News / Science & Technology

25 Years Old, the World Wide Web’s Potential Still Untapped

FILE - Former physicist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World-Wide Web as an essential tool for High Energy Physics (HEP) at CERN from 1989 to 1994.
FILE - Former physicist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World-Wide Web as an essential tool for High Energy Physics (HEP) at CERN from 1989 to 1994.
David Byrd
This week marks the 25th anniversary of the invention of the World Wide Web. What started as a way for scientists to share research has changed life worldwide forever.
 
In March 1989, British scientist Tim Berners-Lee was working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, in Switzerland.
 
Scientists would come to CERN from all over the world, but others could not view their research because their computers were not compatible. Berners-Lee thought it would be easier if all the computers could talk to one another and swap information directly.
 
So he proposed linking the machines. The response from his bosses to his proposal, titled Information Management: A Proposal
 
“Vague, but exciting.”
 
Little did they know.
 
Berners-Lee’s proposal would later become known as the World Wide Web. It took two years before he and a colleague could successfully link a computer server and a web browser through the Internet.  It would be officially launched in August 1991.
 
By 1993 there were more than 500 web servers. Today, there are more than 1.7 billion people on the web worldwide.
 
James Hendler is the director of the Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications in Troy, New York.  Speaking by Skype, he said one of the main challenges to web growth - the English coding and keyboard - has been solved, and Asia can look for an explosion of Web access.
 
“In China right now, I saw a recent graphic that says six out of the 10 largest social networking sites - sites like Facebook - are in China.  Most people don’t realize that the second largest search company is Baidu, which is the Chinese search company.  In the U.S. we are at somewhere in the area of 80-90 percent of people already having access and not much growth.  In China you see about 25 percent, and of course a country much bigger than ours. India, I don’t know the current number, but again a small number growing very quickly. So most of the growth we expect in the web will actually be in those parts of the world that don’t yet have it,” said Hendler. 

Hendler has worked on the Web since its early days and has co-authored several papers with Berners-Lee. 
 
Paul Levinson, a professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University said via Skype that events such as the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement showed the power that the web has put in the hands of everyday people. 
 
With billions of people able to access information, some countries have tried to limit or control web access. However, Levinson said, governments need to realize that the web is a tool that is unrivaled in its reach and influence.
 
“What we have now is a battle. On the one hand, the governments are more aware of these devices and they are more aware of what used to be called and still could be called 'citizen journalism.' But on the other hand, there are more smart phones out there than ever before, and I think so far - and this is good for democracy and for the expression of human ideas - so far the people are winning,” said Levinson.

Hendler pointed out that even 25 years after its invention, only a fraction of the web’s potential has been realized.
 
“Here is this force that has really changed society in so many different ways. We understand sort of the mathematics of the computer network underneath and the engineering of that but we really don’t understand the social impact.  There’s more and more research that’s starting to study what are those different effects? How do they affect society? How do we build the web and keep the web open and free? How do we really understand the impacts of this thing we call the World Wide Web,” said Hendler.

Tim Berners-Lee went on to found the World Wide Web Foundation, which has as part of its mission statement that it wants to establish the open web as a global public good and a basic right.
 
Paul Levinson said that any attempts to abridge that right - either by governments or through commercial pressure from web providers - will ultimately fail.

You May Like

French Refugee Drama Wins Cannes Top Prize

Dheepan is about a group of Sri Lankan refugees who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country for a housing project in France More

Photogallery Crisis in Macedonia Requires Meaningful and Swift Measures

The international community has called on Macedonian leadership to take concrete measures in support of democracy in order to exit the crisis More

Activists: IS Executes 217 Civilians, Soldiers Near Palmyra

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday said the victims include nurses, women, children and Syrian government fighters More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs