The Web Should Reflect Our Hopes, Rather Than Dividing Us

Tim Berners-Lee
Inventor of the World Wide Web, Director of W3C

When the World Wide Web turns 29 in 2018, it marked a milestone in the web's history. For the first time, we are entering an era where more than half of the world's population comes online.

Tim Berners-Lee is the founder of the web. He envisions how to get the other half of the world connected, and to make sure that they do want to get connected.

But the thing is, the threats of the modern web are real and far too many. From misinformation and questionable political advertising to a loss of control over our personal data. Here, Berners-Lee remains committed to make sure the web is a free, open, creative space - for everyone.

However, that vision can only be made possible, if the web works for everyone.

"I want to challenge us all to have greater ambitions for the web. I want the web to reflect our hopes and fulfill our dreams, rather than magnify our fears and deepen our divisions.

Closing The Divide

When it comes to the diversity of people on the web, there are inequalities. And this poses a serious global threat, if the web ever wants to reach everyone.

"You’re more likely to be offline if you are female, poor, live in a rural area or a low-income country, or some combination of the above. To be offline today is to be excluded from opportunities to learn and earn, to access valuable services, and to participate in democratic debate. If we do not invest seriously in closing this gap, the last billion will not be connected until 2042. That’s an entire generation left behind," Berners-Lee said.

Here, we must support policies and business models that aim to expand the access of the internet to the world's poorest through public access solutions, such as community networks and public Wi-Fi initiatives.

"We must invest in securing reliable access for women and girls, and empowering them through digital skills training."

Making The Web Work For The People

The web evolves, and things that were last year, won't be the same this year. The internet was once rich of blogs and websites, but then they are all compressed under the weight of only a handful of dominant players.

"This concentration of power creates a new set of gatekeepers, allowing a handful of platforms to control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared," said Berners-Lee. "These dominant platforms are able to lock in their position by creating barriers for competitors. They acquire startup challengers, buy up new innovations and hire the industry’s top talent. Add to this the competitive advantage that their user data gives them and we can expect the next 20 years to be far less innovative than the last."

And because the power is so concentrated, it can be possible to weaponize the web at scale.

Here, Berners-Lee joins Microsoft founder Bill Gates in warning about impending government regulation for technology companies. Gates once said that companies need to be careful, making sure that they are not advocating things that would prevent governments from being able to perform the functions that companies have come to count on.

Giving The Power Back To The People

The future of the web isn't just about those people who have already been connected. Those people who are yet to connect, play an important part in the transformation of the web.

"Today’s powerful digital economy calls for strong standards that balance the interests of both companies and online citizens. This means thinking about how we align the incentives of the tech sector with those of users and society at large, and consulting a diverse cross-section of society in the process."

Here, the problems are complex and large. But people should see them as bugs, or problems that have been created by people in the first place. These problems can only be fixed by the people, so creativity matters. We should create a set of incentives and changes in the code will follow.

The brightest minds from business, technology, government, civil society, the arts and academia should work together to tackle the threats to the web’s future. We should all be ready to play our part in building the web we all want.