A British physicist's frustration with varied data formats and computers coming to the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) laboratory in Switzerland from different countries in 1989 launched a revolution that today's generation takes for granted. Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1990 and published the first website on August 6, 1991 with the address http://info.cern.ch, giving shape to a single information network. A common hypertext language, interconnectivity, and the sea of data it has created in two decades are testimony to its profound impact. With nothing more than access to the Internet and a web browser, users effortlessly navigate the online world using hyperlinks. Thanks to the standardised web, they do this without having to master the more complicated Internet technologies in use a generation ago. In many countries, the www has unarguably democratised information. What is even more significant is that today it enables every individual to become a creator of content, and to publish it. The user ‘pulls' materials of choice from websites in contrast to the passive consumer of yesterday, who received content ‘pushed' by television. Sir Tim's invention swept the planet because of his laudable decision not to patent it.
As the public web enters its next decade, its immense potential for good stands out. Going forward, though, it should place in the public domain the thousands of terabytes of data held by governments and institutions. This will help researchers, scientists, economists and other social scientists, to come up with better solutions to problems. Such data have already been paid for by citizens, and by adopting an open, linked approach to their dissemination, low-cost answers to issues can be found. No one has reinforced this thought more vocally than the inventor himself. Tim Berners-Lee forcefully advocates the publication of vast amounts of data that can be both open and linked, to aid decision-making. These can, for instance, pertain to government, enterprise, science, meteorology, and events. Moreover, this is an activity to which the ordinary citizen can contribute his or her bit. The only factor that stands in the way of this transformation is the secretive attitude of established power structures, including opaque government. Let us also recall the advice given by Berners-Lee against doing away with net-neutrality, the system under which all data on the Internet, including web traffic, are treated equally. Privileging one set of high-paying users by giving priority to their data can only create disparities. The power of good is intrinsic to the free web, now an energetic 20, and to the Internet in general.