The future of the Web as seen by its creator

You once said the Web was created to solve a frustration you had at CERN. What was that and how did it happen?

CERN is a wonderful diversity of cultures, because people come there from all over the world to do physics. In 1989, at the time before the Web, I wrote a memo explaining what it would be like to have the Web. I mentioned the hypertext system, the World Wide Web if you like, as a method to add and edit data. My perception was that I wanted all the information in CERN's network to be available easily. I wanted to develop the tools to allow people to collaboratively build and use information. I wanted people to be able to design software and specific experiments, by using something together in different aspects.

So the Web originally was supposed to be for collaboratively designing things. The first tool was a Web browser and editor as well, allowing people at CERN to use a document, edit it, change it and then send it, making links between Web pages and scientific documents.

The frustration was that I wanted to be able to work with people very easily in different countries, where they were using different machines, working with different database systems and sorting data in different formats.

Lots of researchers made millions on the Web, but you preferred to keep developing standards. Don't you feel you missed the chance of a lifetime by not creating a proprietary Web?

No, I don't, because if it was proprietary, people would not have used it, they would not have contributed to it. It would not have taken off and we would not be talking about it right now.

Some people like Nova Spivak and Microsoft's cofounder Paul Allen work with a timeline that envisions the arriving of Web 3.0 by 2010 and a future Web 4.0 by 2020. Can you imagine what this Web 4.0 is supposed to be?

(Laughs) No, I don't do that. I think about real technology. I didn't invent the term "Web 3.0." The Web is constantly developing. If you want to see what's happening that I am interested in now, there are several technologies laced together. In Web 2.0 there are some technologies like JavaScript and others that are all standards that came out of allowing people to do things. Most standards are coming out now that will have a good push towards the mobile Web initiative, which is the use of the Web on lots of different devices.

In the future we will have the Semantic Web that will allow a whole lot of other things. One of the powerful things about networking technology like the Internet or the Web or the Semantic Web, one of the characteristics of such a technology is that the things we've just done with it far surpass the imagination of the people who invented them. Take for example the inventors of TCP/IP, the original protocols for communication between computers over the Internet, created by Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn in 1974.

When I invented the Web, I thought of it as an infrastructure; I designed the Web as a foundation for many things. With Web 2.0, social networks and all kinds of things happen on top of it. When the Semantic Web arrives in the next few years, things will be using it in a way we cannot know yet. So, in a way, it's foolish to try to imagine what Web 4.0 will be like when we still don't know what will be done with 3.0.

For Web 3.0 to succeed, the people who are studying it at this moment will have ideas which will enable the new technology. They will design fantastic things just like people with Web 2.0 are designing fantastic things right now. People working with the Semantic Web will make much more powerful things. We can't imagine what they will do. But we have to build the Web to be an infrastructure. It shall never be used for particularized purposes but just to be a foundation for future developments.

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