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Inventor of the World Wide Web: It’s Messed Up Now

Tim Berners-Lee. Photo: Walter Bieri/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Tim Berners-Lee is a pretty important guy. Working at CERN in the late ’80s and early ’90s, he invented this thing called the World Wide Web. Odds are that right now, you’re reading this blog post on the World Wide Web, using a piece of software known as a web browser. The point is, when Berners-Lee has something to say, it’s probably a good idea to listen.

Today, the World Wide Web turns 29, and to celebrate the occasion, Berners-Lee wrote an open letter about how messed up the web is right now. A primary issue is centralization. “The web that many connected to years ago is not what new users will find today,” he writes. “What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms. 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.”

How have these dominant platforms locked in their success? “They acquire start-up 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.”

Sounds bad (imo)! To fix this problem, a stagnation in the industry that has made the web a worse place, Berners-Lee breaks out the R word: regulation. We need “a legal or regulatory framework that accounts for social objectives,” rather than just ensuring that businesses have the ability to generate profit. The current regulatory framework of the United States, for instance, is focused on a consumer’s financial benefit and it ill-equipped to handle companies such as Facebook that provide free services.

Anyway, the web’s not so great right now. Can we make it better? Berners-Lee thinks so — all we need is some sort of Internet Avengers team. “Let’s assemble the brightest minds from business, technology, government, civil society, the arts and academia to tackle the threats to the web’s future.” Okay, let’s go!

Inventor of the World Wide Web: It’s Messed Up Now