By Chris Powers
The World Wide Web turned 25 years old last week and its creator, Tim Berners-Lee, is still fighting to make it better. Berners-Lee is taking the attention he’s getting during the Web’s anniversary to propose a “Digital Bill of Rights.”
In an interview with the technology website CNET, Berners-Lee noted that people never really thought about governments disconnecting the Web until former President Hosni Mubarak cut it during the 2011 revolution in Egypt.
“Even with the (NSA leaker Edward) Snowden revelations, they tend to be thinking just about the phone issues,” Berners-Lee said. “Now everybody gets to think about human rights on the Web.”
It is because of these recent events and proposals in many countries to set up roadblocks to net neutrality, including SOPA(Stop Online Piracy Act) in the United States, that Berners-Lee, 58, is calling for independence for his creation. Through the Web We Want initiative, he is targeting the spread of internet access to the nearly two thirds of the world that still doesn’t have it, establishing clear regulations and protecting personal information.
To achieve that goal, Web We Want is currently raising awareness through a public education drive on the importance of the open web, a small grants program, and joint mobilization efforts with other organizations.
To celebrate his creation’s birthday, Berners-Lee participated in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), where he took questions from users of the popular social news site. As is customary, the topics ranged from the incisive to the banal.
One Reddit user called Berners-Lee out on his support for Digital Rights Management despite his desire for an open web.
“People want to watch big movies. DRM is a pain in many ways, but if you have used Netflix or bought a DVD or a bluray, then DRM is part of your life,” Berners-Lee said. He also pointed out that copyright laws, particularly in the United States, are “seriously broken, and need fixing separate from the DRM question.”
On the topic of the dark side of the internet, Berners-Lee said, “Simple answers include of course that illegal things are crimes on or off the web. But anonymity is tricky. We have a right to be anonymous as a whistle-blower or under an oppressive regime but not when we are bullying someone? How can we build technical/social/judicial systems for determining which right is more important in any given case?”
Another Reddit user asked, “What was one of the things you never thought the internet would be used for, but has actually become one of the main reasons people use the internet?”
Berners-Lee responded with a single word, “Kittens.” When pressed by another user, he admitted that he’s never posted a picture of his own cat.
Other noteworthy information to come from his AMA: The World Wide Web was almost called The Information Mine (which one Reddit user pointed out would be abbreviated TIM instead of WWW). Berners-Lee is primarily a Firefox user but also uses Safari, Opera and Chrome. He still cannot spell referrer, his parents were his role models, and his first computer was an M6800 evaluation kit in 1976.
On March 12, 1989, Berners-Lee, proposed “a universal linked information system” to help academics and universities around the world run a particle accelerator in Switzerland. Instead of simply developing a narrow system for the CERN facility, he created an entire new way of feeding huge amounts of information into the Web, giving it somewhere to live and a way to find it later.
In 1994, Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium, the closest thing the internet has to a governing body. He continues to be an active member of the group today. In 2009, he established the World Wide Web Foundation to “tackle the fundamental obstacles to realizing his vision of an open Web available, usable, and valuable for everyone.” The group
A British citizen, Berners-Lee was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2004 and was honored during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London.