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Reinventing the Web

Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web as a way for scientists to find information. It has since become the world’s most powerful medium for knowledge, communications and commerce. “It’s been great,” he said, “but spying, blocking sites, repurposing people’s content, taking you to the wrong websites: that completely undermines the spirit of helping people create.”

On Tuesday, Berners-Lee and other top computer scientists — including Brewster Kahle, head of the Internet Archive and internet activist — gathered to discuss a new phase for the web.

The World Wide Web is often subject to control by governments and corporations. What might happen, the scientists posited, if they could harness newer technologies — like the software used for digital currencies, or the technology of peer-to-peer music sharing — to create a more decentralised web with more privacy, less government and corporate control, and a level of permanence and reliability?

The discussions, and the calibre of the people involved, underscored how the World Wide Web’s direction in recent years has stirred a deep anxiety among some technologists.

Berners-Lee, Kahle and others brainstormed at the event, called the Decentralised Web Summit, over new ways that web pages could be distributed, as well as ways of storing scientific data without having to pay storage fees to companies, and creating greater amounts of privacy and accountability.

“Edward Snowden showed we’ve inadvertently built the world’s largest surveillance network with the web,” said Kahle, whose group organized the conference. “Just a few big service providers are the de facto organisers of your experience. We have the ability to change all that.”

The scientists talked about how new technologies could increase individual control over money. For example, if people adapted the so-called ledger system by which digital currencies are used, a musician might potentially be able to sell records without intermediaries like Apple’s iTunes; news sites might be able to have a system of micropayments for reading a single article, instead of counting on web ads for money.

Berners-Lee said. “People assume today’s consumer has to make a deal with a marketing machine to get stuff for ‘free,’ even if they’re horrified by what happens with their data. Imagine a world where paying for things was easy on both sides.”

The movement to change how the web is built has an almost religious dimension.Still, not all the major players agree on whether the web needs decentralising.

“The web is already decentralised,” Berners-Lee said. “The problem is the dominance of one search engine, one big social network, one Twitter for microblogging. We don’t have a technology problem, we have a social problem.” — NYT

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 11:50:07 PM |

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