Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, has announced a new foundation focused on extending the capabilities of the web and bringing the internet to the far corners of the earth.
Berners-Lee expects the World Wide Web Foundation to launch early next year, and he has outlined three specific goals: to advance “One Web” that is free and open, to expand the web’s capability and robustness, and to extend the web’s benefits to all people on the planet.
It’s the last that is likely to raise a few eyebrows and Berners-Lee admits that it is “very big undertaking.” In a speech announcing the new foundation (– video), Berners-Lee says that, while he recognizes that in many cases there are more immediate needs – clean water, food and shelter – which can take precedence over web access, he cautioned against prioritizing on behalf of others.
Many have criticized the One Laptop per Child effort for exactly those reasons – believing that laptops and web access are a secondary priority next to food and clean water.
But, Berners-Lee shot back at such critics with a story of a young man who had taught himself English, and was then able, thanks to an internet connection, to set up his own translation business. In the end the business provided income for the man’s whole village, as well as opening up new communications opportunities. As Berners-Lee says “I learned that I should not prioritize for others … I should listen to their concerns and opportunities and then do what I can to help.”
As for the goal of expanding the “web’s capability and robustness,” Berners-Lee believes there are three critical areas ripe for improvement: “technology innovation, web science, and the application of the web for the benefit of underserved communities.”
Although he didn’t get into specifics, certainly one area that Berners-Lee has championed in the past is HTML 5. Far more than just an extension of HTML 4, HTML 5 seeks to create a web that’s actually a full-fledged application platform – a level playing field where video, sound, images, animations and full interactivity with your computer are all standardized.
Berners-Lee has also been a strong proponent of the Semantic Web, saying that “the Semantic Web of data would have many applications to connect together…. For the first time, there is a common data format for all applications, for databases and web pages.”
But Berners-Lee also cautioned against limiting the web’s possibilities to today’s needs and goals. “The Web is a platform, like a piece of paper,” he said. “It does not determine what you will do with it, it challenges your imagination.”
While the new World Wide Web Foundation won’t officially launch until 2009, the group already has a new website up where you can track its progress, learn a bit more about the goals and offer your own feedback and ideas.
[Photo courtesy of the World Wide Web Foundation]