As the web turns 30 its creator warns of a bleak future

As the web turns 30 its creator warns of a bleak future

The World Wide Web is now 30 years old! In such a short period of time the invention of the Internet has changed our lives forever. But the creator of the web says not all changes have been for the good of humanity.

In a public letter Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web and the founder of the World Wide Web Foundation, reflects on the last 30 years and predicts some of the challenges the web will face over the next 30.

Though the web has brought us closer together than ever before, and has accelerated our businesses, our sharing of knowledge, and ushered in an era of global-commerce and social media, Berners-Lee understands the anxiety that has come more recently about the web.

"While the web has created opportunity, given marginalised groups a voice, and made our daily lives easier, it has also created opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred, and made all kinds of crime easier to commit," says Berners-Lee.

"Against the backdrop of news stories about how the web is misused, it's understandable that many people feel afraid and unsure if the web is really a force for good. But 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. If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web."

Berners-Lee says he sees three major sources of dysfunction affecting the web right now.

"To tackle any problem, we must clearly outline and understand it. I broadly see three sources of dysfunction affecting today's web:

  1. Deliberate, malicious intent, such as state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behaviour, and online harassment.
  2. System design that creates perverse incentives where user value is sacrificed, such as ad-based revenue models that commercially reward clickbait and the viral spread of misinformation.
  3. Unintended negative consequences of benevolent design, such as the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse."

Berners-Lee suggests that to eradicate all three a serious effort must come from lawmakers, those who design popular websites and social media platforms, and technology researchers. But ultimately, he calls for a global effort to tackle the problems facing the web.

"You can't just blame one government, one social network or the human spirit. Simplistic narratives risk exhausting our energy as we chase the symptoms of these problems instead of focusing on their root causes. To get this right, we will need to come together as a global web community."

"The web is for everyone and collectively we hold the power to change it. It won't be easy. But if we dream a little and work a lot, we can get the web we want."

You can read Berners-Lee's entire letter here.

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