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World Wide Web turns 30!

As the World Wide Web (WWW) turns 30 on 12th March 2019

Its inventor, Tim Berners Lee, who inherently knows that his invention was a revolutionary coming-of-age breakthrough in the world of internet, doesn’t always seem to be quite happy with its creation. This time too, he expressed his concerns over the growing privacy espionage in the www, led by state-sponsored hacking, online harassment, hate speech, and misinformation, due to which democracy was under serious threat, he stated. While the world celebrated the occasion of ‘digital adolescence’ with hilarious tweets, Lee gave us the reason to be concerned over the real danger surrounding the internet. Once conceived and developed to meet the demands of scientists in universities all over the world, right now, the web has spread everywhere, even in the dark. And it’s high time we started caring about privacy.

How did it all begin?

Thirty years ago, Tim Berners Lee, a professor at the Physics Research Laboratory at CERN, situated at the French-Swiss border, tried to solve the problem surrounding the future of CERN, i.e, keeping track of a vast amount of documents. He initially proposed in his paper Information Management: A Proposal, that they would implement an inceptive field of technology, the hypertext, in which he introduced a hierarchical system called Mesh, that allowed for the human-readable documents to be linked together, with a distributed architecture that would see those documents stored on multiple servers and so could be accessed by all the people simultaneously. Though, for his boss, the idea seemed “vague but exciting”, it took Lee another year until in 1990, he started writing the actual code for, now known to be, World Wide Web. The first website was built within the borders of France and went online by August 16, 1991, but by 1993, Berners-Lee and CERN decided not to make WWW confined just to the private companies who were then positioning themselves to try to monopolize the web as a commercial platform. So they released the code free of cost so that millions of web developers worldwide could remain one step ahead of any company that tried to commercialize the web and force people to use it. The decision came at a critical time when the primary goal of the web to prove to be a ubiquitous, open communities platform, could have got ruined its inception worldwide.

Berners-Lee was of the philosophy that Internet should be open-source and be shared by everyone in the world, but not many people shared his aim, as many tried to make a buck or two out of it, and the world saw the boom and rise of various dot-com companies.

Tim Berners-Lee demonstrates the World Wide Web to delegates at the Hypertext 1991 conference in San Antonio, Texas

What concerns the founder right now?

Even Lee couldn’t have imagined the rapidity with which WWW expanded into a universally used network, while he was designing a system for sharing data about Physics experiments. In an open letter to the media, marking the 30th birth anniversary of the creation of the World Wide Web here’s what he said:-

“If we give up on building a better web right now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web. It’s our journey from digital adolescence to a more mature, responsible and inclusive future.

He said the editorial power of Facebook’s algorithm was “scary”. Major tech firms like- Amazon, Google and Facebook hold “too much power” in society. US presidential senator Elizabeth Warren started a debate to regulate the powers of these tech firms, allowing the users to delete & extract their data whenever required. The firms backed the idea of breaking up their links and working uncharacteristically. However, Facebook later turned down and then restored ads from its platform calling for tech giants to be broken up. Berners-Lee said on this, “They are all backing up, suddenly terrified by the recent Trump and Brexit elections, realising that this web thing they thought was that cool was not really serving humanity very well.” “It seems we don’t finish reeling from one privacy disaster before moving onto the next one,” he said while expressing concerns about whether social media were really supporting the idea of democracy. There was a threat on WWW of having its fragments being controlled by various private companies as regulatory blocs- in the United States, the EU, China or elsewhere, which could be massively damaging, said Berners-Lee.

Like much of the inventions that changed the world, the World Wide Web garnered much less fanfare during its initial release. But from just 130 websites in June 1993 to roughly a billion websites in 2018, World Wide Web, later on, went on to become the largest universal network and take on to the world, dividing it into two parts- online and offline. From email to video conferencing to sending a message on Facebook, seemingly every large and small action we perform on Web goes back to this day in 1993.

Flashback: The first web page, that ever  went live, was dedicated to information on the World Wide Web project and was made by Tim Berners-Lee. It ran on a NeXT computer at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN. The first web page address was http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html

The internet created the platform for people to communicate, collaborate, participate and share at an unprecedented rate. It made the world a small virtual room. This has enabled interactions between all sorts of people- belonging to all sorts of domains, from scientific to business, from medicine to government communities, providing them with a pool of opportunities to make their career on internet itself, and a platform to showcase their talent and to share their achievements with the world. It has provided us with a plethora of information and knowledge, ranging from a diverse variety of fields, in a way like never before imagined in the history of mankind. In other ways, it harnesses the capabilities of humanity to do what we do best: share, learn, collaborate and innovate.

There wouldn’t be any speck of internet today if it hadn’t been for the World Wide Web. We have been provided with an invaluable gift borne from the brilliant mind of Lee, for the sake of God, use this gift wisely…

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