Possible names for the web included ‘Mine of Information,’ ‘The Information Mine,’ and ‘Mesh’


The Apple II+ computer, which predated the World Wide Web. (Flickr/Marcin Wichary)

In a moment that surely captures, more than any other, how far his technology’s come, web inventor Tim Berners-Lee took to Reddit this afternoon to answer questions about where the web came from — and more importantly, where it’s going.

This being Reddit, much of the Q&A veered toward the technical: HTML5 and digital rights management, Bitcoin standardization, the technical specifications of Berners-Lee’s first computer. But here’s what the web’s inventor had to say about his creation’s political and cultural impact, on its 25th birthday.

On whether he feels his invention has proven destructive:

No, not really. The web is a — primarily neutral — tool for humanity. When you look at humanity you see the good and the bad, the wonderful and the awful. A powerful tool can be used for good or ill. Things which are really bad are illegal on the web as they are off it. On balance, communication is good think I think: much of the badness comes from misunderstanding.

On the one thing people do online that surprises him:

Kittens.

On government surveillance of the web:

I think that some monitoring of the net by government agencies is going to be needed to fight crime. We need to invent a new system of checks and balances with unprecedented power to be able to investigate and hold the agencies which do it accountable to the public.

On Edward Snowden:

Because he ✓ had no other alternative ✓ engaged as a journalist / with a journalist to be careful of how what was released, and ✓ provided an important net overall benefit to the world, I think he should be protected, and we should have ways of protecting people like him. Because we can try to design perfect systems of government, and they will never be perfect, and when they fail, then the whistleblower may be all that saves society.

On his (infamously bad) spelling:

My speling is still terible. Hopefully not to much or it will get into header field names without some review at this stage!

On the other names he considered, besides “world wide web”:

Mine of Information, The Information Mine, The Mesh. None had quite the right ring.

On the difference between sandwiches and burgers:

Your culture is where you went to High School. As a Brit, then, no: “sandwich” does not include “burger”. Mathematically, though, a burger is a sandwich.

On the future of censorship and neutrality on the web:

I think it is up to us. I’m not guessing, I’m hoping. Yes, I can imagine that all to easily. If ordinary web users are not sufficiently aware of threats and get involved and if necessary take to the streets like for SOPA and PIPA and ACTA. On balance? I am optimistic.

On where the web will be in 25 years:

It is up to us. It is an artificial creation, as are our laws, and our constitutions … we can chose how they work. We can make new ones. Our choice.


Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Caitlin Dewey · March 12