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WWW Inventor Wants to Take Back the Web

Guardian of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee (Photo: Paul Sakuma)

Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web as decentralized, open, and democratic, but today, nearly 30 years later, it’s far from what he’d originally envisioned.

Kicking off the Techonomy 2018 conference on November 11 in Half Moon Bay, California, Berners-Lee sat in conversation with David Kirkpatrick, sharing his plan for how to “reset” the web and help users regain control from the corporate powers that have usurped it.

That plan is Solid, an open-source project that Berners-Lee and others have been working on at MIT to re-decentralize the Web. The platform keeps users’ data in pods, or personal online data stores, that are like private clouds. Each pod has its own API.

It’s Berners-Lee’s hope that Solid, and his connected startup Inrupt, will bring what many have come to view as a dystopia back to the utopia it once was.

Today, according to Berners-Lee, about a third of the global population is connected to the web. “It turns from being a cool project to being a responsibility,” said Berners-Lee. “If you use the web for 98 percent of your time, you should spend the other 2 just looking out for it, not taking it for granted, and looking out for the people who haven’t got it yet.”

As Kirkpatrick put it: “He has served as a steward and guardian of his own invention,” and, now more than ever, that activism is essential to battling the social inequities that have taken hold online.

Berners-Lee said that up until a couple of years ago, despite growing recognition that there is bad content on the web, it was the user’s responsibility to seek out the good. Today, though, that philosophy is undergoing change.

“Somebody would come to me and say, ‘Hey Tim, I’ve looked at your web and there’s some bad stuff on it. There’s some fake stuff on it.’ Yeah, well, don’t read it,” said Berners-Lee. “Then [we] realized that the fact that there’s a bunch of junk out there, there’s a bunch of fake stuff out there, there’s nasty stuff out there, actually there’s a bunch of people who do read it.”

Part of getting everyone to “do better,” said Berners-Lee, is following the World Wide Web Foundation’s contract, which outlines goals for governments, companies, and people underscoring its core principles that the web was designed to bring people together and make knowledge freely available to everyone.

Another part of doing better is getting lawmakers to actually understand what it is that they’re governing.

“You tell kids, girls particularly, you tell all your girls to code, to get into tech, to get a computer and learn how to code — not because we need you building the new user experience for another website, but because we need you in Parliament and in Congress,” he said. “We need people in positions…who understand what a computer can do.”

Watch Berners-Lee’s talk:

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