If this morning you accessed the Internet and used the World Wide Web remember that April 30, 2013 was the 20th anniversary of that historic day when the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) made the World Wide Web available to the public on a royalty-free basis. Had CERN not taken this measure the WWW would not have been freely available for you to use today. To commemorate this event CERN re-activated the world’s first web page which can be accessed from http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html/

Let me clarify two things before commenting on the great significance of this anniversary and the dangers that loom ahead: (i) April 30, 2013 is not the anniversary of the invention of the WWW; (ii) the WWW and the Internet are not one and the same thing.

The first use of the word Internet was coined in December of 1974. It described the emerging global system of computers connected through the Transmission Control Protocol. This technology made the WWW possible. One can perhaps compare the Internet to a road and the WWW to a car using that road. The WWW is just one method a person can use to interact with another person in some capacity.

Tim Berners-Lee a CERN employee created the first website in 1989 as part of an effort to facilitate information-sharing between physicists at institutions around the world. In 1993 CERN made the WWW available on a royalty-free basis, leading to the growth of the Internet as we know it.

In a statement published this week CERN pointed out, the WWW was easier to use than other systems that were available at the time, like WAIS and Gopher. At the end of 1993, there were 500 Web servers and the WWW made up 1% of Web traffic; today there are approximately 630 million websites.

This is an enormous revolution. The whole world became an interactive web thanks to the invention of Berners-Lee and its popularisation by CERN. The effects and ramification for the spheres of politics, business, education, personals relationships, science, etc. etc. are enormous and probably too well known and experiences for me to spell them out. However does this reality of instance, constant and universal communication celebrate its birthday without having threats looming on the horizon?

Berners-Lee, the person who invented the Web, thinks that such a threat exists. He has just issued a powerful warning in an article published in Scientific American titled ‘Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality.’ He believes that the egalitarian principles of universal free access are being undermined. Under pressure from business enterprises there is the danger that the Web will be segmented into small unconnected fragmented islands. This would be a disaster.

One of the most basic, and most important characteristics of the Web, is its universality. It provides people with the freedom to link to anything, regardless of hardware, software, or Internet connection. As Berners-Lee notes this decentralization has made innovation possible.

In his article the father of the Web says that specific threats to universality come from cable television companies that might limit their users to downloading only the company’s mix of entertainment. Social networking sites too are causing problems by holding information about their members which isn’t transferable between sites, ‘locking-in’ large amounts of data.

Berners-Lee applauds a strategy of open standards. The World Wide Web Consortium, which he leads, proposes how such a strategy could be improved for the benefit of people like you and me in contrast to improvement for the benefit of big business.

Berners-Lee appeals to Web developers, companies, governments and citizens to work together openly and cooperatively to preserve the Web’s fundamental principles, as well as those of the Internet, ensuring that the technological protocols and social conventions that are set up respect basic human values. “The goal of the Web is to serve humanity. We build it now so that those who come to it later will be able to create things that we cannot ourselves imagine” wrote Berners-Lee in the above mentioned article.

Since up till now you have accessed the Web without any problem you may feel that you should not care.

Berners-Lee give this answer to those who ask the question: Why should I care?

‘Because the Web is yours. It is a public resource on which you, your business, your community and your government depend. The Web is also vital to democracy, a communications channel that makes possible a continuous worldwide conversation.”


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