Refelctions on the 25th Anniversary WWW Web Panel: Equality and Neutrality are Key – Even as Programmability Increases

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This morning’s 25th Anniversary W3C’s panel on the next 25 years of the web was fascinating, with some great people up on stage including Tim Berners-Lee.

The panelists covered key topics including:

  • Don’t take the Web for granted.
  • The Web will reach every part of our lives through the Internet of Things
  • Inequality
  • Education
  • That we’re entering a new era of AI on the Web

The Web has grown phenomenally in the last 25 years and it’s clear that its empowering effect has been widespread. One its the most important missions is to keep spreading access to the Web and extending usage. Tim Berners-Lee’s clear message that we should not take the Web for granted resonates strongly – especially with recent censorship attempts in various countries and questions about Net Neutrality.

The panel also dug deeper – it’s not just Web access which counts also, but also the frequency and quality of that access, as well as the differing ability of individuals to leverage the Web for wealth creation (something we come to below). One of the panelists asked – why is it that CyWorld (A Korean Social Network which shut down earlier this year) could not easily co-exist with Facebook for example.

One of the other key things which stood out most was Jim Hendler‘s view that the Web was becoming, and needed to become, the substrate for new development (Apps / Artificial Intelligence) which could be relied upon to be available, just as the Internet was for early Web Developers.

“Just give us the JSON and get out of the way.”

While JSON itself is just one technology, it illustrates a strong shift towards a Programmable Web which wasn’t covered too much further on the panel. This “programmability” unleashes huge potential and at 25 years old, the Web stands before a likely deeply revolutionary shift from primarily a human-driven web to a machine-driven web – with APIs and software restructuring much of the data and transaction capability the Web has.

Seemingly one of the big challenges in this is not only the technical transformation of the Web that is occurring (very hard in itself), however the social implications on equality may also be profound, since the risk is that a machine driven Web increasingly puts power in the hands of those that can code which today is a small percentage of individuals.

The hope is that APIs and Apps can actually further drive democratization by giving more and more power for creativity and productivity to individuals. However, spreading the benefits of this new Programmable Web out to everybody will take just as much hard work as actually building it. Scripting platforms such as Zapier and IFTTT likely represent some of the first signs of that programming power being transferred to individuals but there are likely many challenges to follow.

It’s natural that the panelists focused primarily on the human-driven web we see today, but that doesn’t mean the responsibilities go away in the API and Machine driven Web.