Some might view being knighted for the creation of the World Wide Web as an excuse to accept a cushy tenured chair at a prestigious university and pontificate your way to senility. That approach didn't appeal to Tim Berners-Lee, who has taken an active role in shepherding the growth and development of his creation. Yesterday, Berners-Lee announced his latest effort in fostering the development of the web, the World Wide Web Foundation, which, based on his earlier organization, is likely to wind up with the monicker W3F. The new foundation is intended to foster open and expanded access to the web, but also has the more nebulous goal of improving the quality of information available through the web.
So far, precise details on the W3F are a bit sparse, with most of the information available coming from a speech by Berners-Lee in which he announced its creation. Seed money for the effort comes from the Knight Foundation, in the form of $1 million a year for five years. According to Berners-Lee, the Knights themselves share many of his overall goals.
Berners-Lee indicated that the W3F would focus on three general goals: advancing a single web that is open to any device and software; extending the capabilities supported by the web and ensuring they can be accessed securely; and extending the reach of the web to everyone on the planet. Some of these appear to be an extension of the W3C, which works to ensure that newly-devised technology conforms to open standards. The difference appears to be that the W3F will be a bit more proactive, and will research and promote technologies before handing them off to be standardized.
The technology it develops will focus on providing ways of extending the reach of the web to underserved populations. Here, the mandate is broad, encompassing everything from technology that improves the access of the disabled to that which makes it easier for those in developing nations to access the web. "The role of mobile technology in the poorest regions of the world merits particular attention," Berners-Lee said, highlighting the fact that, although few people in the developing world have computers, cell phone use is extensive. He suggested the W3F would help enable those with cell phones to have access to the same health, nutrition, and education resources that are available through traditional, computer-based browsers.
Berners-Lee is also interested in the problem of ensuring that the information accessed through the web is accurate. In a BBC interview, he highlighted the flood of misinformation that appeared as his former employer, CERN, got ready to fire up the LHC, and mentioned completely unfounded fears of a connection between vaccines and autism as the sort of baseless panic that the web has helped nurture. Berners-Lee is not alone with these concerns, but he would be if he actually figured out how to address them.
If he's a bit vague on specifics, that may actually be part of the point. Describing the web as something that "challenges the imagination," Berners-Lee said, "if the Foundation achieves all the things I can imagine now, we will have failed." Instead, it appears that the initial years of the W3C will simply see it act as a facilitator, bringing together, "business leaders, technology innovators, academia, government, NGOs, and experts in many fields to tackle challenges that, like the Web, are global in scale."
Given that it was announced Sunday night, it's also a bit early to be expecting a detailed elaboration of specifics, and the presence of Berners-Lee alone is sufficient cause to take the group seriously. Based on his past work, it's clear that Berners-Lee isn't interested in quietly occupying a tenured chair, and he continues to have a significant impact on the evolution of his creation.Posted on