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Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Is Social Media Destroying The Web?

Tim Berners-Lee at a Podcast InterviewPhoto: Uldis Bojārs
Tim Benners-Lee
Tim Berners-Lee, who is credited with developing the World Wide Web sees Facebook and other social platforms as a serious threat to the future of the Internet.

As he sees it, the four primary threats are:
  1. The eroding of the web's core principles.

  2. Social-networking sites are creating information silos with data posted by their users being locked off from the rest of the Web.

  3. Wireless Internet providers are being tempted to slow traffic to sites with which they have not made deals.

  4. Governments of all persuasions are monitoring people’s online habits which in turn endangers important human rights.
In his Scientific American journal essay published today "Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality" he makes the case of the web being critical to the future prosperity of mankind.

"Why should you 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. 

The Web is now more critical to free speech than any other medium. It brings principles established in the U.S. Constitution, the British Magna Carta and other important documents into the network age: freedom from being snooped on, filtered, censored and disconnected".

Universality is the key to the ongoing success of the Web and Tim Berners-Lee sees this as being threatened on several fronts.  He is particular concerned about the erosion of open standards because adhering to this principle fosters "serendipitous creation", where an online application could be used in ways no one previously imagined.

Not using open standards creates closed worlds such as those experienced with Apple's iTunes.  Publishers of magazines who are turning to smartphone apps rather than web apps is also a concern as these too are closed off from the web itself.

Amazon is held up as an example of what can be accomplished because of open standards;  they were able to develop as a result of access to free, basic web technologies and standards.

Keeping the Web separate from the Internet is another key ingredient in the ongoing success of the Web.  Separation of these layers is pivotal to fostering creativity.

His concluding statement is perhaps the most visionary:

"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."
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