The Godfather Speaks Out: Berners-lee on Internet Marketing and the State of the Web
Sir Tim Berners-Lee is the founding father of web, the inventor of this vast network of information and the one that made it all happen. Far from being a reclusive geek locked away in a cellar surrounded by 12 Matrix-esque monitors, Berners-Lee is an outspoken philosopher and critic of his own creation. He is also the subject of heavy citation by students of digital media like myself who used his prophecies to help make sense of the social and cultural aspects that are woven into the fascinating metaphysical realm that is the internet.
The web was originally intended as open resource where information could be shared freely amongst users, the internet certainly still falls under this remit but it has gone through deep-seeded and far reaching changes in the past five or so years with the advent of online social networking. Sites like MySpace, Facbook and Twitter have reorganized the ways in which people communicate on the web and forced businesses to adopt the medium in order to stay relevant to their publics.
So the web is making us more social and everything is rosy, right? Perhaps not. Berners-Lee recently aired is views about the effects that these social networks are have on the infrastructure of the web, arguing that far from making the web more open to sharing, these huge databases of information are fragmenting the web into a number of closed ‘islands’. These islands are ‘walled off’ since they don’t allow the free and easy access of their user’s network of contacts.
Facebook immediately springs to mind with its vast reams of valuable information. Berners-Lee comments that this tendency to keep data private goes against the founding principles of the web, designed to be a central pool of information that anyone could dip into. In his words;
“The more this kind of architecture gains widespread use, the more the web becomes fragmented, and the less we enjoy a single, universal information space.”
Not reserving his concern for social networks, Berners-Lee also noted a dislike for companies that make desk top or mobile apps. He believes that the information stored on these apps should sit alongside other web sites instead of being ‘closed off’. Apps, he says, are ‘closed worlds’, reserved only for the people that own the right hardware or have the disposable income to spend on them.
Sir Tim did not stop there, Google and U.S telephone network were next in the firing line as he criticized their agreement to limit access to certain sites from mobile devices. As Berners-Lee correctly points out, individuals living in rural areas are only able to connect to the internet via mobile, the inability do so would be tantamount to discrimination and close off large swathes of information to many people.
Sir Tim’s views resonate because they go against the grain of social media evangelism which is currently circulating on the web. They also highlight once again the issue of privacy online, people don’t realise that everything they do on Facebook is logged and used by the site owners and its affiliates to their advantage, even if it is deemed to be ‘private’.