Q: What’s 15 years old and thinks it runs the world?

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A: The World Wide Web

The World Wide Web is still only in its infancy, its British inventor said Wednesday, on the 15th anniversary of the web’s effective launch.

Tim Berners-Lee told the BBC that the web, which started life in the CERN physics laboratory on the Franco-Swiss border in the early 1990s, could develop in unimaginable directions but above all should be a force for good.

“What’s exciting is that people are building new social systems, new systems of review, new systems of governance,” he said.

“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.”

The comments came on the anniversary of the announcement by CERN on April 30, 1993 that the World Wide Web could be used by everyone, after Berners-Lee and a colleague persuaded their bosses to provide the programme code for free.

The web — of which the abbreviation www forms the start of all online addresses — is now the ubiquitous network via which information is shared on the Internet. An estimated 165 million websites now exist, the BBC reported.

“The web has been a tremendous tool for people to do a lot of good even though you can find bad stuff out there,” said Berners-Lee, adding that one day the web will put “all the data in the world” at the fingertips of every user.

But “we have only started to explore the possibilities of (the web),” he said, adding that it was “still in its infancy”.

Robert Cailliau, who worked with Berners-Lee to open up the web, stressed that not all the bosses at CERN were in favour of making the web universally accessible.

“We had to convince them that this was going to take off and it was a really big thing. And therefore CERN couldn’t hold on to it and the best thing to do was to give it away,” he said.

Competing technologies — such as Gopher developed at the University of Minnesota in the United States — were also offering a way of connecting documents on the Internet, he said.

“If we had put a price on it like the University of Minnesota had done with Gopher then it would not have expanded into what it is now.

“We would have had some sort of market share alongside services like AOL and Compuserve, but we would not have flattened the world.”

© 2008 AFP

Morris Miselowski’s thoughts

Can you imagine our world without the internet?

In 15 years this ubiquitous thing has moved from a fad / specialist geek tool to a common utility that most of us take for granted.

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