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Web@30: Reliving history and rethinking the future


WEB@30 official ceremony
The first panel discussion with Frédéric Donck from Internet Society, Tim Berners-Lee, web pioneers Robert Cailliau, Jean-François Groff and Lou Montulli, and writer Zeynep Tufekci. (Image: CERN)

Thirty years ago, an unimaginably powerful tool was invented by Sir Tim Berners-Lee here, at CERN. Initially conceived as a means to share scientific information, the Web grew into an essential technology for progress. Today, we are celebrating it with a globally webcast event. 

“The Web has been an incredible and powerful tool to reach out to the whole world, to break down barriers, to bring education and information to all and thus to reduce inequalities,” said Fabiola Gianotti, CERN Director General in her opening remarks.

Looking at the early days of the Web, a panel discussion titled “Let’s Share What We Know” recalled the stages Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s proposal underwent before becoming the Web we know today. Frédéric Donck, Chief Regional Bureau Director for Europe for Internet Society, moderated the discussion between Berners-Lee, web pioneers Robert Cailliau, Jean-François Groff and Lou Montulli, and Zeynep Tufekci, techno-sociologist and writer.

A discussion between Bruno Giussani, Global Curator of the TED conferences, Chair of the Geneva International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights and Sir Tim Berners-Lee addressed the dangerous paths the Web has taken since its birth and proposed ways to “fix” it, by bringing it back to its original democratic ideal, where each one can freely generate and access content, and keep ownership of their data. 

“Half of the world’s population is connected today, but we’ve got to step back and look at it, fight for Net Neutrality, free speech, privacy, and owning control of your own data. We should also make sure it doesn’t take another thirty years to get the other half of humanity connected,” said Berners-Lee. He then presented his plans to re-decentralise the Web with the Solid project for improved privacy and full data ownership, and also the Contract for the Web, targeted at governments, companies and citizens to ensure that the Web will serve humanity.

The event marked the launch of his thirty-hour journey from Geneva to London and then to Lagos, to retell the history of the Web and discuss its impact and its future. Before leaving, Berners-Lee received his original Web proposal sonified and on a format familiar to 1989: a walkman. Each hour of his journey will represent a year in the Web’s history and the World Wide Web Foundation invites each of the users to contribute to the crowdsourced Twitter timeline of the Web’s milestone moments.

Personalities and History of CERN
The walkman that Tim Berners-Lee received for his 30-hour journey: his original Web proposal sonified and a compilation of music hits from 1989, listed on the right hand side of the image. (Image: CERN)

The second panel discussion “Towards the Future” looked at where the Web is today and what paths it could take. Chaired by Bruno Giussani, the panel welcomed Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau of the International Telecommunication Union, Jovan Kurbalija, Executive Director of the UN Secretary General High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, Monique Morrow, President and co-founder at the Humanized Internet and Zeynep Tufekci. Speakers explored how the evolution of technology influences our lives, ranging from users’ control over their identities and personal data to the ongoing movement to defend and save the Web. 

“Throughout the event, we learned about the challenges the Web faces today, and that arise from what makes the Web wonderful: its very openness,” pointed out Charlotte Warakaulle, Director of International Relations at CERN. “We learned that these issues, such as the ease with which the Web can be used for surveillance, either for commercial or political ends, are collective. The different perceptions of the internet in different parts of the world also present a challenge. It was a worrying conversation, but one that had an optimistic thread: there is growing recognition of the problems the Web faces, and a growing movement to solve them.”

The event also showcased the hackathon that took place at CERN, gathering developers and designers who recreated the first World Wide Web browser.

Find out more by following #web30 and by visiting the Web30 website.

More pictures of the event are available on CDS.