World Wide Web Creator Berners-Lee Sounds Off at Nokia World

In a wide-ranging keynote, World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee talks the net, technology trends and bridging the digital divide.

LONDON - In a wide-ranging keynote about issues atop his mind, Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, touched on just about every subject he could, but it is clear he has a keen interest in getting more data on the Web, continuing to bridge the digital divide, handling privacy in a Web-oriented world and network neutrality.

Berners-Lee delivered the opening keynote at the Nokia World 2010 conference here, opening his talk by encouraging developers to write for the Web. "Make Web apps so they can work with all kinds of different devices," he said.

However, "putting data on the Web" is one of his pet projects, which he says he started in 2009. "Data on the Web is something I'm very excited about."

Berners-Lee spoke of how he convinced the United Kingdom government to put all its data on the Web, and he said he was pleased to say that process is ongoing. Later, in a small group interview with eWEEK and others, Berners-Lee noted that not all data should go online. For instance, personal data or military data need not go online.

And the issue of putting data on the Web is relevant to the mobile world, he said. "All the things you run off your mobile are data-backed," he added. "All these apps flourish on an open bed of data."

Moreover, "You can use data on mobiles as well as on really big screens," Berners-Lee said. "The good thing about data is you can reuse it on different size things, like something the size of a watch or something very big."

Berners-Lee said the move to put more and more data on the Web is a boon to developers, particularly those that can deliver mashups that feature data from various locations.

Meanwhile, Berners-Lee said that although the Web has spread to the point where 20 percent of the world uses it, that is not enough. In particular, it is not enough because "80 percent of the population in the world has a signal" and could gain access to the Web if they had the means. However, "80 percent are not part of the information society," he said. So in 2009, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) started the World Wide Web Foundation to look into what could be done to get the other 80 percent online.

Berners-Lee said he used to assume that rather than worry about getting these folks, who might be in remote areas of Africa and elsewhere, Internet access, maybe they should first get access to clean water and health care. "But that's not necessarily true," he said, because the Web can be an enabler to help people get all of that.

In addition, Berners-Lee said it has gotten to the point where a $10 phone now has a Web browser on it. "But to enroll in a data plan, the rate goes up," he said. And poor people cannot afford this. "This is a huge issue," he said.

To make matters worse, much of the data being sent is being sent via SMS and "SMS is the most expensive way to send data. So let's look at very low bandwidth, very cheap." Berners-Lee said he is looking for someone to step in and provide cheap bandwidth by default, maybe even free. He said this could be done by carriers or handset providers. "You give away the small line for free and you charge for the big one."

Privacy also rated among the issues Berners-Lee described as "concerns" of his. He said social networking sites are not the only things to have privacy as an issue. Location-based technologies also challenge privacy.

"I think we're going to have to look at privacy from a different point of view," Berners-Lee said. "We must build systems that hold organizations accountable, and companies will build systems that respect users."

Meanwhile, "we must ensure the neutrality of the underlying network," Berners-Lee said. "We need to have constant vigilance because net neutrality is something that everybody takes for granted."

He also spoke of various technologies that have reached ubiquity.

"HTML must be just the most popular format for anything anywhere," he said. "Now the W3C is working on HTML5 and one nice thing about that is it's easier to put in video."

Moreover, SVG (Scalar Vector Graphics) allow you to have line drawings and more sophisticated graphics on your Websites rather than just text," Berners-Lee said. "Earlier it wasn't implemented by all. One popular browser manufacturer didn't use it, but now they do. Now you can have both HTML5 and SVG on your site."

Accessibility is another issue of concern for Berners-Lee, he said. Developers should follow guidelines to ensure that the apps they create are accessible by all, he said.