When I was 11 I remember having a lesson at school about how to the use the World Wide Web. Having left the digital backwaters of primary school, I was now at the forefront of the technology revolution at secondary school.
Well, sort of. We were to learn how to use the web as a tool for learning, for finding resources and discovering information. I think the first thing we did was look up cheats for Championship Manager and Red Alert.
I also remember being amazed that a search for ‘trees’ on then search engine of choice AltaVista turned up more than a million results. I’ve no idea why I searched for trees but I was hooked (on the web, not on trees).
Millions of others would go through the same experience, and most people can recall the first time they used the web, or the first time when using it really clicked, when the realisation of what it could do was laid bare.
It is no wonder that the world is celebrating 25 years since Sir Tim Berners-Lee submitted his proposal to Cern outlining the idea of the World Wide Web, as it has changed the world beyond recognition, and almost always for the better.
Yet, we can't rest on our laurels. The web is free, open and available to anyone who can get online. But millions are not online: in the UK alone around seven million people have never used the internet, a truly staggering number.
In the wider world there are perhaps four to five billion people that are not online. Being offline is a huge disadvantage and one that must be addressed.
Many are aware of this and trying to do something about it, such as Facebook with its Internet.org project, or Google and its crazy Project Loon idea. Such initiatives are to be applauded as they seek to bring the web and its benefits to all.
This will take time, perhaps another 25 years, but getting the world online is something that – while perhaps not the single most important effort facing the developing world, as Bill Gates would no doubt argue – is vitally important.
The web brings access to amazing education tools such as Wikipedia and YouTube, it enables communication with friends, families and co-workers, and it gives anyone with a good idea the chance of getting it heard across the world.
This is the key to the web's success: no one has any advantage when it comes to its use.
Good ideas rise to the surface organically as the network of users discovers what is best and uses it as it wishes: Google, Twitter, Facebook are all web companies that have changed the world from humble beginnings thanks to the web’s open nature.
But bringing this entrepreneurial platform to all will count for nothing if we do not fight to ensure the web remains free from government interference and censorship, can be trusted and is not sold off to the highest bidder.
Since the Snowden PRISM revelations of summer 2013, trust in the web has been damaged as we learn that governments in the US, UK and elsewhere have taken our love of the web and used it to spy on us in huge numbers.
Meanwhile concerns over net neutrality continue to linger as big companies look to gain an unfair advantage by using their financial muscle to pay for faster web access at the expense of smaller startups.
If we let those with the deepest pockets get an unfair advantage by having their services delivered faster on the web, at the expense of startups, then the web market will become distorted, unbalanced and lose its dynamism.
Sir Berners-Lee gave the web to the world free of charge. That is why schools could educate children to its capabilities without worrying about the cost, why businesses have leapt to get online, and why new ideas are springing up every day.
Any attempt to unbalance this setup – a setup that has served us so well for 25 years – must be resisted if we are to ensure that in another 25 years we are still celebrating the web for its impact on the world, whatever lies ahead.
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