Today is the World Wide Web’s 30th anniversary

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The world wide web, one of humankind’s most revolutionary technologies, celebrates its 30th birthday today.

A large part of everyday life for much of the global community, the world wide web is thoroughly embedded into the fabric of developing and developed nations.

It has revolutionized the way humans work, socialize, engage in discussion, and communicate in general.

With the world wide web, businesses can connect their employees across departments and offices; discussion can take place between individuals from nations which are oceans apart; far-flung families are able to keep in touch through social media; its uses are seemingly endless.

As of 2012, there were more than 644 million active websites; needless to say that number has only risen exponentially since.

Unbeknown to many, the internet is not synonymous with the world wide web, as it is only one component of the latter.

The world wide web was created in 1989 by English engineer and computer scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who was a fellow at CERN at the time.

CERN is the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which Berners-Lee started at as an independent contractor.  

At the time, hypertext and the internet were already in daily use at CERN, and Berners-Lee had the radical idea of combining them, among other things.

“Most of the technology involved in the web, like the hypertext, like the Internet, multifont text objects, had all been designed already. I just had to put them together.” Berners Lee said in a 2007 interview.

Berners-Lee wrote to his boss proposing an information management system, which would become the world wide web, as an essential tool for high energy physics at CERN.

Mike Sendall, Berners-Lee’s boss, simply wrote on the proposal ‘Vague, but exciting’ – the project went ahead, and here we are.

Though it was designed out of necessity more than anything else, Berners-Lee has proven himself a highly altruistic man on a crusade for a safe and open web.

He was even knighted by the Queen of England, in 2004, for his magnanimous contribution to the internet.

Berners-Lee says in a recent blog post that this anniversary is an opportunity to celebrate how far the world wide web has come and reflect on how far it has to go.

“The web has become a public square, a library, a doctor’s office, a shop, a school, a design studio, an office, a cinema, a bank, and so much more…” Berners-Lee says.

“And while the web has created opportunity, given marginalized groups a voice, and made our daily lives easier, it has also created opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred, and made all kinds of crime easier to commit.

“…But given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better in the next 30.

“If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web.”

Berners-Lee lists three main sources of dysfunction on today’s web; malicious behavior such as state-sponsored hacking and online harassment; profit-models based on ads, clickbait and fake news; and unintended negatives such as the often hostile and divisive quality of online discourse.

Malicious behavior can be curbed through legislation and code, while the other problems will require research, tweaking and redesigns of existing models and systems, Berners-Lee asserts.

“With the Law of Sea and the Outer Space Treaty, we have preserved new frontiers for the common good.” Berners-Lee says.

“Now too, as the web reshapes our world, we have a responsibility to make sure it is recognized as a human right and built for the public good.”

Berners-Lee says that The World Wide Web Foundation, a nonprofit organization he founded, is working with governments, companies and individuals to achieve this goal.

In an increasingly digital age marked with politically motivated cyber-attacks, the enduring popularity of cryptocurrency, and constant scandals regarding online privacy and security, it would be foolish for governments and corporations not to cooperate with Berners-Lee and similarly minded people as they work towards a safer, more unified web.

One can only hope that come the web’s 40th anniversary, Berners-Lee and The World Wide Web Foundation have seen much success.

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