Tim Berners Lee Launches World Wide Web Foundation - Will it Be Effective?

wwwfoundationlogo.jpgTim Berners Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, announced this weekend the formation of a new organization dedicated to studying how the web works and expanding access to the billions of people who can't get online today. The World Wide Web Foundation kicked off with $5 million in support from media funders the Knight Foundation.

Can yet another organization really make a difference? Some observers seem to be suffering from Organization Fatigue, but we're interested to see what Berners Lee can do. A group dedicated to deep study of the web and the obstacles to its growth sounds like a great idea to us. Not everyone agrees.

What's Being Planned

The Foundation launched with a three part plan, including:

  • Web Science and Research

  • Studying the web "as an interconnected complex system (that combines disciplines of science, biomedical science, social science, and computer science, for example)" and creating curriculum for other Web Scientists to be trained with around the world.

  • Web Technology and Practice

  • Advancing standards.

  • Web for Society

  • "To learn from people in socially or economically deprived communities how the Web can better serve them." (Nice that it's phrased this way.) Creating programs to extend access around the world.


We are a little concerned about a conversation Berners Lee had with the BBC prior to unveiling the Foundation where he argued that there needs to be some way to brand trustworthy websites as trustworthy. That strikes us as either silly or frightening, possibly both.

Web standards guru and blogger Molly Holzschlag sums up what is probably a common feeling of ambivalence about the new Foundation.

I would love to feel optimistic about this, but at this point I've really decided that creating more groups is just adding layers of problems on top of what we're already doing.

On the other hand, if this empowers greater outreach, education and fosters real influence in returning to the core ideals of an interoperable Web for all, then I'm all for it.

Eran Hammer-Lahav, Open Web Evangelist at Yahoo! and party to the founding of another group, the Open Web Foundation, has sharper words for Berners Lee's group.

Seems odd to ask for money, and a lot of
it, with so little detail as to what this organization is about?...We've been asked many times why a new org, and I think it is fair to ask it back. Seems to me that most of this should/could be done within the W3C. If the W3C is no longer able to promote its own mission, it raises the question: should the same leadership be trusted to run a new effort that seems to try and fix what their first effort failed to accomplish?

We are sympathetic to both opinions here. The problems being engaged with are thorny enough that we applaud anyone for trying tackle them - and the inventor of the web certainly brings credentials to the effort. Also, it's not our $5 million so we're not going to lose too much sleep even if the effort goes no where.

What do you think? Does the World Wide Web Foundation website give you hope that the organization will be effective? If these topics are of interest to you, see also the Digital Divide Network.


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