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TimBL, 30 Years Later, still doing us a Solid

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by John Kendall Hawkins

"To dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another."

- All Souls Unitarian Church Covenant

"O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive!"

- Marmion, Walter Scott

The URL Sea

Last time we saw Tim Berners-Lee (TimBL), he was weeping by the information highway, google-eyed clowns in honking cars passing by -- spam, assorted junk, broken links, tossed at his feet -- on their way to the URL Sea to do some phishing for ids and IDs. Working at the CERN particle accelerator in Switzerland, St. TimBL "decidedthat high energy physics needed a networked hypertext system and CERN was an ideal site for the development of wide-area hypertext ideas." See the blue 'weeping' links above? TimBL, the Unitarian-Universalist, did that for science -- provided an electronic pathway to further information -- and then, because he was so chuffed by its success, he served it up as the Web, for free, to the whole wide world in 1989.

The Internet, originally a product of the US military, and around since the 60s, was virtually unknown to the general public. It was an electronic data system that allowed universities and government agencies to share information in a sometimes clunky and often inefficient fashion. The World Wide Web brought structure and efficiency, its underlying coding language (HTML) and delivery protocol (HTTP) made it easier for would-be data hosts to build websites using applications like WhatYouSeeIsWhatYouGet (WYSIWYG).

People went to work immediately building that Library. Some people swear that they never saw so much free porn in their lives. I myself loved 'link surfing' -- each day presented a new hypertext adventure. TimBL was hailed as a Martin Luther King (think, decentralization) , Gutenberg (publishing), and, alas, Robert Oppenheimer (a Bomb that could change everything).

Thirty years later: What a mess. What was supposed to serve humanity by accelerating particles of data around the globe to create a kind of Library of Alexandria that people could help build with data, as well as borrow from at will, seems to have gone as disastrously wrong as its ancient predecessor. Flamers everywhere, advertising retinues, more and more centralization of data, the Internet as a battlefield between States which has militarized the data stream and turned it into a security risk requiring constant monitoring. TimBL looks at the highway today and sees lovely tumbling papyrus scrolls strewn everywhere, like trash. Humanity is being served up to the appetites of Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Corporates sizing up our desires, Intels seizing on our souls.

Not only has the Web become the feeding grounds of predatory corporates and spooks, but global governments have stepped in to regulate it in a number of ways -- including the UN's ITU body that seeks standards and protocols for current and emerging communivction technologies; the US release of ICANN, which some people feel intentionally releases the US from First Amendment obligations; net neutrality issues, with its pay-for-play implications; new link laws that would make a service provider legally responsible for content links -- be they code of conduct issues or copyright issues; search engine manipulation; and Internet kill switches, to name some of the looming weaving of the Web....

TimBL is appalled to see such interference with his brainchild. In addition to the strangleholds described above, the Web has brought out some of the worst facets of human personality and chased away the better angels of our nature (someone I know said they saw poor Ralph Nader loping away from it all in tears, idle tears). We have turned into trolls who burn our own bridges, clowns who never say clever, spies for the government hereand spies for government there, and super-viced by yet other spooks and spies. Our Victorian unitarian TimBL has watched the Web turn into the Grand Bizarre porno hub. Enquirehas become the Enquirer.Even the Lady of Shalott has not been able to handle Lancelot galloping hotly by on his way back from shovelling chivalry in France -- with a feather in his cap.

Enough! cried TimBL.This is not my beautiful Internet -- this is not my beautiful Web. All that hivemindedness. Was TimBL criminally naive to believe that his mosaic catalogue would not inevitably -- you know, given the human condition -- backslide toward baal once the language of the Web could be exploited? Jeez, didn't he read Animal Farm? Freedom today, totalitarianism tomorrow. He almost went Sam Kinison (and who woulda blamed him?), after the events of 2016. But TimBL fought back -- quietly, efficiently and with a new Web paradigm for his links that he calls Solid. Like a Marvel Comics character who actually does good, TimBL slipped into a phone booth and -- made a call to D Central Eyes.

Hey, Kids, Let's Play 'Alan J. Qaeda'

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John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelance journalist currently residing in Australia. His poetry, commentary, and reviews have appeared in publications in Oceania, Europe and the USA, such as Cordite, Morning Star, Hanging Loose, and (more...)
 

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