Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, academic, internet activist, and widely acknowledged lovely guy appeared on Reddit earlier today to do an Ask Me Anything (AMA). Here's what he had to say.
Sir Tim regrets not baking more security into the web when he was developing it at CERN. "I wish we had a much more powerful general private key management ecosystem which allowed my computer to trust the same people/systems which I do, for the same reasons," he told one poster.
He also said that hearing about people being hit with CryptoWall/CryptoLocker attacks - where malware encrypts a victim's computer and then demands a ransom to allow them access to their own files - was one time when he despaired about the uses that the web can sometimes be put to.
In fact, security seemed rather on Sir Tim's mind today. He argued that we should encrypt all email and web traffic everywhere but that that wasn't the whole answer.
"Just a battle of crypto might is not a solution, we also need to change laws and change the structure of government agencies. We need to give the police certain power in exchange for transparency and accountability," he said.
On the network and its design
Sir Tim also came out in strong support of net neutrality arguing that it is "really important" and the network needs to "remain an unbiased infrastructure for all our discussion, innovation, etc."
This has long been his position and he even made a video celebrating the recent decision of the FCC to introduce new net neutrality rules. However, he didn't get involved in the policy intricacies of Title II rules that are currently under consideration.
Interestingly, he agreed that the structure of the web addresses was probably back-to-front and may have been better if the top-level domain - like dot-com - came at the start rather than the end of a URL.
"Instead of http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/c, having http:/com/redddit/www/r/IAmA/c for example I thought about, and would probably have been a more flexible and consistent idea."
On being a people person
Asked what the thing was that he loves most outside the internet, he told a questioner: "People." Asked what the best thing has been to come from the Internet, he cited the "spirit of global collaboration", the old hippy.
Sir Tim appears to be a humanist - and an optimistic one at that. "Tech will end up working in humanity's best interests," he mused. "But we have a choice! These things are laws and tech standards and so on which actually we control. So it is up to us, where 'us' is humanity."
There are bad people out there though. "We need to protect against not only governments but criminals too, and viral conspiracy theories which seem to sprout from nowhere. I think that if we the people stand firm in democratic countries and demand that all power over the net taken by government comes with direct accountability to the people in how it is used, then we can indeed have a wonderful civilization. We need to keep it decentralized both technically and socially. We need to protect our rights using both code and law."
On being an activist
Sir Tim has been pretty successful in using his name to help drive issues that he feels passionately about. Aside from the W3C standards setting, another one - as evidence in his replies above - is how the internet is used and how it evolves.
"Hopefully, we will be able to roll out a world in which people can together and merge all the data which is about themselves and use it with all sort of cool apps to really better their lives," he said - although to be fair he has been saying the same thing for a decade and data seems to be going the other direction into carefully controlled corporate silos and sold off to advertisers.
He'll keep on fighting though. "We have had a whole campaign webwewant.org to ask people what sort for a web they want for the next 25 years. It is up to us, but hopefully we will lock down (in culture and where necessary law) the fact that it is open.
The number of people using the web will soon cross the 50 per cent and soon 75 per cent of the world population, and then instead of worrying about getting the majority online the spotlight will be on those who remain disenfranchised."
On cats and other endless stupid nonsense
Our favorite response however came in reply to the question: What do you think about memes?
"One does not simply ask the inventor of the WWW what he thinks about memes." ®