As Web Turns 30, Creator Calls for Big Changes to Make it Better

12 March, 2019

The man credited with inventing the World Wide Web 30 years ago is calling for major changes to make it better for humanity.

Tim Berners-Lee spoke about the current state of the Web during a 30th anniversary event Tuesday in Geneva, Switzerland. He wrote the first proposal on creating a new system for organizing information. He sent that proposal to a supervisor on March 12, 1989.

The anniversary event was held at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. This is the research center where Berners-Lee was working as a computer engineer when he developed his ideas for the World Wide Web.

His proposal sought to create a way for computers across the world to communicate with each other.

The British computer scientist, now 63, had the idea for the hypertext transfer protocol - the "http" in front of each website address. The "http" system enabled the sending and receiving of written information and small images through a software program that became the first web browser. This browser prepared the way for internet availability for large numbers of people through home computers.

The CERN anniversary event celebrated how the creation of the World Wide Web launched a technological revolution that improved life in many ways. It forever changed the way people get information, share ideas, buy goods and do work.

But Berners-Lee told the event that many people – including himself – believe the web has fallen short in many areas and created new, serious problems.

In an open letter published Tuesday, Berners-Lee noted that 30 years after its invention, the web is used by half the world's population.

Berners-Lee said the web had clearly created great opportunities for humanity to progress and made life easier for millions of people. It also has given groups traditionally not heard a new voice in society. However, he added that the web had also provided new ways for "scammers" to carry out crimes and "given a voice to those who spread hatred."

"Against the backdrop of news stories about how the web is misused, it's understandable that many people feel afraid and unsure if the web is really a force for good," he wrote.

Berners-Lee told reporters that some political events in recent years also led many people to distrust the web. "They are all stepping back ... realizing that this web thing that they thought was cool is actually not necessarily serving humanity very well," he said.

English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, 3rd left on the podium, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web, attends an event at the CERN in Meyrin near Geneva, Switzerland, March 12, 2019. (Fabrice Coffrini/Pool, Keystone via AP)
English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, 3rd left on the podium, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web, attends an event at the CERN in Meyrin near Geneva, Switzerland, March 12, 2019. (Fabrice Coffrini/Pool, Keystone via AP)

Berners-Lee created a group called the World Wide Web Foundation. It seeks help from governments, companies and citizens to become more involved in shaping the web to do more good for humanity. His actual plan is called the "Contract for the Web."

Under this contract, governments are called on to take steps to make sure all citizens can connect to the internet and that individual privacy is respected. Businesses are asked to keep internet prices low so many people can use the web. In addition, companies should respect privacy and develop technologies that aim to put people - and the "public good" - first.

The plan also calls on citizens to create materials for the web and cooperate with others to make sure there is rich, quality information for everyone. In addition, citizens should seek to "build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity."

The path to make the internet better is the responsibility of everyone who uses it, Berners-Lee said. Making big changes will not be easy, but will be very well worth it in the end, he added.

"If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web," he said.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English. His story was based on reports from the Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and online sources. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

address – n. directions to an person, object or organization

software n. programs used to make computers perform different operations

browser n. computer program that permits the user to see pages on the internet

opportunity – n. a good possibility or chance for progress

scammer n. someone who makes money by using illegal methods or tricking people

contract n. legal document that makes an agreement between parties official

discourse n. spoken or written discussion

dignity n. the quality of being worthy of honor or respect