Now before you read any more of this then please accept that I am a Tim Berners Lee fan boy for so many reasons. The obvious being his knowledge and achievements but also how he conducts himself, his thought process now, how he manages himself on stage and his outlook of the future. Also consider that this was a presentation on the morning of the 2nd of March when we woke up to more news of turmoil across the world that we simply cannot fathom when sat in a large London venue talking about technology, data and the impact it can have.
Tim’s opening conversation was somewhat apologetic in tone, his strong belief is that the world wide web has a future as a network that serves democracy and the future of humanity but his apologetic tone referred to what it doesn’t do anymore and the lack of morals the web itself now has, fascinating perspective in how he takes on the ownership of some of the global mistakes made on the use of the web. It was though a rallying call to techies from every background to really think again about what we use our skills and knowledge for and how we should try harder to make what we do be for a core function, for the good of human kind.
The stories of how “we” all got here were amazing, I could listen to him simply re-tell this every day and never be bored once. The Geneva Physics lab and his absolute passion to create a real agility in how everybody could share in their findings and what they wanted to do next. He described the impetus as being to create ways of working and being that facilitated and were the catalyst for coming together. He is clear he wanted to create a truly democratised view of everything we could need to progress. Hs concept of different intelligence created from collaboration never ceases to amaze as a core value we need to all try to adopt when we look to technology to help us in how we transform and improve. It should be about sharing the burden, sharing the success and having clarity of what we are trying to do.
He described eloquently the many types of mainframes and mini computers that were there as he tried to create a single way of integrating, its laughable in many ways to think of the lack of tech debt that was introduced compared to what we all ‘have’ to do with every new project, he was clear that everything that could add to the web would add to the web no matter who made them. There were so many systems, that required such a variety of knowledge just to be a software engineer, and yet here we are in 2022 with a list of acronyms so long it reads like a different language when we go out to market looking for engineering skills, maybe the Tim way is better accept the required knowledge to do the job is needed and facilitate the learning as we go way of delivery.
He took the stance that every piece of information you need was actually part of a biological book; the brain power of humans on the planet if collected and pointed at the right things could solve any problem on earth. The web was (is) the way to facilitate humans to collaborate, he did berate the way the ‘mega’ companies now close this collaboration down for their own profit rather than using and facilitating humans to really truly answer the problems they did not know existed. He asked us all to persuade our organisations to give us time off to share what we have with others in the hope that together we can solve so many problems. He asked us to consider if politically we could and should make it appropriate to use our connectivity to deliver compatibility of the human race. And at this point I say again, remember what was happening in the world as he said this and how disjointed it can feel from those atrocities.
“How can we share more to resolve collaborative learning? Create and use a collective mesh for a joined up brain!”
It was hard for Tim and his collaborators to explain why the web would be a good thing, hard to get the business case over the line and as he told the story there were so many parallels for technology inspired innovation right now, the vision required and the patience to await the return has to be well balanced and was then I guess. The imagination of what it could be was so hard because the idea of what could be next wasn’t there for so many. A new and powerful way of creating creativity in a group that spans across the oceans was his opening line he said. Even hypertext was a new concept for people to understand he spoke about is being considered to be ‘simply’ a quick way of creating access… suddenly this was a key that unlocked the future – A big CD ROM in the sky that could be indexed and therefore accessed.
Even he was surprised how quickly the web was then enabling people, it was a rudimentary social network he now thinks, it was the catalyst for new ways to share and ways to create value from your contribution. Such an enablement of people. But he came back to his fear at this point, innovation is no longer on the web, it is now in the locked labs of big corporates. He asked again for us to consider how to bring innovation back as a collaboration concept. My own learnings on this spring to the way we have collaborated in my own organisation recently, in squads of people to deliver and using scrum methods to coalesce around customer problems that need resolving, but that is largely inside one company, one single minded organisation, what Tim is asking for is so much wider than that. And again, I remind us again of the world we were in on that morning, in a position of great peril for so many people and yet in a London venue so many minds that could surely help the situation for every human involved.
The abuse of data caused more harm than anything else to the world wide web suggested Tim. Then came consent and YOUR data is now your data, manage it and protect it and think about it every time you hand something to somebody he attested. Politics and persuasion, now are done through data. He asked that we all need to build new systems that enable data to be protected by the data owner, each person in the world he wants our systems to optimised for engagement but in a way that creates an optimisation for happiness; he had a lovely point to make at this point, he would ask that the systems we create have two new parameters for the people who use them; my success and my collaboration. He asked that we all thought about this optimisation as our duty to the extent to which we can. He asked how can we tweak the system to achieve these goals, and believes that if we had transparency in algorithms then we could be a step forward in achieving this. Like the ‘browser wars’ he believes we can go back to the early days of openness and that this will be a catalyst for a new type of collaboration.
He did get on to his vision of the future too, to this point he had been a little down beat and clearly aware of what could be achieved and at the same time what was missing, once he started to talk about a new and gentle movement that had its heart in the beginnings of the web but its brain in the world situations of the day, and every day. His new ideas centre around a new platform he calls Solid. An open web where we own our own data always, where we are assured of where data goes, what it is used for and what we get back for that use, maybe a truly democratised web is the reading I took from his explanation.
Solid will bring a Global single sign on capability where you the owner of it are able to define the levels of openness you want to grant. It brings ultra-fast API capability to ensure that every movement is seamless around the entire world and an ability to stream changes to and from it based on your permissions and consent. He is on a mission to completely change the ‘starting point’ for a world wide web revolution and we were all sold in the room!
Even on this day of global change he was able to finish before questions exclaiming that, “… (I am) incredibly optimistic for this next era of the web, the future is still so much bigger than the past.”
Putting the genie back in the bottle will be hard for so many parts of what we do but if we believe in Tim and why wouldn’t you a change is possible, but the change will require a human engagement and imagination hardly ever seen before, I’m up for it though.