Berners-Lee Warns Against Facebook "Fragmenting" The Web

The "father" of the Web sends a plea to Facebook, Apple, and others to stop "walling off" information.

The “father” of the Web sends a plea to Facebook, Apple, and others to stop “walling off” information.

In this month’s Scientific American, out today, Tim Berners-Lee publishes a thoughtful essay about the big service-oriented companies that are threatening the true democratic potential of the Web. Ironically, one of the main players to blame are social networking sites.

How is Facebook fragmenting the “universality” and “decentralization” principles of the Web? Well, my friends, it all comes down to profit and competition. Facebook or LinkedIn, says Berners-Lee, let you keep exhorbitant amounts of personal data, “but only within their sites.” That is to say, in claiming that they need to protect your privacy and add tailored services based on your personal tastes, interests, and connections, social networking sites collect your data but don’t let you use it on other sites.

Each site is a silo, walled off from the others. Yes, your site’s pages are on the Web, but your data are not. You can access a Web page about a list of people you have created in one site, but you cannot send that list, or items from it, to another site.

What happens next is exactly what is causing people to not trust Facebook or Google nearly as much as they did two or three years ago: their efforts start centering on monopolizing all your web-time and data, rather than on optimizing the way you could freely and unobstructedly share your information, if you so pleased. What’s more, says Berners-Lee, this kind of guideline might end up limiting innovation.

If you’re interested in open standards and neutrality for the web, you really should just head over and read the entire article. Berners-Lee goes into great detail about why Apple’s Itunes or magazines’ phone-only apps are actually undermining the relevance and democratic potential of the Web by creating “closed worlds” of information. He also slams Comcast and other Internet service providers for intentionally slowing down or interfering with an individuals’ web use. Wait, Comcast sucks? Go figure!

[Image courtesy of Flickrcc/MrTopf]