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November 2010, Week 3

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Fri, 19 Nov 2010 23:09:49 -0500
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Long Live the Web

     The Web is critical not merely to the digital
     revolution but to our continued prosperity-and
     even our liberty. Like democracy itself, it needs
     defending

By Tim Berners-Lee
November 22, 2010
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=long-live-the-web

The world wide web went live, on my physical desktop in
Geneva, Switzerland, in December 1990. It consisted of
one Web site and one browser, which happened to be on
the same computer. The simple setup demonstrated a
profound concept: that any person could share
information with anyone else, anywhere. In this spirit,
the Web spread quickly from the grassroots up. Today,
at its 20th anniversary, the Web is thoroughly
integrated into our daily lives. We take it for
granted, expecting it to "be there" at any instant,
like electricity.

The Web evolved into a powerful, ubiquitous tool
because it was built on egalitarian principles and
because thousands of individuals, universities and
companies have worked, both independently and together
as part of the World Wide Web Consortium, to expand its
capabilities based on those principles.

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.

If we, the Web's users, allow these and other trends to
proceed unchecked, the Web could be broken into
fragmented islands. We could lose the freedom to
connect with whichever Web sites we want. The ill
effects could extend to smartphones and pads, which are
also portals to the extensive information that the Web
provides.

Why should you care? Because the Web is yours. It is a
public resource on which you, your business, your
community and your government depend. The Web is also
vital to democracy, a communications channel that makes
possible a continuous worldwide conversation. The Web
is now more critical to free speech than any other
medium. It brings principles established in the U.S.
Constitution, the British Magna Carta and other
important documents into the network age: freedom from
being snooped on, filtered, censored and disconnected.

Yet people seem to think the Web is some sort of piece
of nature, and if it starts to wither, well, that's
just one of those unfortunate things we can't help. Not
so. We create the Web, by designing computer protocols
and software; this process is completely under our
control. We choose what properties we want it to have
and not have. It is by no means finished (and it's
certainly not dead). If we want to track what
government is doing, see what companies are doing,
understand the true state of the planet, find a cure
for Alzheimer's disease, not to mention easily share
our photos with our friends, we the public, the
scientific community and the press must make sure the
Web's principles remain intact-not just to preserve
what we have gained but to benefit from the great
advances that are still to come.

To read the rest of this article, go to
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=long-live-the-web

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