The Web is 35 years old today

March 12, 2024

Thirty-five years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee submitted a proposal at CERN that would later become the World Wide Web. A little over two years ago, I listened to the audiobook version of Berners-Lee’s book, Weaving the Web. The book tells the story of the Web’s origins. The audiobook I listened to was read by the author. I felt like I was sitting in a room with Tim Berners-Lee and he was personally telling me the story.

Amazingly, the Web happened. It would not have happened in just any environment. CERN provided the right environment for Berners-Lee to turn his vision into the reality of the Web. The right players came along at just the right time to help him develop software and help him communicate and promote the Web for greater adoption.

It is amazing to me that the Web was able to evolve so long apart from commercial interest and continued to remain accessible to so many people. It has fulfilled many of the values that he had envisioned. But the last ten years have eroded a lot of his original hope for his creation.

Tim Berners-Lee wrote an open letter today to mark the occasion of the 35th birthday of his invention. His letter calls out the state of affairs today and urges continued work to help reshape the Web to align more with his original vision.

The two issues that he believes need to be addressed are:

  • “the extent of power concentration, which contradicts the decentralized spirit he originally envisioned”
  • “the personal data market that has exploited people’s time and data with the creation of deep profiles that allow for targeted advertising and ultimately control over the information people are fed”

As I read his open letter, I couldn’t help to think back to his book. So much of what he talked about today connected with things he shared in his book. I was glad to have that understanding as I read his thoughts today.

I am grateful for the Web. It has been the source of my livelihood for over 20 years. My job did not exist when I was graduating from college. I remember being intrigued while sitting in a senior seminar and one of my professors talked about the Web. Little did I know it would change and shape my adult years.

I hope that these issues that Tim Berners-Lee has highlighted can be addressed and that the Web can become more of what he originally envisioned it to be. But I fear that power and commercial interests will continue to shape it in ways that will deviate from its original vision.

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