Tim Berners-Lee about the future of the web: «Build alternative social networks»

Tim Berners-Lee in Zurich: «Build alternative social networks.»

The inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, visited the Worldwebforum. At the ETH Zurich he talked about the changes of the web since its beginning and the necessary developments concerning the internet in the future.

One thing that fascinated the computer scientist at the time he developed the Hypertext Transport Protocol (HTTP) was that it was a decentralized system. You could link to other peoples content and they could link to yours.

Even though he doesn’t like the word hypertext because it sounds so complicated, the protocol he launched in 1989 was very simple:

«An anchor was a hash within the document, with a backslash in the URL you could go to another document in a different folder and with two backslashes you could go out to the universe.»

As simple as that. And its still working this way today.

Thinking back, he emphasizes that the protocol was the base for a great creative system. Everyone could start building a website and each internet-connected computer could be used as a server. Nobody had to ask for permission or had to show the site before publishing.

«Fake news will be a big issue in 2017»

Anyway Berners-Lee is unhappy about certain aspects of the WWW; one thing that he finds very disturbing is the fact, that some players have changed the policy.

«Twenty years back if you asked people what they do with the internet the answers were totally different. Nowadays if you ask people what they are doing, they tell you that they are using Facebook.»

In that sense the so called social network totally centralised the whole internet and continues to centralize it even more.

This is also a big problem concerning fake news. Because an author has the possibility to distribute certain news to a very particular and exclusive audience without others ever seeing this content. So, even if Facebook is installing a system to verify news, it will remain possible to deliver certain people special content because of the algorithm of Facebooks newsfeed. And if all of the recipients agree to the post, it becomes difficult — if not impossible — for the system to recognize and classify fake news. And that’s a special problem of Facebook.

«On Twitter everybody can see the bullshit you are posting.» There you almost need a psychological bodyguard. «But Facebook decides what you can see. And that is massive control.»

The control over the data must be with the people

Another massive problem with the internet is that people no longer have the control over their own personal data. «The data shouldn’t know, what app is using it.» That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t deliver any personal data.

Even more since the Internet of Things will come up with a lot of stuff which will collect personal data for good things. «The important social change must be: I control my data and I decide who and what I share it with.» That means that every single user can give certain apps and services access to special parts of her or his personal data.

Besides that, all social media networks should do much more for their community since they have a lot of responsibility. There should be much more common sense about the contents and the possibility for posts. As well as much more transparency about the policy and the rules. And over all web development must be much more interdisciplinary.

In general we need new social networks that are much more open. Where not a Marc Zuckerberg or whoever decides what apps or what content is allowed. «And especially we must invent a system which allows us to seperate data from applications.» In short :

And not less important:

What do you think of a new special social network for journalism with a focus on openness and transparency about it’s algorithms? Write it in the comments or on twitter @olafkunz.

The author of this article is consultant for digital change and founder of Disrupt Media. Thanx to Jeremy A. Prescott for his annotations.