On the Web's 30th birthday, its creator calls for a fix

It's been 30 years since Tim Berners-Lee started what we know today as the World Wide Web, and yesterday marked the celebration of that milestone and a renewed urge for fixing things before it's too late to save.

In an open letter Berners-Lee said yesterday that "while the web has created opportunity, given marginalised groups a voice, and made our daily lives easier, it has also created opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred, and made all kinds of crime easier to commit."

He names three different areas for improvement: "deliberate, malicious intent" (hacking, attacks, online harassment), "system design that creates perverse incentives" and "unintended negative consequences of benevolent design."

Admitting that it needs active work, he launched a new project called the "contract for the web" that's supposed to function as a way to have governments, companies and individuals to be on the same page about the web, and build toward something better (whatever that might be).

Unfortunately, despite the 'contract' moniker, the work today has little teeth, making suggestions such as "companies will respect consumers' privacy and personal data" and that "citizens will be creators and collaborators on the web." The idea is to build something more concrete, in the form of a "full contract" to hold the internet's companies and people accountable, but it seems largely idealistic, without teeth to actually push for change.

Facebook, Google and even¬†France¬†have signed the preliminary contract, despite it being vague, in the hopes that it will deliver something more concrete next year in May. The cause is noble, but given the open nature of the web‚ÄĒwhich is by design‚ÄĒit's going to be difficult to¬†force much change. It's one thing to write a document, it's another to enforce it into something meaningful.

It's also worth noting that Tim Berners-Lee is busy building what he touts as 'the new internet' with a protocol called Solid, which aims to decentralize control into 'pods' while maintaining compatibility with the existing web. The simple idea is that separating data from platforms will give control back to the people who own the data in the first place. 

The web isn't broken, it's just evolved, and where we're at today isn't a matter of it needing "fixing" but instead requiring new ideas, particularly around the business models internet companies rely on to survive. Perhaps a good start would be unbundling ICANN? Or addressing browser homogeneity? 


Tab Dump

Coming up this month:


Eero, now officially an Amazon company, pledges to keep user data private
Nice commitment here, but it's hard to believe this won't change in the same way that WhatsApp did when its founders left.

Apple is building WebRTC into Safari finally for macOS and iOS
It comes with VP8 as well, but there's some catches: it won't work if the app is used in "Progressive Web App" mode, and VP8 is limited to specific use cases. Still, this will open up new use-cases, like using video calling services without installing a dedicated app.

Windows 7 will soon start nagging users about reaching 'end of life'
Despite Windows 10 being free for years, there are hundreds of millions of holdouts.

Good read: Stratechery on the problems, and unexpected consequences, of Senator Warren's proposal to pursue tech breakups