Page last updated at 09:32 GMT, Wednesday, 30 April 2008 10:32 UK

Luminaries look to the future web

Planet earth
The web has gone worldwide but what does the future hold?
Exactly 15 years ago the directors at the lab where the web was first developed signed a document which said the technology could be used by anyone free of charge.

That decision was instrumental in making the web truly world wide. BBC News talks to some of the leading figures in the web community about their hopes for the future of the web.


Let me first say that I am extremely optimistic. The web has been a tremendous tool for people to do a lot of good even though you can find bad stuff out there. The experience of the development of the web by so many people collaborating across the globe has just been a fantastic experience. That experience continues.

The experience of international collaboration continues. Also the spirit that really we have only started to explore the possibilities, that continues.

To look back on the web after 15 years is in fact wrong. We have to get a foothold on this 15 years and look forward.

The future is always in the past and for the web particularly. In a hundred years, 15 years will seem to be just the infancy of the web, when the semantic web wasn't even completely deployed.

You couldn't even find all the data in the world immediately at your fingertips.

What's exciting is that people are building new social systems, new systems of review, new systems of governance. My hope is that those will produce... new ways of working together effectively and fairly which we can use globally to manage ourselves as a planet.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee developed the web while at the physics lab Cern.


What we've seen in the last 15 years is this extraordinary growth year on year, doubling and doubling of content, of users.

And that has incredible implications for everybody from individuals themselves, government, hardware providers, just the sheer amount of user generated content now.

The estimate is that 80% of all content now generated on our databases in our computers is user generated and only 20% is enterprise. So how are we going to manage that tsunami, that overwhelming avalanche of information?

The future is the Semantic web, or web 3.0. Rather than at the moment what you have to do is do some smart searching, and integrate through a lot of documents that are offered up to you, Web 3.0 will be able to do a lot of that information brokering for you.

Nigel Shadbolt is professor of computer Science at the University of Southampton.


Everything is going mobile. And I think the big issue about access was you need a computer at the moment to access it properly. Well in the next two or three years that's not going to be the case. You will be able to access it. The technology and the interfaces will change so that it's much more accessible on a mobile device.

People who couldn't possibly afford a computer will have a mobile phone and I think that's amazing. I think that's going to be a huge transformation.

Wendy Hall is professor of computer science at the University of Southampton, UK.


The web captures the feelings of the crowd, of the users, and in some cases we see that a small minority of people are able to distort and amplify their voice.

To we make sure the web continues to properly, democratically capture what most people believe we tune into the wisdom of the crowd, rather than being manipulated by fewer number who may have louder voices.

I think that's one challenge. Technically, I'm very optimistic that cloud computing will make the web easier to use.

I do believe that cloud computing needs to overcome the challenge that people have to feel comfortable sharing their private data online and that online companies have to continue to be responsible to not betray the trust that users have placed in them.

Kai-Fu Lee is VP of Engineering at Google and president of Google Greater China.


I think that the big challenge that the web has, much as the internet has faced before and is still facing, is the sheer diversity of the number of types of applications that want to run on it.

So where we've moved from browsers that were primarily text based, to now browsers that are image and many have videos, the amount of traffic generated by them is enormous.

We're moving towards real time communication, voice and interactive media.

All of these things have different characteristics in the networks and in the web that is on top of them, and figuring out how to manage all of these new things, without losing the performance, I think is the largest challenge.

Dr. David G. Belanger is AT&T Labs' chief Scientist and vice president, information and software systems research.


The web is an extraordinarily hopeful part of life and wildly exciting. So I sometimes say I have been bitten by the bug.

I had Malaria once so I know what its like to have something in your blood that is there and you cannot get rid of and that personally is what the web is for me.

And the reason is that the possibilities are so great and they are so individual and so personalised and they lend themselves to building communities.

And so I don't believe the web is a panacea and it's going to change human nature and we will only do wonderful things with it.

Humanity is humanity and we will see the whole scale of human activities on the web, even the parts we would rather not see.

But the reason it is exciting is that it makes these connections so much easier. Some of them are educational, some of them are entertainment but they are the things that make human life worth living.

In 15 years the web will be everywhere; in ways we don't know

The web in that sense will be informational and the presentation of information will be in a way "we" like it.

It will be in places we cant even imagine right now. That's why Mozilla is important going forward; to make sure that the web and information about us and created by us moves into every scope of life.

We need an organisation and a voice and a focus for keeping a human being, you and me, at the centre of it.

Mitchell Baker is chairman of the Mozilla Foundation.


It is a communication revolution. The internet connected resources and what the web has enabled is for people to both communicate with each other and communicate with groups of people and it's allowed the sharing of a common interest that would have no other way of connecting.

It's is going to become a very refined electronic community and a set of communities that will operate at many different levels; individual interests as well as broad social efforts.

You've seen a lot of that take place in the American elections that are gong to be taking place later this year. All the candidates have become very effective at being able to use the web as a way to both communicate and connect with their communities.

Mark Bernstein is president and director of the Palo Alto Research Center.


We mustn't forget we chose the name WWW before there was even one line of code written.

We could do that because the internet as an infrastructure was already there.

Either we were going to fall on our faces or we would have something that would be truly worldwide. There was nothing in between.

We were certainly convinced it was going to be big in the academic world. But it was never our aim, I think, to extend it beyond the academic community, not really.

Over the next 15 years, assuming we have infinite energy and the planet isn't going to explode...I'd like to see a set of laws governing the web worldwide.

Since the web is totally worldwide we need a set of behavioural rules, laws they are commonly called, that are accepted worldwide.

There is a big difference as to how things are treated in the US and Europe and Asia. A lot of practices are treated differently in these areas - from extremist sites, to paedophilia and phishing.

We need that as fast as possible.

We should also be able to break the vicious cycle of author, reader and advertiser. I'd like the reader to decide if he is willing to pay minute sums for content.

I'd like the economics of web to be controlled between authors and readers, not advertiser.

In much less than 15 years I think we need to figure out what the social impact is going to be of the Semantic web. I am not sure this is a good thing.

I don't know who is controlling it. And because it works by ontologies, who decides on what basis I am going to see things?

Robert Cailliau worked on the development of the web with Sir Tim Berners-Lee at Cern.


The web means everything to me: I use the web to talk to my friends, to keep in touch with people around the world, to buy things, to look things up, to do research.

I can't think of a part of my life that isn't touched by the web in some way.

The next 15 years is so hard to predict. One thing I would expect to see is human augmentation.

For instance, the brain researchers I met at Davos are doing some fascinating work understanding how your brain talks with your limbs so if you were a soldier in Iraq who loses a limb, how do you replace that limb and how do you give a more lifelike experience to that limb?

That's really interesting and I think that is going to spin off a whole lot of things; for instance, why couldn't I have a little glass behind my eye that tells me your Facebook page and tells me a little bit about you on Wikipedia while I am looking at you?

I would imagine in 15 years we are going to have something like that; some sort of visualisation lens or some way to jack into your optic nerve to put imagery on what you are actually seeing and augment your human experience.

But that might be 30 years away... I don't want to sign up for the beta test of that one in case they get it wrong.

Everything is moving so fast. If you look at what I am doing with my cell phone now, transmitting live video around the world, that's really different from just five months ago.

It's even going on with Twitter. There is a new tweet coming into my account every 15 seconds and 15 years from now what's that going to feel like? You are going to be able to do a lot more than 140 character messages.

I will be Twittered out by then but there will be something new that comes along that will let me communicate with other people and that is what the web is all about ultimately.

Robert Scoble is a well-known blogger and head of Fast Company TV.


We created the first commercial website with a special dispensation from the National Science Foundation. We were interested in online publishing and we were thinking of how to get books online and then the web came along and we thought: 'Oh my god this is the answer to our prayers'.

The web was this promise of a universal platform for information and it was just transformative and so exciting to see that potential come into play.

The fact that Tim Berners-Lee gave it away was so critical to that. l imagine if someone tried to commercialise it, maybe it would have taken off but that was what Microsoft and AOL tried to do.

Free is such a powerful force in innovation.

When I look at the future of the web as a concept as opposed to a specific technology we are really moving into a world where we live with display surfaces everywhere, independent devices all connected to the cloud, sensors everywhere.

There are already sensors everywhere but they are just not connected yet.

So we are going to see the phone network merge with the web, sensor networks merge with the web. I think we will even see the power network merge with the web.

What we are really building is a global brand where all the computers in the world are connected, where all the devices in the world are connected, sometimes intermittently off and on, and all the people are connected.

This is going to be a very different thing. It's ironic that back in the 70s there was all this talk about global consciousness, 'blah blah blah', and it really is going to happen.

Except it's going to happen mediated by computers. We are connected now to this network of devices and computers and they augment our intelligence and our ability to share, to communicate, and we as a culture are changing as a result.

It's the most profound change since the advent of literacy. And it's bigger than the industrial revolution.

We are on the front of a new renaissance; and that doesn't mean all good things, there could be a lot of bad things there too.

Tim O'Reilly is the founder of O'Reilly media.

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