Founder Berners-Lee Sees Social Media Corrupting His Intent For The Web

Web founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee warned "Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networking sites represent "one of several threats" to the future of the world wide web," the UK Guardian reported.

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"The Web as we know it, however, is being threatened in different ways. Some of its most successful inhabitants have begun to chip away at its principles. Large social-networking sites are walling off information posted by their users from the rest of the Web. Wireless Internet providers are being tempted to slow traffic to sites with which they have not made deals. Governments--totalitarian and democratic alike--are monitoring people's online habits, endangering important human rights," he wrote in the latest edition of Scientific American.

Berners-Lee is a major proponent of open source and access to the web and has spoken out against restricting access and content on the web.

In his article, "Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality", Berners-Lee argues that social networking sites are becoming closed silos with restricted access to user information contrary to the open standards on which he founded the web.

Another "related danger is that one social-networking site--or one search engine or one browser--gets so big that it becomes a monopoly, which tends to limit innovation".

Facebook and Google are obviously two examples of this. Berners-Lee was not advocating websites should not be able to charge for access, rather the standards used to build them should be open.

He went on to explain net neutrality and speak out against Google and Verizon for suggesting dial up access should not be included in net neutrality agreements.

"Although internet and web designs are separate, a Web user is also an Internet user and therefore relies on an Internet that is free from interference. In the early Web days it was too technically difficult for a company or country to manipulate the Internet to interfere with an individual Web user. Technology for interference has become more powerful, however. In 2007 BitTorrent, a company whose "peer-to-peer" network protocol allows people to share music, video and other files directly over the Internet, complained to the Federal Communications Commission that the ISP giant Comcast was blocking or slowing traffic to subscribers who were using the BitTorrent application. The FCC told Comcast to stop the practice, but in April 2010 a federal court ruled the FCC could not require Comcast to do so. A good ISP will often manage traffic so that when bandwidth is short, less crucial traffic is dropped, in a transparent way, so users are aware of it. An important line exists between that action and using the same power to discriminate.

This distinction highlights the principle of net neutrality. Net neutrality maintains that if I have paid for an Internet connection at a certain quality, say, 300 Mbps, and you have paid for that quality, then our communications should take place at that quality. Protecting this concept would prevent a big ISP from sending you video from a media company it may own at 300 Mbps but sending video from a competing media company at a slower rate. That amounts to commercial discrimination. Other complications could arise. What if your ISP made it easier for you to connect to a particular online shoe store and harder to reach others? That would be powerful control. What if the ISP made it difficult for you to go to Web sites about certain political parties, or religions, or sites about evolution?"

The issue of Scientific American celebrates the 20th anniversary of the web - I high recommend reading the numerous articles about the web in this issue.

About the author

Frank Watson has been involved with the Web since it started. For the past five years, he headed SEM for FXCM -- at one time one of the top 25 spenders with AdWords. He has worked with most of the major analytics companies and pioneered the ability to tie online marketing with offline conversion.

He has now started his own marketing agency, Kangamurra Media. This new venture will keep him busy when he is not editing the Search Engine Watch forums, blogging at a number of authoritative sites, and developing some interesting online community sites.

He was one of the first 100 AdWords Professionals, a Yahoo and Overture Ambassador, and a member or mod of many of the industry forums. He is also on the Click Quality Council and has worked hard to diminish click fraud.