Open Letter

Dear Tim – the open web is long dead, thanks for the memories

By Oliver Smith 13 March 2017
Summary

Sir Tim Berners-Lee warns the open web is under attack, we warn that it's already dead.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee is the British inventor of the world wide web over 28 years ago.

This weekend he wrote an open letter warning of three challenges the internet faces today, the disappearance of privacy, rise of fake news and a lack of transparency over political campaigning online. In this post we respond with an open-letter of our own.

Dear Tim,

I couldn’t live without the internet. I get my news on Facebook, my shopping through Amazon and figure out who I’m going to vote for on Google.

You’re right to say there’s issues with the state of play.

But, the values upon which you built the ‘open web’ are now coming back to bite us in the arse.

It’s tough to see something you love twisted and abused. Just ask Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite.

He felt so heartbroken after reading his own obituary, which celebrated his invention and profiteering from arms sales, that he created the Nobel Peace Prize.

Back in 1989, your idea was that all content should be equal, but that’s been replaced by apps and the closed-wall private empires of Facebook, Google and even Uber.

And the truth is that the founding principles of the open web are what have led us to this mess today.

Monopoly machine

Tim, you’ve always been against online regulation.

You designed the web as we know it, to stop any government or organization from holding it back. But that very lack of control is what’s got us to where we are today – with vast unchallenged online monopolies.

In the UK a third of all young people get all their news from Facebook, and in the US it’s nearer 50%. And these figures are rising, fast.

For most people ‘the internet’ and ‘Facebook’ are the same thing.

Fake news

You built the ‘hyperlink’ to treat every link equally regardless of what’s being linked to, but this has led us to the point where fake news is as real, and treated as fairly, as any other source.

Despite Wikipedia’s valiant attempt to source and preserve ‘facts’, there’s no mechanism for truthfulness online.

It’s like an egalitarian society where no one tells the truth, but everyone still trusts each other. It’s the blind leading the blind online.

Business 2.0

Meanwhile the web’s lack of an easy, universal payment system (no, Bitcoin isn’t the answer) has led us into the dark world of dreaded advertising.

Today my eyeballs are used and abused by ads, my privacy shredded on an almost daily basis – even the most successful YouTube stars are baffled by the murkiness that this has become.

But there’s no better way to make money online, and that’s just not good enough. We need to find another way but, without someone challenging the giants we already have, this seems like a distant dream.

A very big bang

Don’t feel bad Tim, as you watch fake news, Facebook and ugly ads abuse the beautiful vision you outlined in 1989.

The openness of the web is what made it so great, but it’s also what led us to this dark place.

This might be your worst nightmare – but governments, through the power of regulation, are what we need to level the playing field and bring us back to your dream of an ‘open web’.

It’s a big decision and, as Alfred Nobel (and Spider-Man) taught us, with great power comes great responsibility.

But sometimes there’s a good case for dynamite too.