Takeaways From the Reddit AMA With the Man Who Invented the Web

On its 25th anniversary, Tim Berners-Lee talked to people about the web's future.

Photo via Reddit

Photo via Reddit

It’s been 25 years since the World Wide Web was first conceived, and in that time it has gone from a simple text-based file-sharing system to a full-blown, life-consuming, selfie-posting netherworld that has exponentially reshaped how we live our lives.

To celebrate the milestone and just how far the web has come in a quarter of a century, the man that’s credited with coming up with the proposal that set off a chain-reaction of changes to how people find and share information spoke up to discuss where it goes from here.

During a Reddit AMA on Wednesday, Tim Berners-Lee, who on March 12, 1989, submitted an idea to colleagues at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, suggesting they create a universal linked information system which later became the web, shared insights and concerns about its path as content continues to be shared with rapidity.

“As we celebrate the web’s 25th birthday, 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,” said Berners-Lee, a Boston resident, before kicking off the discussion with users online.

In a video posted to WebAt25.org, where celebrities sent birthday messages to the web, Berners-Lee said in order to make the platform available to everyone, we need to figure out how to both secure it and improve upon what it already has to offer. “Though the mood is upbeat, we also know we are not done. We have much to do for the web to reach its full potential. We must continue to defend its core principles and tackle some key challenges,” he said.

He touched on these topics and more during his Q and A session with Redditors. Of course, because Reddit can be dangerous territory, questions ran the gamut, with people asking everything from “What’s your favorite website?” to “Edward Snowden—Hero or Villain?” They even asked about his thoughts on “Bronies.”

Berners-Lee couldn’t get to them all, though, so we sifted through the conversation to dig out some tidbits from the conversation:

He never imagined the web would be used for this purpose:
When asked what was the one thing he never thought the web would be used for, but actually became common, Redditors were sure that the answer would be extremely simple: porn. But that’s not what Berners-Lee had in mind. “Kittens,” he replied.

And he doesn’t share pictures of his own:
“Dog: Yes, Cat: No.”

He thinks crime is crime, no matter what:
When asked about his thoughts on websites like Silk Road, where under-the-radar illegal drug activity was going on, Berners-Lee said the topic can be complicated. “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?”

Keeping a tab on that crime might require some federal muscle:
“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,” he said.

World Wide Web wasn’t the first name he had for the information-sharing system:
Before it got its name, he was considering calling it the “Mine of Information,” or “The Information Mine.” He even considered “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’,” he said.

He shared his thoughts on digital currency, like bitcoin:
“I think that it is important to have lots of different ways [of] 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 [of] allowing people to actually make a serious business out of it,” he said.

Where the web goes from here is in the hands of those who use it:
“It is up to us. It is an artificial creation, as are our laws, and our constitutions…we can choose how they work. We can make new ones. Our choice.”