Page last updated at 13:37 GMT, Monday, 15 September 2008 14:37 UK

Warning sounded on web's future

By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

Giant magnet at Cern, AFP/Getty
Some feared firing up the LHC would doom the Earth

The internet needs a way to help people separate rumour from real science, says the creator of the World Wide Web.

Talking to BBC News Sir Tim Berners-Lee said he was increasingly worried about the way the web has been used to spread disinformation.

Sir Tim spoke prior to the unveiling of a Foundation he has co-created that aims to make the web truly worldwide.

It will look at ways to get the web into mobiles and into nations where net use is languishing.

Future proof

Sir Tim talked to the BBC in the week in which Cern, where he did his pioneering work on the web, turned on the Large Hadron Collider for the first time.

The use of the web to spread fears that flicking the switch on the LHC could create a Black Hole that could swallow up the Earth particularly concerned him, he said. In a similar vein was the spread of rumours that the MMR vaccine given to children in Britain was harmful.

Sir Tim told BBC News that there needed to be new systems that would give websites a label for trustworthiness once they had been proved reliable sources.

"On the web the thinking of cults can spread very rapidly and suddenly a cult which was 12 people who had some deep personal issues suddenly find a formula which is very believable," he said. "A sort of conspiracy theory of sorts and which you can imagine spreading to thousands of people and being deeply damaging."

Sir Tim and colleagues at the World Wide Web consortium had looked at simple ways of branding websites - but concluded that a whole variety of different mechanisms was needed.

Tim Berners-Lee (AFP/Getty)
Sir Tim wants to help get the web to people who are cut off from it.

"I'm not a fan of giving a website a simple number like an IQ rating because like people they can vary in all kinds of different ways," he said. "So I'd be interested in different organisations labelling websites in different ways".

Sir Tim spoke to the BBC to publicise the launch of his World Wide Web Foundation which aims to improve the web's accessibility.

Alongside this role it will aim to make it easier for people to get online. Currently only 20% of the world's population have access to the web

"Has it been designed by the West for the West?" asked Sir Tim.

"Has it been designed for the executive and the teenager in the modern city with a smart phone in their pocket? If you are in a rural community do you need a different kind of web with different kinds of facilities?"

Creative medium

The Web Foundation will also explore ways to make the web more mobile-phone friendly. That would increase its use in Africa and other poor parts of the world where there are few computers but plenty of handsets.

The Foundation will also look at how the benefits of the web can be taken to those who cannot read or write.

"We're talking about the evolution of the web," he said. "Perhaps by using gestures or pointing. When something is such a creative medium as the web, the limits to it are our imagination".

The Foundation will also look at concerns that the web has become less democratic, and its use influenced too much by large corporations and vested interests.

"I think that question is very important and may be settled in the next few years," said Sir Tim.

"One of the things I always remain concerned about is that that medium remains neutral," he said.

"It's not just where I go to decide where to buy my shoes which is the commercial incentive - it's where I go to decide who I'm going to trust to vote," he said.

"It's where I go maybe to decide what sort of religion I'm going to belong to or not belong to; it's where I go to decide what is actual scientific truth - what I'm actually going to go along with and what is bunkum".


SEE ALSO
Global web celebrations under way
22 Sep 06 |  Technology
Web in infancy, says Berners-Lee
30 Apr 08 |  Technology
Web creator rejects net tracking
17 Mar 08 |  Technology
Luminaries look to the future web
30 Apr 08 |  Technology
The World Wide Web turns 15 (again)
30 Apr 08 |  Technology
Call for web to stay open for all
07 Jul 08 |  Technology

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific