web for smartphones
and other devices, showing how we all benefit from the
inclusive mindset. There are similar benefits to a web platform
that supports all the world's languages.
Social-networking tools can also promote inclusion if we use
them well. The web is interesting because it is universal; social
networks are interesting because they are not -- they give us a
custom view, a manageable and trusted slice. On the other
hand, tools do not serve us well if they reinforce -boundaries
even when we want to stretch our social networks, or migrate
from one tool to another, or leave a social network entirely. We
must find ways to balance these needs.

Privacy, free expression and security

An open web does not imply that all information must be public.
In fact, privacy is fundamental: groups of any size must be able
to communicate internally in confidence to function at all. Like
privacy, freedom of speech and expression are necessary for
society, and are essential to democracy. Censorship on the web - the blocking of certain websites -- directly attacks free
expression and the freedom to be informed. Censorship violates
free speech in obvious ways -- spying more insidiously: it has a
chilling effect by creating fear of retribution. That is why the
right to privacy is even more important where free speech is not
protected. The 25th anniversary of the web is an ideal moment
for us as citizens and consumers to call for a review of the laws
and standards that govern our rights online. Working with the
World Wide Web Foundation and others, I have launched the
Web We Want campaign to foster debate on how to resolve the
trade-offs between security and privacy, and between the needs
of business and decentralised innovation. This campaign will
help everyone to recognise the web's value, speak out in its
defence and take action to ensure its future.

It seems unthinkable that the web is already 25 years old, and

many of us can barely imagine life without it. We all helped to
build this, and the web's future still depends on us. All of us
must use our creativity, skills and experience to make it better:
more powerful, more safe, more fair and more open. Let us
choose the Web We Want, and thus, the world we want.
Tim Berners-Lee is the inventor of the world wide web. The Web
We Want campaign is at (/

M O R E F R O M W I R ED ' S W EB A T 2 5 S ER I ES
Marc Andreessen: embed the internet
Jimmy Wales: the developing world
Mikko Hypponen: government surveillance
Joi Ito: 'it's a living, evolving organism'
Nigel Shadbolt: augmented intelligence