Tim Berners-Lee tells Scientific American editor Mark Fischetti that we still have a lot to learn about the Web’s design, operation and impact on society.
The Web is 20 years old this month. We all know how it works, what it can do and what it can’t do, right? Hardly.
“The Web’s remarkable progress to date has been quite gratifying to me,” says Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the Web and first took it live in December 1990. “But the Web is by no means finished. Every bit of past and future advancement rests on two things: technological protocols and social conventions. The protocols, like HTTP and HTML, determine how computers interact. Social conventions, such as the incentive to create links or the rules of engagement on a social networking site, are about how people like to, and are allowed to, interact. We still know surprisingly little about these technical and social mechanisms.”
Berners-Lee says we have only scratched the surface of what could be realized with deeper scientific investigation into the Web’s design, operation and impact on society. “Robust technical design, innovative business decisions and sound public policy judgment all require that we are aware of the complex interactions between technology and society,” Berners-Lee says. This awareness will come from Web science, which Berners-Lee hopes can improve “the science and engineering of this massive system for the common good.”