The WWW inventor wants to reinvent the web

Father of the web Sir Tim Berners-Lee has launched the “Contract for the Web” initiative to rally the global community to revamp the web for the public good.

30 years after he proposed an “information management system” (pictured) while being a scientist at CERN, Sir Tim Berners-Lee believes that he could stand no longer what the web has become of lately. In 2018 Berners-Lee told the Vanity Fair magazine that he was “devastated” by the state of distortion of his creation. As a result, on the 30th birthday of the WWW, he decided to use his influence to bring the web back on the track he envisioned: it should be recognised as a human right and be built for the public good. “If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web,” Berners-Lee said.

According to Berners-Lee, the dysfunction of the web in recent years has mainly been manifested in three ways:

“1. Deliberate, malicious intent, such as state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behaviour, and online harassment.

“2. System design that creates perverse incentives where user value is sacrificed, such as ad-based revenue models that commercially reward clickbait and the viral spread of misinformation.

“3. Unintended negative consequences of benevolent design, such as the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse.”

To counter these dysfunctional behaviours, the non-profit World Wide Web Foundation (or “Web Foundation”) led by Berners-Lee is launching a civil society initiative, “Contract for the Web”, that calls out to governments, businesses, and private individuals, to pledge their commitments to a better future of the web.

It has different requirements for the three types of constituencies.

It demands governments to ensure everyone can connect to the internet; keep all of the internet available, all of the time; and respect people’s fundamental right to privacy.

It asks businesses to make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone; respect consumers’ privacy and personal data; and develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst.

It challenges individuals to hold the governments and businesses accountable; be creators and collaborators on the web; build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity; and fight for the web so the web remains open and a global public resource for people everywhere, now and in the future.

Under these principles, a group of people are working on the specific commitments in each area. The group is open to input from all (institutions and individuals alike) who share the vision, and the results of the work are expected later this year.

Signatories so far include some of the world’s biggest internet companies (e.g. Google, Microsoft, Facebook), other non-profit organisations (e.g. W3C), private citizens and celebrities and former and current politicians (e.g. Sir Richard Branson, Gordon and Sarah Brown), telecom operators (Telefonica), and governments (Die Bundesregierung).

The level of endorsement and commitment the initiative may ultimately garner is yet to be seen and will depend on the specifics being developed. Some governments may be hesitant towards the demand for allowing its citizens to access all the information on the internet without filtering, while others may feel they would prefer to have access to some of the people’s private data to strengthen public security. The demands for businesses may be seen as threatening the very livelihood of some companies whose business models have built on monetising user data.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee never made wealth out of his invention, but his transformational role has been well recognised. Stephen Fry once identified Sir Tim as one of the two living Englishmen that have had the most profound impact on people’s lives worldwide, the other being Apple’s Chief Design Officer Jony Ive.

Half of British millennials are getting sick of the internet – report

A new EY report shows 50% of 25-34-year olds are looking to ‘digital detox’, the highest proportion of all age groups.

The “Decoding the digital home 2019” report, published by EY, the professional service firm, was done based an online survey of 2,500 British households in late 2018. In addition to the high proportion of youth wishing to increase their time away from smartphones and other internet connected devices, more people are spending less time online. The percentage of households spending more than 30 hours online per week has gone down from 34% a year ago to 28%, while those spending less than 10 hours online has slightly increased from 18% to 21%.

There are also other surprises. For example, more consumers are happy with their fibre connections (59%, up from 54% a year ago) but also higher number of young people are ready to ditch the fixed broadband (43%). 42% of 18-24-year olds are happy to pay a premium to get the latest gadgets, but only 18% of the 25-year olds and above, who would have more disposable income, are prepared to do so.

The key message that the telecoms and internet industries should take away from the survey, however, is that consumers want simplicity, proof of trust, and assurance of security.

Both service and content providers are confusing consumers with over-complex packages, causing anxiety among users, including the youth. 46% of households think there are too many different broadband, mobile, and content bundles, so most of them will not add anything new to the packages they already subscribe to. Content providers are trying to maximise the distribution channels they can use, therefore making their content available across different packages, platforms, and apps. However, nearly a quarter of all surveyed households found it hard to track their favourite content. This number rose to close to 40% among the 18-24-year olds, the so-called “digital natives”.

The high-profile cases of comprised private data have instilled more caution to consumers. 72% of respondents said that even when dealing with brands they trust they would be very cautious about disclosing their personal financial information online.

On the other hand, the heated debates over “fake news” have driven more consumers less confident in the “new media”. 44% of households responded that they now only trust the traditional news sources. In a teaser to an upcoming report, EY disclosed that over half of all households only watch the five traditional channels on TV.

But it is not all bad news especially for the mobile industry. In 15% of the households surveyed, smartphones are now the main devices to go online with (up from 11% in 2017), at the expense of laptops (down from 44% to 39%). When it comes to consumer spending, slightly more are willing to pay for ad-free streaming (up from 16% to 18%) and slightly fewer are holding their purse strings as tightly as possible when it comes to spending on communication services (down from 55% to 53%)

“Our latest survey highlights both opportunities and challenges for TMT providers. They will be pleased to see that consumers are willing to pay for premium services, but they will also be concerned that customers are overwhelmed and confused by the variety of bundles available,” said Praveen Shankar, EY’s Head of Technology, Media and Telecommunications for the UK & Ireland. “Looking ahead, it is essential for providers to simplify their propositions and offer easier to understand and clearly communicated product and services.”

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