Web inventor launches World Wide Web Foundation

Dubbing the initiative a "global effort to connect humanity," Web pioneer Sir Tim Berners-Lee has launched the World Wide Web Foundation, a new effort focused on the "next phase" of the Web.

In a speech last Thursday in Washington, DC, the man who is often referred to as "the father of the Web" described his new group's three-fold mission as "to advance One Web that is free and open, to expand the Web's capability and robustness, and to extend the Web's benefits to all people on the planet."

Berners-Lee, who also directs the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), told the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation - which gave his new venture a $5 million seed grant -- that despite the progress made in technical standardization and other aspects of Web engineering, some 80% of the world's people don't yet have access to the Web.

Essentially, Berners-Lee's new World Wide Web foundation will bring together experts from business, technology, academia, government and other areas to help bring the Web to those who are still "underserved."

"The Web has been largely designed by the developed world. But it must be much more inclusive in order to be of greater value to us all," according to Berners-Lee, who is credited with inventing the Web back in 1990 while working with colleagues at CERN to establish the first communications between an HTTP client and server over the Internet.

"It took 19 months for my colleague Robert Cailliau and me to persuade the CERN directors not to charge royalties for use of the Web. Had we failed, the Web would not be here today," he acknowledged in his speech on Thursday.

A few years later, the W3C was formed to address the threat that arose when "competing browser developers sought to divide the Web into incompatible islands," Berners-Lee recalled.

"W3C became a successful forum for consensus, where diverse parties have developed some of the core technologies that make the Web work. These technologies -- HTML, XML, Style Sheets, to name a few -- have fueled billion-dollar industries and connected people like never before," he remarked.

Yet "it became apparent that for all the interesting work being done around the Web, the analysis and engineering of the Web itself -- humanity connected -- was not recognized as an object of study. We did not have the right journals for research results, nor the right courses," he maintained.

To help spur work in that direction, he set about working with others to define the new field of "Web Science." In 2006, he established the Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI).

"But once again, this has not been all that is needed. Future technology should be smarter and more powerful, of course. But you cannot ethically turn your attention to developing it without also listening to those people who don't use the Web at all, or who could us it if only it were different in some way," he said.

"Fortunately, we are headed in that direction. Web Science has as a goal that the Web should serve humanity. W3C's standards are engineered so that the Web remains accessible to people with disabilities, and does not have an inherent bias towards any particular language, writing direction, or culture. As part of ensuring that the Web meets the needs of more people, W3C recently started new work in two areas: e-Government, and the role of mobile technology in developing economies," according to Berners-Lee.

Berners-Lee explained that, along with colleagues, he has identified three avenues -- technology innovation, Web science, and "the application of the Web for the benefit of underserved communities" -- which will lead to the "next phase" of the Web through the World Wide Web Foundation. "However, these avenues require significant collaborative efforts, worldwide, by all those who seek to fulfill the original vision of the Web: humanity connected by technology."

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