How the web could have been called "the mesh" and other tidbits from Tim Berners-Lee

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The World Wide Web (and NOT the internet) is 25 years old today! It’s a quarter of a century since CERN pioneer Tim Berners-Lee invented the thing that you’re using RIGHT NOW! To celebrate, Sir Tim has been over on Reddit answering user questions. Here’s our pick of his most interesting answers.

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Do you think in the (not too distant) future we’ll look back and think ourselves lucky to have witnessed a neutral, free, and uncensored world wide web? (wobetomit)

I think it is up to us. I’m not guessing, I’m hoping. Yes, I can imagine that all to easily. If ordinary web users are not sufficiently aware of threats and get involved and if necessary take to the streets like for SOPA and PIPA and ACTA. On balance? I am optimistic.

What other names did you consider other than the world wide web? (FLYINGSPAGHETTEESHIR)

Mine of Information, The Information Mine, The Mesh

None had quite the right ring. I liked WWW partly because I could start global variable names with a W and not have them clash with other peoples’ (in a C [the programming language] world) …in fact I used HT for them)

Edward Snowden- Hero or Villain? (mart95123)

Because he…
✓ had no other alternative
✓ engaged as a journalist / with a journalist to be careful of how what was released
✓ provided an important net overall benefit to the world
I think he should be protected, and we should have ways of protecting people like him. Because we can try to design perfect systems of government, and they will never be perfect, and when they fail, then the whistleblower may be all that saves society.

Where do you think the web will end up in the next 25 years? (munki87)

It is up to us. It is an artificial creation, as are our laws, and our constitutions … we can chose how they work. We can make new ones. Our choice.

A lot of people think that your calls for an open web are a bit hypocritical considering your support for the HTML5 DRM spec. What would you tell them? (Xeon06)

I would suggest to them the DRM question is not that simplistic. People want to watch big movies. DRM is a pain in many ways, but if you have used Netflix or bought a DVD or a bluray, then DRM is part of your life. I agree DRM is a pain in many ways, and should only be used for very “high value” streams. I also would point out that Copyright, DMCA aand CFAA in the US are seriously broken, and need fixing separate from the DRM question. Actually I would get involved with a very long complicated discussion, as I have already with many people. Not sure we have space here.

Other points include the the browsers have putt DRM in – they have to to keep market share – irrelevant of whether the HTML specs make the connection to the web more standard.

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[Yes, TBL really did post this “college liberal” meme, which is supposed to illustrate liberal hypocrisy.]

How do you feel about the supposed dark side of the internet, such as the black markets? (Silk Road etc.) (tacobell1896)

Complicated question. I am not a great expert on them. Simple answers include of course that illegal things are crimes on or off the web. But anonymity is tricky. We have a right to be anonymous as a whistle-blower or under an oppressive regime but not when we are bullying someone? How can we build technical/social/judicial systems for determining which right is more important in any given case? Relates to tor…

Do you ever look at the stuff on the web now and feel like Robert Oppenheimer? (SatellyteHye)

[Oppenheimer famously said after helping to create the atomic bomb, “In some sort of crude sense, which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.”]

No, not really. The web is a — primarily neutral — tool for humanity. When you look at humanity you see the good and the bad, the wonderful and the awful. A powerful tool can be used for good or ill. Things which are really bad are illegal on the web as they are off it. On balance, communication is good think I think: much of the badness comes from misunderstanding.

What are your thoughts on the increased surveillance on internet based mediums like GCHQ’s monitoring of all the Yahoo video chats. Do you personally think it should be controlled, non existent or fine the way it is now? (misanthrope__)

I think that some monitoring of the net by government agencies is going to be needed to fight crime. We need to invent a new system of checks and balances with unprecedented power to be able to investigate and hold the agencies which do it accountable to the public.

What was one of the things you never thought the internet would be used for, but has actually become one of the main reasons people use the internet? (totharescue)

Kittens. [Yes, TBL actually said this]

Happy Birthday, web. And thanks, Sir Tim!

James O’Malley

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