If you're reading this, I'm sure you need no convincing as to the joys of the World Wide Web and all the benefits it has to offer. It's sometimes difficult to remember that this is still a relatively new technology – especially for those under the age of 25 who in all likelihood, can't remember a time without it.
Since its inception the web has become increasingly more politicized and we now find ourselves at a point where some of the largest companies in the world are essentially website owners writ-large, who some would argue hold more sway over the global population than any one government could ever hope to. As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility, a fact highlighted recently when the British government laid a portion of blame over a terrorist attack at the feet of a certain (unspecified) internet giant.
Whether you believe these internet firms hold a social responsibility or not, this increased political focus on the web is also being played out at the technological level, threatening one of the core, founding concepts of the web: Openness. Enter 'The Open Web' – a sort of collective ideology about how the web should be run at a fundamental level which is championed by the likes of the Mozilla Foundation among others. Here at After Digital we try to reflect the core ideals of the Open Web both in the way we work as a whole and more specifically in the technologies we build and use.
Many of the core concepts of the Open Web are, from my point of view, inarguably brilliant. Decentralization – no one person, company or country owns the internet or the infrastructure which it relies upon. There are even attempts under way to de-couple the web even more from the traditional seats of power, with projects such as Outernet promising to deliver (almost) free data anywhere in world. Openness (obviously) – specifically referring to the technologies which make up the web – both the software (code, data etc.) and the hardware should use universally available systems of communication which anyone can build, 'speak' and read. On a more philosophical level the web should also enable communication between everyone and anyone, creating dialogues on a scale never before possible. And transparency – again on both a technical and a human level, the web should be easy to understand, easy to access and easy to share. The obvious master of this philosophy is Wikipedia, particularly their Simple English version.
As web developers perhaps the most notable consequence of all this is the fact that so much data sharing happens across the web, primarily in the form of APIs (Application Programming Interface, or in other words a means for a developer to interact with someone else's application, extracting and modifying data within their own code). Almost every website worth mentioning has their own API: Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, and, of course, Google (who has a huge range, almost all available, at least at some level, for free) to name but a few. The UK government has even gotten in on the act and have a whole site dedicated to the freedom of data which you can view here.
That said, one thing worth bearing in mind is that all this talk of open, free data doesn't mean that there is no room on the web for commerce – clearly this is not the case. There is a famous (in certain circles) maxim that goes something like “free as in 'free speech' not 'free beer'” - in other words, just because something is open doesn't mean we can't charge for it!
Looking further ahead (in an optimistic light, ignoring for a moment the dark shadow cast by the threat of regulation and censorship) there are all sorts of possibilities being opened up by this free roaming data. Just recently, CERN launched it's own data sharing service which enables budding scientists the world over to get their hands on the raw data produced by, among others, the Large Hadron Collider. Granted, you may need a brain the size of a planet to get anything out of it – but somewhere out there the next Einstein, perhaps working some tedious clerical job, is cracking his or her knuckles and getting down to the business of revolutionising our understanding of everything. At least I like to think so anyway.