Tim Berners-Lee: we need to re-decentralise the web

Tim Berners-Lee: we need to re-decentralise the web

Tim Berners-Lee with David RowanChris Woods / chrismwoods.com Twenty-five years on from the web’s inception, its creator has urged the public to re-engage with its original design: a decentralised internet that at its very core, remains open to all. Speaking with Wired editor David Rowan at an event launching the magazine’s March issue, Tim Berners-Lee said


Tim Berners-Lee with David Rowan
Tim Berners-Lee with David RowanChris Woods / chrismwoods.com

Twenty-five years on from the web’s inception, its creator has
urged the public to re-engage with its original design: a
decentralised internet that at its very core, remains open to
all.

Speaking with Wired editor David Rowan at an event launching the
magazine’s March
issue
, Tim Berners-Lee said that although part of this is about
keeping an eye on for-profit internet monopolies such as search
engines and social networks, the greatest danger is the emergence
of a balkanised web.

“I want a web that’s open, works internationally, works as well
as possible and is not nation-based,” Berners-Lee told the
audience, which included  Martha Lane FoxJake Davis (AKA Topiary) and  Lily Cole. He suggested one example to the contrary: “What I
don’t want is a web where the  Brazilian government has every social network’s data stored on
servers on Brazilian soil
. That would make it so difficult to
set one up.”

It’s the role of governments, startups and journalists to keep
that conversation at the fore, he added, because the pace of change
is not slowing — it’s going faster than ever before. For his part
Berners-Lee drives the issue through his work at the Open Data
Institute, World Wide Web Consortium and World Wide Web Foundation,
but also as an MIT professor whose students are “building new
architectures for the web where it’s decentralised”. On the issue
of monopolies, Berners-Lee did say it’s concerning to be “reliant
on big companies, and one big server”, something that stalls
innovation, but that competition has historically resolved these
issues and will continue to do so.

The kind of balkanised web he spoke about, as typified by
Brazil’s home-soil servers argument orIran’s
emerging intranet
, is partially being driven by revelations of
NSA and GCHQ mass surveillance. The distrust that it has brewed,
from a political level right down to the threat of self-censorship
among ordinary citizens, threatens an open web and is, said
Berners-Lee,  a greater threat than censorship. Knowing the NSA  may be breaking commercial encryption services could
result in the emergence of more networks like China’s Great
Firewall, to “protect” citizens. This is why we need a bit of
anti-establishment push back, alluded to by Berners-Lee.

He reiterated the need to  protect whistleblowers like Edward Snowden that leak
information only in extreme circumstances “because they have this
role in society”. But more than this, he noted the need for
hackers.

“It’s a really important culture, it’s important to have the
geek community as a whole think about its responsibility and what
it can do. We need various alternative voices pushing back on
conventional government sometimes.”

In the midst of so much political and social disruption, the man
who changed the course of communication, education, activism and so
much more, and in so many ways, remains dedicated to fighting for a
web founded in freedom and openness. But when asked what he would
have done differently, the answer was easy. “I would have got rid
of the slash slash after the colon. You don’t really need it. It
just seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Read more about The Web @ 25 in the March issue
of Wired
.

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