Copyright 2010-3010 By Chase Kyla Hunter, Re-posts permitted leaving content and links intact.
Next month will mark the 20th anniversary of the day that the very first web page appeared on fledgling global computer networks, soon to be christened the “world wide web.” Our planet has been completely transformed by the invention of computer scientist and CERN technician Tim Berners-Lee in 1990.
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. – Tim Berners-Lee
Today, however the global democratic and egalitarian nature of the world wide web is threatened by social networking behemoths like Facebook, which in effect, walls off the collected member data which is entered into the site, prohibiting this data from being made accessible by other portals online. Try to imagine if 90% of every city and town in America became some sort of “members only” gated community practically overnight. People who were not “members” suddenly would be unable to drive the roads which were now “owned” by these 5 or 6 gated communities, thus forcing people who needed to drive to get somewhere to join these communities, and divulge their private information, whether they wanted to or not.
That, in the digital sense of the word, is exactly what Facebook is now forcing onto the rest of the internet. If I want to see what Facebook user has linked to my blog from their page on Facebook, I am forced to join Facebook, which I refuse to do for about a hundred good sensible reasons. Here’s what Tim Berners-Lee has to say about the troubling issue that sites like Facebook present to the freedom of the internet:
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. Tim Berners-Lee
It is of the utmost importance that intelligent and farseeing discussions begin to examine now, what the ultimate outcome and consequences may be in another 20 years for the overall health, freedom, democracy and well being of the internet, as mega-sites like Facebook continue to grow and dominate the web landscape. I can actually foresee a strange new “first internet” twenty years from now which is nothing more than a gigantic digital continent, which is walled off from the rest of the web, called , and I am being facetious here, oh, let’s say: “Facebook Fantasy Island.” This digital monarchy now sits squarely in the middle of world cyberspace with 4 billion users, relegating the rest of the internet to an inferior and secondary tier of status, bandwidth, and information access. Those digital outsiders who have valued their privacy, refusing to join the behemoth, now use a second tier smaller “internet” that is excluded from the gargantuan ongoing “big brother supervised digital block party” which will have finally become Facebook by the year 2030.
Readers may think I am exaggerating wildly, but I do so to make a point. When there is ultimately, 20 years from now, one privately owned internet mega-portal that has culled the vital data and personal statistics, lifestyle habits, interests, hobbies, book and music lists, movies, family stats, and every other imaginable snippet of personal information that could ever be datamined from 2/3rds of the world’s online population, with their own naive consent, and is holding that data in private digital vaults, dispensing it at will to governments, corporations, and whomever else is willing to pay the asking price for it, then don’t we have the equivalent of global digital socialism?
Those familiar with George Orwell‘s “1984” most likely never imagined that Big Brother might not originate so much with the federal government as it would those firms which learned how to dominate the landscape of the world’s computer networks during the first twenty years of the world wide web. But that is exactly the landscape which I see shaping up in front of me. I am not exactly sure what the solution is at this time.
As long as there are millions of young people who want to date and mate, there will be Facebook. But just exactly how large and overpowering in scope should we allow Facebook to become? When I was still quite young, the federal government broke up the national telephone monopoly known formerly as “Southern Bell Company.” The FED has done the same thing with gas companies and other huge growing monopolies that eventually threatened fair and equitable business practice. Will it eventually come to the same thing with Facebook?
I ask these questions, and pose these scenarios because these questions need to be asked, and the possible eventual scenarios need to be examined. Just exactly how big do we want to allow mega-portals like Facebook to get before the global minds and thinkers of the digital world intervene to keep one internet firm from eventually “owning” the personal data of the majority of worldwide internet users?
The time to study the possible problems, scenarios and outcomes for the internet is now, not twenty years from now, when it may be too little, too late.
Chase Kyla Hunter
- Tim Berners-Lee: Facebook could fragment web (Josh Halliday/Guardian) (techmeme.com)
- Tim Berners-Lee: The Web is threatened (news.cnet.com)
- Tim Berners-Lee: Facebook Threatens Web, Beware (huffingtonpost.com)
- Tim Berners-Lee criticises Facebook’s ‘walled garden’ (telegraph.co.uk)
- “Berners-Lee: Apple, Facebook are enemies of the web” and related posts (blogs.reuters.com)
- Facebook chipping away at webs principles, says Berners-Lee (newstatesman.com)
- Guardian: Analysing data is the future for journalists, says Tim Berners-Lee (blogs.journalism.co.uk)
- Berners-Lee Sounds Alarm Over Appified, Siloed, Regulated Web (tjantunen.com)
- Long Live the Web (Tim Berners-Lee/Scientific American) (techmeme.com)