To celebrate 25 years of internet Tim Berners-Lee was kind enough to answer some questions during an AMA session on Reddit website. It was a great opportunity to ask the father of the internet about Snowden, the dark side of the internet, BitCoin, his first computer and various other interesting facts.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee started the AMA Reddit saying that “As we celebrate the Web’s 25th birthday (see webat25.org), I want us all to think about its future and ask how we can help make it a truly open, secure and creative platform – available to everyone. The idea of an AMA is another great example of how the Web’s helping to connect and empower people around the globe and I’m really excited to be answering your questions!” And right away the questions started to emerge. Here’s the full dialog.
What are your thoughts on the W3C Web Payments Community Group and their effort to standardize web payments using Bitcoin and other digital currencies? What impact, if any, do you think digital currencies might have on how value is sent over the Internet?
I think that it is important to have lots of different ways getting money to creative people on the net. So if we can have micropayment user interfaces which make it easy for me to pay people for stuff they write, play, perform, etc, in small amounts, then I hope that could be a way allowing people to actually make a serious business out of it. Flattr I found an interesting move in that direction.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
Have you learned to spell referrer yet ?
No, my speling is still terible. Hopefully not to much or it will get into header field names without some review at this stage!
Who was your role model as a kid?
My parents, who met building the first computer commercialized in the UK – the Ferranti Mk 1, and some of the people they worked with, my math teacher Frank Grundy, chem teacher Daffy….
Edward Snowden- Hero or Villain?
Because he ✓ had no other alternative ✓ engaged as a journalist / with a journalist to be careful of how what was released, and ✓ 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.
What was your first computer?
I got a M6800 evaluation kit in 1976, and built a bunch of 3U high cards, put them in a rack with a car battery in the bottom of the crate as UPS. All hand-soldered on veroboard, and programmed in hex. 7E XX XX was a long jump, and 20 XX a relative jump IIRC. The display was an old TV and some logic and a bunch of discarded calculator buttons lovingly relabeled with transfer letters. Those were the days….
Did you ever post a picture of your cat?
Dog: Yes, Cat: No.
Do you ever look at the stuff on the web now and feel like Robert Oppenheimer?
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.
Tim, What other names did you consider other than the world wide web?
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 world) …in fact I used HT for them).
What site do visit on a daily basis?
w3.org Since the beginning W3C has worked in the web. “If it isn’t on the web it doesn’t exist” when it comes to discussing things in meetings etc.
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?
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.
Where do you think the web will end up in the next 25 years?
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.
Why does no one mention Robert Cailliau anymore when it comes to the www? Didn’t both of you invent it?
Robert didn’t invent it. I invented it by myself, and coded it up on a NeXT, but Robert was the first convert to it, and a massive supporter. He got resources together at CERN, helped find students, gave talks. He also later wrote some code for a Mac browser called “Samba”. He also put a lot of energy into persuading the CERN directorate that CERN should declare that it would not charge royalties for the WWW, which it did April 1993.
How do you feel about the supposed dark side of the internet, such as the black markets? (Silk Road etc.)
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…
An Internet Bill of Rights feels like a nice concept, but even with the right intentions, it also feels like it centralizes power. And the goal of the Web today is to decentralize power. Can you explain how the two might balance?
Funny – I don’t see how a bill of rights (like the right to connect with whoever you want to) centralizes power. I think is lays the basis for steering laws, and governments are rather centralized things, but rights constrain governments for the benefit of individuals.
While the web has advanced a lot in the last 25 years, a lot of the user-facing machinery remains the same. My web browser, for example, is faster and has some different functionality, but it still feels very much like Netscape Navigator did in 1994. Do you have any ideas about how interface for the web could change in a real, transformational way?
I think that is a really good question. I don’t have the answer off the top of my head. Also think when your vision can be completely surrounded with pixels so small you can’t see them, a very powerful interface — how cna we use that — and to be creative together, not just watch? Inter-creativity I called it early on. Still don’t have it.
Did you ever think that the internet would get this big?
Yes, I more or less had it nailed down when it comes to the growth curve. I didn’t get it completely right — 25 years ago I was predicting Id be asked to do an AMA on reddit next wek, but it turned out to be this week. Well, we all make mistakes.
(no of course not)
Do you still have an interest in trainspotting?
Still like trains, travel on them when I can and when in a country which has gotten its train act together.