Tim Berners-Lee and Peter Thiel: Differing Views on the Future of the Internet

The very first Web page ever, was posted on the world’s first Web server at around Christmas, 1990 by the Web’s creator, Tim Berners-Lee.

Tim Berners-Lee

He also created the world’s first Web browser (designed to run on the NeXTStep operating system). By 1993 he had already created an interface not that much different than what we expect to see today. But today, Tim Berners-Lee is concerned about the possible death of the Internet as we know it. David Cooper reports that there are three major threats outlined in Berners-Lee’s essay which appeared in a recent issue of Scientific American entitled, Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality.

  1. The commercial, self-contained “walled gardens” created by social media sites like Facebook, iTunes and their mobile-phone apps that are not provided in an “open marketplace.”
  2. The growing threats to a Net-neutral open environment: “Wireless Internet providers are being tempted to slow traffic to sites with which they have not made deals,” and “cable television companies that sell Internet connectivity are considering whether to limit their Internet users to downloading only the company’s mix of entertainment.”
  3. Cyberterrorism as defined by governments and the respective controls that each may put into place to guard against it. “Governments – totalitarian and democratic alike – are monitoring people’s online habits, endangering important human rights.”

“The Web evolved into a powerful, ubiquitous tool because it was built on egalitarian principles,” explains Berners-Lee. “…because thousands of individuals, universities and companies have worked, both independently and together as part of the World Wide Web Consortium, to expand its capabilities based on those principles. If we, the Web’s users, allow these and other trends to proceed unchecked, the Web could be broken into fragmented islands. We could lose the freedom to connect with whichever Web sites we want.”

The BBC describes Peter Thiel as an “Internet entrepreneur and a libertarian who wants to encourage free thinking.” Co-founder of PayPal and a primary investor in Facebook, he has obviously done well in building some of the very walled gardens that Berners-Lee warns against. Here, he tells reporter BBC reporter Mike Williams about how his venture capital fund and philanthropy are aimed at encouraging just the kind of technological innovation that the West needs in order to survive. Listen to Peter Theil on the BBC and please let me know in the comments what you think…

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