The inventor of the World Wide Web is now on a mission to save it.
Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, who made it possible to read this article online, had the idea for the World Wide Web in 1989.
33 years later, he believes that technology platforms “control the world and manipulate people by providing information”.
Speaking to Euronews at the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon earlier this month, Berners-Lee said in retrospect that “some people thought at the time that techies were going to save the world. We’re now in a situation where many things are wrong with the web”.
His solution is “a course correction to bring it back” and he calls this course correction Web3.0.
(Not to be confused with Web3, the name touted by many in the tech world as the next phase of the internet.)
But before tackling the future and the dangers, let’s look at its origins and development.
How the World Wide Web Was Born
Berners-Lee was born in London in 1955 and studied physics at Oxford University.
In the 1980s, he began working as a consultant at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), where he developed the original WEB prototype, which he dubbed “Inquire Within Upon Everything”. Its aim was to allow scientists to share data in different systems.
But the Internet is not the same as the Web. The Internet already existed in the 1970s – no one knew it existed.
Electrical engineers Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf developed the Internet Protocol (IP), which allows computers to share information. In short, he created a way for computers to communicate with each other. This is the physical part that the web was able to connect to.
Berners-Lee then wrote his concept for developing a distributed and unified information system to meet the need for automated information exchange among scientists at universities and institutes around the world.
In 1990 he wrote a second Concept for the Web, outlining the terms of a “hypertext project” called “WorldWideWeb” that would allow browsers to view “hypertext documents”.
By the end of the same year, his idea had matured and he was developing the code for his web server on a computer.
To prevent it from being accidentally turned off, the computer wore a sign handwritten in red ink that read, “This machine is a server. Don’t turn it off!
How the Internet came to be
In 1993, CERN made the software of the World Wide Web available to the public domain and therefore to the public.
This is how the first stage of the Internet, Web 1.0, was born. Although accessible to everyone, it was a read-only website where only a few who knew how to code could post.
This led to the development of Web 2.0, which now allows us to interact more with the web and be creative ourselves, allowing us to publish anything imaginable on major platforms like Google, Facebook, etc.
However, it doesn’t come for free. In turn, many of the companies mentioned above may collect our data, which can then be used for targeted advertising.
A safer solution
Berners-Lee’s idea for a new web was born while working in his lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) trying to find a new way to decode the internet and protect our data.
His solution to the dysfunction of Web 2.0 is a third level protocol that allows a person to log in with their own personal ID.
He developed a new project called Solid, then a new company called Inrupt to help get Solid started.
Berners-Lee’s platform is accessible through the browser. However, it is not an application, but a “pod” baptized by Berners-Lee, in which one can store private data and retrieve it easily.
In simpler terms, you can think of it as a digital key or ID that is kept safe.
He said that was his vision for Web3.0. He pointed out that it is not about Web3, which uses the Ethereum blockchain system and is primarily intended to be decentralized.
The problem with Web3 is that data like B. Health data can be easily traced. Because they are public, securing them is expensive. Another issue is speed: one wonders if it can be fully decentralized.
Many cryptocurrency and metaverse companies call Web3 the future of the internet. But Inrupt has a different opinion.
“We’re talking about the Web 3.0 that really exists…not a marketing ploy, if you will,” said John Bruce, CEO and co-founder of Inrupt, who joined Berners-Lee five years ago.
“Tim explained to me one night over dinner that the web as it evolves is not the web we imagined. But we could get it somewhere if we pushed it the right way. “, did he declare.
“We worked a lot with the open source community. But we completed the picture of the technological puzzle that the web would need.”
The technology is already available and Berners-Lee said Inrupt is aimed at governments, including those in Europe. However, he did not want to reveal which countries it is exactly.
Is it still available ?
Web3.0 is already being rolled out in Flanders, the Flemish region in northern Belgium. Berners-Lee said social services will be delivered through pods and 6.5 million citizens will be able to use the technology by the end of the year.
Other users include the insurance industry as well as many other types of businesses.
But the technology must be accessible to everyone and every country and can also help save lives.
Inrupt has worked with NGOs to help refugees by allowing them to share their pod. They can then share their medical records, the clothes and tents they received and register with the NGO, which saves time.
Berners-Lee said other countries have asked him for help with victims of domestic violence and Inrupt has provided capsules to those affected.
“I’ve heard the average person doesn’t go to the police until they’ve been victimized for the 37th time,” he said.
“So if you’re a person [einen Pod] she can follow what’s going on in private, and if she goes to the police, she’ll have a lead.”
The modules are designed to help everyone in society protect their data online.
The company also seems ready for this, as many of us (want) to better protect our data since the revelations of Russian hacker interference in the 2016 US election, widespread misinformation and the Cambridge Analytica Facebook scandal.
Everyone wins, including Big Tech
But how would the big platforms react if they lost access to our data, which they resell to companies and advertisers for profit?
According to Bruce, everyone would be a winner because citizens could control the amount of data they share and companies would have a better understanding of user preferences.
Inrupt’s mission now is to continue talking to governments and businesses to see more pods deployed around the world.
But even if they’re rolled out everywhere, there’s still a long way to go to make the web safer.
“The web has always been accessible and it’s really important that it has some kind of internationalization. So making sure it works in many languages and for people with disabilities is what strong apps do . [Pods] could be very important,” he said.
He’s also concerned about what form the metaverse will take.
“There will be issues. If you’re worried about a feminist blogger on Twitter, how is that going to fare in the VR world?
“Obviously there’s a lot of thinking to be done about how to build systems as safe places,” he said. The work to make the web a more democratic and secure space is far from over, says Tim Berners-Lee.