Berners-Lee says web needs defending from 'walled gardens'

Cites Facebook among threats to the net on 20th anniversary of his invention
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Influential British scientist Tim Berners-Lee has published an article in Scientific American magazine warning of the danger of ‘walled gardens’ of commercial services such as Facebook.

20 years since writing the seminal article calling for the creation of the World Wide Web, Berners-Lee has set pen to paper again in an article entitled Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality.

Recalling the point when the world wide web went live on his desktop computer in Geneva in December 1990: “This simple setup demonstrated a profound concept: that any person could share information with anyone else, anywhere,” he wrote.

Berners-Lee may give some hint of satisfaction as he points out that at the 20th anniversary of his invention, the Web has spread to the point that it is “thoroughly integrated into our daily lives” and that we take the Web for granted and expect it to be available as any other essential service such as electricity.

However Berners-Lee goes on to issue a stern warning: “The Web as we know it, however, is being threatened,” he wrote, claiming that “successful inhabitants”, referring to mega sites such as 500 million strong Facebook, had “begun to chip away at its principals”.

His argument is that social networking sites are “walling off” information from the genuine world wide web and went on come out strong in favour of so-called ‘net neutrality’ by saying that wireless providers are “being tempted to slow traffic to sites with which they have not made deals.”

Another example of “closed worlds” which Berners-Lee criticised was the trend of publishers to produce smartphone applications rather than mobile accessible web pages. Calling the trend “disturbing” because such information was “off the web.”

“You can’t bookmark it or e-mail a link to a page within it. You can’t tweet it. It is better to build a Web app that will also run on smartphone browsers, and the techniques for doing so are getting better all the time.”

Going on to list further threats to web in the years ahead, Berners Lee cited net snooping and the case of Phorm launching an advertising service based on snooping Internet traffic contents. He also said that free speech ought to be protected and criticised China and ongoing Internet censorship but said that it was not only “totalitarian governments” at fault.

Berners-Lee criticised the “hastily passed” British Digital Economy Act which provides the ability for the government to order an ISP to terminate an Internet connection based on copyright infringement. “In these cases, no due process of law protects people before they are disconnected or their sites are blocked,” he said.

20 years later, one thing is for certain. Whether or not they agree with his political views, rather more people will be taking the time to read Berners-Lee’s article this time around.

“As long as the web’s basic principles are upheld, its ongoing evolution is not in the hands of any one person or organization—neither mine nor anyone else’s. If we can preserve the principles, the Web promises some fantastic future capabilities.”

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