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Futur en Seine

LH - 5/06/2014

Inria celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Web with Tim Berners-Lee

Fabien Gandon, Inria (équipe Wimmics) - © Inria / Photo G. Maisonneuve

As part of the Futur en Seine, Inria is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Web alongside Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of this fantastic tool! On 13 June, at a conference, Sir Tim will share the challenges that, from his point of view, await the Web in the next 25 years. His speech will be followed by a discussion with various Web experts, including Fabien Gandon, manager of the Inria Wimmics project team, who will give us his vision of the Web.

What does the 25th anniversary of the Web and Tim Berners Lee’s visit to France for the occasion mean to you?

For me, Tim's visit to France for the 25th anniversary of the Web reminds me of at least two things. First, France and Inria participated in the birth of the Web 25 years ago and in the consortium for the standardisation of its architecture (W3C) 20 years ago. Since then, Tim, who speaks French, and the W3C, which employs some of our compatriots, have always maintained a link with our country.

Then, Tim's statements about the challenges of maintaining neutrality, freedoms, and rights on the Web, as well as his travels and speeches at many events for this anniversary show the importance of educating all countries about the need to protect the benefits of the Web. All countries, including France.

There is talk now of "the Open Web Platform"; what precisely is this?

Languages such as HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript are now at the core of the Web platform, and with their integration, we are definitively turning the page from a Web understood as a web of documents, to a web of interconnected programs. Each page is potentially an application; a service for the user. The Web is definitively a standardised, open application platform on the Internet. We have moved from the idea of, "Write once, publish everywhere" to the idea,  "Code once, use everywhere".

This Web platform is called open, as it consists of royalty-free or "open" technologies that allow anyone to implement and publish new components of the Web without having to obtain licenses or license waivers. Independent of the application domain, these non-proprietary technologies facilitate open innovation distributed on a global level.

What are the stakes and challenges of this "Open Web Platform"?

If we design the architecture of the Web through standards, its participatory nature means that the Web object that emerges from it is openly co-constructed on a global level through distributed innovation without disciplinary boundaries. In fact, this is one of the most complex artefacts produced by humanity. This free and open complexity gives it both richness and difficulty: the richness of a global, open innovation platform; the difficulty of comprehending the Web in its entirety. This global, open platform calls for and leads to changes in all dimensions of our societies (legal, economic, political, etc.). Perception of the Web must once and for all exceed its initially technical nature and development to move toward a truly multi-disciplinary development of the Web, which is the only way for it to achieve its full potential, and in particular to help us at any time and in all human activities.

For this, the Web and its future need not only a scientific approach, but, more generally, I am convinced that the three "Ws" of the World-Wide Web call for the three "Ms" of a Massively Multidisciplinary Methodology.

How do you imagine the Web in 25 years?

Each time someone asks me this question, I begin by reminding us that if one had asked me to predict the Web ten years ago, I would have been unable to predict the current situation. Ten years ago, Facebook was barely 5 months old and was unknown in France. Ten years ago, the Smartphones that would significantly increase mobile access to the Web were only perceptible in countries such as Japan.

I do not know what the Web will look like in 25 years, but there are strong chances that it will no longer have a single form, if the tendency it has to incorporate all objects around us becomes established (watches, rooms, glasses, cars, television, bus stops, etc.). As the Web has exceeded its initial form of a document space, it now offers and links all types of digital (data, services) and non-digital resources (people, places, events, companies, etc.). This change now allows ever more interconnection and integration into our daily lives. The Web is widely distributed, becoming a ubiquitous application platform and offering everyone all the objects that provide access to all its resources. The richer it becomes, the more attractive it will be for new online objects and applications. And the more objects and applications that produce and consume data and services it attracts, the more attractive it will become. Each object or application that joins the Web is both a new way for us to access the Web and a new way for the Web to access our world.

Even more fascinating, the Web is becoming an immense human-computer interaction space. Increasingly, websites make users and software interact in shared social spaces, thus creating hybrid communities of software agents and users. For example, Wikipedia is jointly maintained by users and (web ro)bots. The web has this enormous potential to allow for augmented intelligence and sociality on a very large scale.

Beyond imagination, I would also dare to hope for several changes, and in particular, I hope to see the Web move toward an active reduction of the digital divide, toward the preservation of the global conversation that it started, as well as a fair balance between the individual good and the collective good.

Saint-Exupéry wrote, "You need not predict the future, but allow it." Above all, our responsibility is to allow the best possible future for the Web.

Keywords: Open innovation Distributed architectures Standardisation Platform Ubiquitous Human-computer interaction Web Futur en Seine