Credited as inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee explains how the Internet is an essential component of free speech in the modern world. He continues by pointing out who may be subjugating our civil rights by controlling information flow for their own capital and cultural gains.
Tim Berners-Lee, best known as developer of the World Wide Web, issued a state of the Internet today on Scientific American. In it he gloried upon the strengths and innovations of the new communications medium. He also described how those who have been benefiting most from its rise in popularity are now taking away what is most useful and wonderful about it.
The Internet is at its best when it is a free, egalitarian tool that is accessible by everyone. As it stands now, Berners-Lee explains, we take it for granted like electricity. But various groups are limiting or planning to limit these essential characteristics. He indicates certain categories in particular:
- social networks that wall off user information from the rest of the Web
- Internet service providers that plan to give bandwidth priority to their own or their partners' media content at the expense of access to other data
- Democratic and non-democratic governments that monitor citizens' online habits
The dangers that Berners-Lee describes are relevant most because these organizations do not own the Internet - everyone does. Because we all own this flow of information, it is disturbing to him because we allow companies and governments to control what is not theirs, but what is ours, at the price of our Constitutional rights here in the US, and essential civil rights of other countries. Regardless of content quality or format, the Web was designed to be universally accessible when deployed correctly.
Becoming more specific later in his article, Berners-Lee cites Facebook (as well as LinkedIn and Friendster) as creating value based on user-submitted data. Birthdays, social graphs, interests and people in photographs are collected and organized in a way that is useful. "The sites assemble these bits of data into brilliant databases and reuse the information to provide value-added service—but only within their sites." A Facebook user cannot automatically use data from that site on another Web site - "each site is a silo, walled off from the others."
Contributing to this problem is the monopoly effect - the triumph of Facebook in this category has stagnated innovation, according to the author. The best response, he believes, are open source alternatives, pointing out GnuSocial and Diaspora in the social network category, and identi.ca as a similar alternative to Twitter.
Real world problems affect the virtual world - the monopoly effect shows this. Similarly, our real world rights to free communication have to be defended online, Berners-Lee argues.