Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the web, is working on its digital fix.

By Adam Tinworth

This is a good quote:

“For people who want to make sure the Web serves humanity, we have to concern ourselves with what people are building on top of it.”

That sounds like it could have come from many of the pieces on this site in recent weeks, doesn’t it?

But it didn’t. It’s from an interview with Sir Tim Berners Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, in Vanity Fair’s Hive. And, it’s fair to say, he is less than proud of the turn his creation has taken over the last 30 years:

“We demonstrated that the Web had failed instead of served humanity, as it was supposed to have done, and failed in many places,” he told me. The increasing centralization of the Web, he says, has “ended up producing—with no deliberate action of the people who designed the platform—a large-scale emergent phenomenon which is anti-human.”

How? He argues that many of the big sites we’ve given power to have effectively become gatekeepers of a system not designed to have any gatekeepers. Amazon, Google, Facebook - they control the flow of information on the web and they track you as they do it.

The web’s inflection point

As we approach 50% of the world’s population connected, it’s time for us to reappraise things - and fix them, he argues.

“There are people working in the lab trying to imagine how the Web could be different. How society on the Web could look different. What could happen if we give people privacy and we give people control of their data. We are building a whole eco-system.”

His solution is a platform called Solid which aims to re-decentralise the web. It allows people to own and control the data they generate as they use the web - and then choose how and when the share it. It’s in its early stages right now, but the sheer cachet of working — coding even — with the creator of the web is bringing in volunteers thick and fast.

However, Solid does face a challenge: there are powerful vested interests now who would rather a system like this didn’t get traction.

The people’s digital fix

There’s an open letter on the World Wide Web Foundation website that sums up why he thinks he can win:

“While the problems facing the web are complex and large, I think we should see them as bugs: problems with existing code and software systems that have been created by people—and can be fixed by people.”

Let’s roll up our sleeves and get that digital fix done, people. We can do it.