Events The internet the world

Sir Tim Berners-Lee: Then, now, tomorrow. What’s next for the World Wide Web?

The event, held at the Sydney Town Hall 5 Feb 2013, was part of the City Talks series presented by the City of Sydney and UTS spotlight.

The hashtag was the ever parochial #tbldownunder. The official ones were #sydcitytalk and #UTSengage

What people said

There were several introductions including Clover Moore’s rundown of the City’s contribution to supporting innovation which was quite impressive, and there were (too many) panellists, but everyone was there for Tim Berners-Lee.

He delivered his presentation with frenetic energy. Was there a thread? A theme? Not quite, although his historical tech overview did turn into an invitation to contribute to code and be vigilant of those who seek to control our data and our privacy. I think an implied warning of proprietors who want to lock down devices too.

When asked by Adam Spencer of proposed Australian government controls Tim Berners-Lee asked what does the restriction of intent access in Egypt imply for everyone else? How much power are we going to give our governments to block sites? What of censorship, of spying? What becomes of trust in government if they choose to exercise such power? Just as the independence of the press is vital, so too is the independence of the Internet, he said. He answered so many questions with a question but in a way for the audience to take responsibility for the web we want.

Then came the panel discussion on the future and the past: a discussion of technologies that will demand increased bandwidth, technologies we can envision (3D, holograms) to those we can’t yet anticipate, a rallying cry for entrepreneurs, a question about the role of devices changing how we behave, the inevitable changes to print media and the until now protected free-to-air TV industry…

I’m a bit ambivalent about questions being fielded from the Twittersphere. Not that I’m not into the channel, it just makes public discussions ad-hoc; ideas don’t build. So the following notes are correspondingly unrelated.

  • Tim Berners Lee posited the future of journalists as curators of quality content to counter the deluge of information.
  • He suggested new payment protocols to reward those that provide good information.
  • We heard about the emerging “Sydney model” for entrepreneurship. It was compared but in no great detail to communities in Berlin, Brazil, South Korea and Singapore. Sydney incubators are covering various industries and are beginning to consult the government.
  • Be grateful! Map data is free In Australia courtesy of the government, something we don’t even notice.
  • Current solutions to threats of cyber terrorism and cyber crimes have not countered the risks they introduce by the private data they promise to store on our behalf.
  • Close to my heart was a concern around the filtering of news content by cookies from the Fairfax panellist. We have to be sure that news does not begin to be filtered for us, narrowing the information served, attempting to bias information.
  • Further to points on data and privacy were the right to know what data is being stored about us, a quandary about who owns reputation data on peer to peer sites, the subject or the service provider?
  • And although no one used the words user experience the discussion did talk about the role of design. We have to be clear where data is coming from and where our data is going to. This has implications for geotagged messages, bank phishing scams, tagged photos on social networks. UX conventions need to emerge to make it easier, more predictable and safer for users.

And after all that, the night ended with a light show and some enthusiastic and appreciative applause.

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