back to article Worldwide Web wizard Tim Berners-Lee sticks wellington boot into Worldwide Web's giants: Time to break 'em up?

Worldwide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee has had enough of internet giants Google, Facebook and friends, and reckons the time has come to look at breaking them up. Warning of the "danger of concentration", the grumpy 63-year-old Brit said it was often "natural" that one company comes to dominate a particular field, and that …

  1. Dabooka Silver badge

    Interesting point about Twitter

    I'm not sure the structure of Twitter's design has created any additional online arseholes mind, unfortunately that's just some aspect of human nature creeping through.

    Doesn't mean it's not full of vacuous sentiment, but again that's another human trait.

    1. macjules Silver badge

      Re: Interesting point about Twitter

      Unfortunately an arsehole is an arsehole is an arsehole, regardless of the technology you use. There have been ‘Angry Of Tunbridge Wells’ around since a monk worked out how to paint illuminated manuscripts, and I just bet that even then there would have been an Abbott from a rival monastery downvoting the latest copy of the bible ...

    2. Rol Silver badge

      Re: Interesting point about Twitter

      I live in an area regarded by some, and not without cause, to be a bit dodgy. And at times some young bucks do kick up some noise, but within no time at all, they are either arrested or put on their arse by those a bit bigger and a bit harder. And soon enough all's peace and quiet again.

      The problem with Twitter is the adolescent and immature run riot. No influence of any note stands in opposition, and they continue unchecked.

      Perhaps with A.I. we could maybe convince a whole gaggle of morons that they are twittering with the entire world, yet are just ranting in a mock up environment with AI bots.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Interesting point about Twitter

        I’m not sure that there is any point to most comments on Twitter. When somebody triggers one of these pack hunts you get hundreds of nasty comments all saying the same thing. Nobody is going to scroll through and read them all so after the first few, all their effort is wasted.

        Why does anyone take any of it seriously? It seems to me to be a lot of people with character flaws showing themselves up.

        1. Some Twat

          Re: Interesting point about Twitter

          Actually there is a problem and people do take it seriously. The mob demands that someone is fired, and someone is usually sacrificed to sate the angry mob.

      2. bazza Silver badge

        Re: Interesting point about Twitter

        The problem with Twitter is the adolescent and immature run riot. No influence of any note stands in opposition, and they continue unchecked.

        Absolutely. Worse still the social media platforms' business models rely on there being no restraints, no consequences for what users do. It's corporate greed that lies behind this.

        1. oiseau Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: Interesting point about Twitter

          It's corporate greed that lies behind this.

          Finally !!!

          Have a case of stout, on me --->

          Cheers,

          O.

      3. VikiAi Silver badge

        Re: Interesting point about Twitter

        Subjecting AI to Twitter users is how the justified extermination of humanity begins!

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Interesting point about Twitter

        The problem with Twitter is the adolescent and immature run riot.

        Almost any form of social media is prone to this, including offline. Look in any local newspaper's letters page, and its the same small coterie of axe-grinders writing angry letters about their opinions, and often (even with editorial control) having weeks-long arguments by letter, trying to shout down any opposing views. Admittedly language is strongly moderated, but intellectually it is often the same old pap from the same groupthink (around my way, Labour party supporters seem to think that their tireless coordinated political whingeing is somehow of interest to anybody, but I'm sure that this varies according to locality, local issues and demographics).

        Even in supposedly moderated on-line forums in some there are the unpleasant, passive aggressive lurkers (often people with far too much time on their hands) who always have a strongly held view on anything regardless of their own limited knowledge, that they insist on foisting on others, and trying to shut down contrary expressions. Or you have mob rule because the host publication appeals to a particular demographic or political persuasion. In most respects the Reg forums are a beacon in a dark world - allowing very wide ranging views, tolerant of rude words and argument but not abuse. But that's not just about good moderation, it is that the Commentariat is a broad church, where (generally) we don't take or mean offence, where we appreciate challenge, and we are broadly tolerant of opposing thoughts and arguments. None of the mainstream social media platforms can say that. One other thing is that the Reg forums are a small enough community to work in the sense of human social interaction - we recognise many of each other's names or pseudonyms, we have an inkling of their style, a guess about their political and social thoughts, and often their experience and knowledge levels. On Twitter and Facebook, other than for small private groups, the "community" is often far too large to allow any form of civilised exchange at a human scale, or for people to know anything about the other people with whom they interract. As configured, the big social media platforms allow, shield and reward people who want to shout their angry views to the entire world. If they could reduce the "scale of engagement" for individual posters, that might be a start. Advertisers (despite my contempt for them) pay for access to as many targeted people as possible; But there's no reason for individuals to need or have that access to spew the contents of their meagre brains to the whole of Twitter or Facebook.

      5. Michael Habel Silver badge

        Re: Interesting point about Twitter

        Perhaps with A.I. we could maybe convince a whole gaggle of morons that they are twittering with the entire world, yet are just ranting in a mock up environment with AI bots.

        But, do you think the #orangemanbad NPC's would even notice?

    3. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

      Re: Interesting point about Twitter

      Didn't our very own jake compare Twitter to a text-based Rorschach test? Pretty apt, methinks.

  2. kneedragon

    Timing

    Now Tim, mate, buddy. Can I get you to hold on to that thought, and fuel the rage, build your case, but ... don't go telling Tonald Drump that he has to take over the tech industry for the good of mankind, to make America grate again, because you're not going to like what he does next...

    I would table this idea loud & hard, as soon as you get a democrat government in the excited $tates. Until then, loose lips sink ships.... Real boats rock, but real boats can sink as well. It's a question of timing....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Timing

      > "...as soon as you get a democrat government in the excited $tates."

      Funny you should talk that way. FYI, the conservative part of the US has gradually become aware that the tech giants are almost entirely in the hands of very liberal Democrats. We don't like how those platforms are being gradually weighted against us for purely PC reasons. We're gradually coming to realize we can't let the online social sphere's rules be dictated by those who would be happy to stifle us, leaving the field to the Left only.

      And here you come saying that it would be good to put controls on those tech giants, but only if a Democrat gets to do it. Why do I suspect this is so that the process can be made entirely for show, with no real reform at all?

      1. jmch Silver badge

        Re: Timing

        "We don't like how those platforms are being gradually weighted against us"

        If by 'us' you mean conservatives, think again. These platforms have been used to get right-wingers into power in US & Brazil, promoted Brexit... Truth is Zuk & co don't care about left or right, they care who has the cash to pay them

      2. Crazy Operations Guy

        Re: Timing

        The only people the tech companies are in the pockets of is those of the investors and the executives of these companies. They only care about inflating their bottom lines. They'll let you post anything from ISIS propaganda, entire copies or Mein Kampf, The Communist Manifesto, whatever so long as they are making a profit off it. Hell, you could probably show graphic depictions of Zuckerberg's grandma being brutally tortured all over Facebook and Mark would nod in approval as the advertising dollars keep coming in.

        1. Potemkine! Silver badge

          Re: Timing

          Zuckerberg's grandma being brutally tortured all over Facebook and Mark would nod in approval as the advertising dollars keep coming in

          No surprise, Zuckerberg's grandma was a bitch, bitch

      3. Avatar of They Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: Timing

        Wow, haven't heard such tosh in a very long time.

        Social media is being turned against conservatives??? The biggest right wing nut job - Trump is using social media to very blatantly lie ("They were laughing with me") when discussing being laughed at by the UN. To name one of the many "Actual news" stories he seems to not understand. To a point the UN has warned him about his rhetoric.

        Fact is conservatives don't like the fact that social media is proving just what a bunch of dangerous nut jobs who love rifles more than life they really are. Just look at the immigration kids being taken from parents when Trump denied it was happening and it was made up by liberals.

        Greed has ruined social media but the messages of truth that do get out just prove it is a vital tool to stop dictators from taking total control. (Iran, Russia, Syria, Saudi, Turkey, China and the US)

        But as Trolls go, well done. Have a cookie.

  3. martinusher Silver badge

    Ahh, the apprentice Curmudgeon....

    As Sir Tim might recall back in the day there was a rather useful news feed service, Usenet. It is architecturally light years ahead of a web based service such as Twitter (it was distributed and free rather than centralized and corporate). It nevertheless became a bit of a disaster area because of flame wars, excessive spamming and it being used as a tool for distributing illicit binaries.

    There's no real point in railing against this, its what happens to all resources held in common -- a minority will want to grab as much as they can hold, to spoil what they can't hold and generally screw it up for everyone else (even if its just to prove they exist -- "Hey, I can spray paint my initials (badly) on that wall"). I can't offer a ready solution but in the short term filtering keeps the noise down. Meanwhile, if Sir Tim is at a loose end we desperately need a new Web, one that's more efficient in computing and communication resources and preferably lacks any facility for so-called 'push' technology (and doesn't use any of those Dynamic Web technologies that have evolved like dry rot -- I'll take my Web pages 'boring', please).

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Ahh, the apprentice Curmudgeon....

      > illicit binaries

      And dang, some of those binaries were pretty darn hot illicit! WHOO WHEE!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ahh, the apprentice Curmudgeon....

        Meh, there was some genuine artistic talent in ASCII art pr0n, you know...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ahh, the apprentice Curmudgeon....

      I'd argue that Usenet isn't really a disaster area and has proved its worth by allowing for the download of distributed binary content.

  4. steelpillow Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    Human nature

    One thing the Internet and the www will never change is human nature. The more open you make the tech, the more human nature will shine through. And you, Sir Tim, made it pretty dam' open.

    It may not be a pretty sight, but welcome to the real world.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Human nature

      I agree with Tim but faecebook can stay and continue in its role as the gutter of the web. Avoid faecebook and you avoid most of the scum, a bit like avoiding the roughest part of town.

      The interghetto,

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't break them up

    ...because that was tried with Ma Bell, and all that resulted in was the Baby Bells, and the resulting slow motion car crash that was, is and evermore shall be US telecoms.

    What needs to happen is to rigorously examine the business practices of these giants, and to make sure that the many efforts they make to stifle, obstruct, or buy anybody that challenges them are firmly blocked or brutally punished. A case in point is Google's efforts to prevent any competition in phone operating systems.

    1. Michael Habel Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: Don't break them up

      A case in point is Google's efforts to prevent any competition in phone operating systems.

      [CITATION NEEDED]...

      Or were we thinking of WinPhone perchance? Then how is it Googles fault that MicroSoft decided their pile of sick (i.e. Live Tiles), was going to be the UI to rule them all. And, yet (For them), wasn't? Were you thinking of Symbian? LOL Of course Nokia had to go with Android, by this point. Perhaps had MicroSoft managed to leave them (e.g. Nokia), alone they might have had a winner on their hands with Meego (IIRC), but, again it wasn't to be. But, yet you would seem to be ready to indite Google for this?

      Why?!

      1. Michael Habel Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Don't break them up

        A Down Vote?! Really I guess I shouldn't have been all that surprised. It was of course the only reasonable response you could have expected from an anti-google NPC.

        But, take your time to cite just the One example of where Google is actively blocking any Third Party from pushing an alternative Mobile OS. That isn't just a repacked AOSP rip-off of Android.

        I got the rest of the Day. (To sip on this Beer...)

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Don't break them up

          I think the downvotes have more to do with the patronising tone.

          1. Michael Habel Silver badge

            Re: Don't break them up

            It doesn't really answer my concerns though, does it. It must be a wonderful time where someone can make baisless accusations about a Corporation, just because it's the happing thing to do so.

            Google sure as heck has no need of my defence, and I have my geavences with them being extremely "Evil" towards those with diversive opinions. Usually those of a right if center, being silenced, and or outright being unpersons. e.g. Alex Jones. Then you have a case to bitch Google out.

            But, blocking some mythical third-party from entering the Mobile OS space? This needs more than merely some autistic squeching from the Internet. 'Cause if it's true than yes it's now time to go and smack a be-yitch.

            Problem is it's all probably not true. And Op has somehow confused Google's bundling of Apps... ON ITS OWN PLATFORM! (Funny how everyone has seemed to forget this!). Is as far away from "Blocking" some new kid from joining the game.

            So will Op deliver?

  6. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    It was thought computers and computer networks would empower human kind

    Instead they have just empowered some companies to make a great deal of money while raising barriers to entry so high it's effectively impossible to compete with them.

    And make no mistake raising those barriers (of whatever kind) is absolutely part of their business model.

    And has been so since at least the time Micrsoft and the "If you sell a PC that can run DOS, we get a cut, even if it doesn't have a copy loaded" contract clause AKA "The Microsoft tax."

    1. kneedragon

      Re: It was thought computers and computer networks would empower human kind

      It was thought computers and networks would empower humankind.

      Well, it was thought those things were in the future but coming. One very widely noted vision was written in 1948, by George Orwell. He imagined a constant 3 way war between 3 world powers, and totalitarian states in each who maintained the war, and he imagined a "telescreen" which was a TV with a camera on it. It showed you what the gov wanted, and it showed them what you were doing. But even George Orwell didn't imagine we'd pay between one and two thousand dollars for our viewscreen, or b1tch like hell if it stopped working. I don't care if the CIA and the NSA and the FBI can watch every key stroke and read every url, if I can't flame fools on facebook (fool being anybody of the opposite political persuasion to you) then I'm going to get torches and hoods and jackboots, and send pipe-bombs through the mail to prominent figures of the other side. Steve Bannon would like to remind you that "merica - faque yeah!" Stupidity is power. Dr Goebbels and Dr Hess knew this 80 years ago.

  7. gr00001000
    Go

    MESH

    I'm all for banding together and creating a MESH network of inter-connected national WIFI points and locally adminstered server content and services. We don't need these giant ISPs, CDN bohemoths and Internet giants. The corporate commercial Internet can be left by householders and non-commercial pioneers.

    The tech is there now, just need some good long distance beaming between towns.

    A separate Internet can be formed, just band together and do it........ I'm waiting for it to happen. The only global firm i'd want to be part of it in some way would be a wikipedia.

    @frontline_ops

    https://mashable.com/2018/01/09/mesh-networks-provide-alternative-intenet-connection/#igk1CqVMYqql

    1. gr00001000
      Pirate

      Re: libreMESH

      There is no UK representative of Libremesh we need to change that

      https://libremesh.org/

      Guifi.net Iberian peninsula http://guifi.net

      FreiFunk Germany http://freifunk.net

      FunkFeuer Austria https://www.funkfeuer.at

      Ninux.org Italy http://ninux.org

      AlterMundi Argentina http://altermundi.net

  8. Smooth Newt Silver badge
    Meh

    Before breaking them up

    "Before breaking them up, we should see whether they are not just disrupted by a small player beating them out of the market, but by the market shifting, by the interest going somewhere else,".

    These corporations are so wealthy that they buy up any companies that might threaten their dominance. To wait around for ten years to confirm the already obvious is just wasting a decade.

    See for example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mergers_and_acquisitions_by_Facebook

  9. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Let's take a look at Prestel/Minitel/Bildschirmtext/Ceefax

    I mean the web has some problems. Since the technology has moved from "write the structure of your document and your browser will try its best to display it" to "stack several frameworks to micromanage your webpage to it'll look acceptable even on a smartphone". Browsers today need Gigabytes of RAM, they expose very large attack surfaces by having to support things like Javascript.

    What if we look into those old online services. The biggest problem was that those were controlled by the post office. This was because back in the 1970s when they were thought up, the idea of a private person owning their own computer was considered to be idiotic. Today that is a very real possibility, virtually everybody has their own computer connected to a high speed network capable of establishing a connection in milliseconds.

    What few people know is that those old technologies were meant to be extended. For example the French Minitel had a provision for vector graphics. The Singapore system even had full colour photographic images. Provisions for audio have been made and adding video wouldn't be hard.

    Now think of it, building a WYSIWYG editor for those old standards is near trivial. 40x24 characters also work quite well on mobile or TV-like devices. On desktop devices you can always display "successive" frames. When using this over TCP/IP(v6) speed is no issue, and since TCP/IPv6 is peer to peer it is really simple for anyone to have their own website.

    Since those standards were essentially terminal protocolls, they define a captive connection. This makes session management trivial, you have one TCP connection which is one session, no cookies or other complicated stuff to get wrong. Instead you have a fairly simple program looking for key presses and sending a file.

    Of course I do not claim that this is the solution from the problems of the web, however I believe that in order to find a better solution one also must know about previous attempts and how they worked.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I think "death", as it were, is one central component missing in capitalism

    Once a company reaches a certain size, dominance, or some other relevant criteria, I do think it makes sense for the governing bodies - on behalf of the people - to say:

    "You did it! Good job. You're like a super-capitalist. Wow! Here is your reward of some insane amount of money (for the board/founder/whatever), now we'll take apart your company and forcefully make it into individual companies.

    Congratulations again. You won at capitalism!"

    1. VikiAi Silver badge

      Re: I think "death", as it were, is one central component missing in capitalism

      I believe the original idea of public companies did involve forming a company with a stated goal (to achieve something outside government remit and too big for an individual citizen or private company), and when that goal was achieved, the company was to be disbanded, assets and results of its work sold off, and the rewards split up among the investors. Something changed quite early along the way, though.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sir Tim misses an important point....

    Quote: "....he fears that unpleasant corporate cultures are impacting society...."

    *

    ....but what about governmental and political cultures?

    I'm thinking about huge databases on internet users collected by the NSA, GCHQ and others, which, unlike Facebook, Google, etc... are COMPLETELY SECRET!!! One interesting report on these unhealthy government and political cultures can be found here:

    - https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/oct/01/police-super-database-prompts-liberty-warning-on-privacy

    The STASI is here already, Sir Tim....and it isn't Facebook!

  12. venkatarangan
    Thumb Up

    Thank God, we have people like Sir Tim Berners-Lee who have the courage and the credentials to call out these issues that we need to work on. Philosophically speaking - if we (Humans) as a species learn to handle Social Media well, which was the first truly global integrator, we will mature to do greater things.

  13. Mike Shepherd
    Meh

    ne supra crepidam

    Tim B-L...is there anything he's not an expert on?

  14. nematoad Silver badge

    No qualification needed.

    "London, England"

    I think that most of the world knows what country London is located in. If it had been in London Ontario maybe but London in the UK like "The Open Championship" or "The Football Association" needs no qualification because it got there first.

    Note to Donald Trump. There is no "British Open".

    1. soulrideruk Bronze badge

      Re: No qualification needed.

      From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

      "British Open" and "The Open" redirect here. For other uses, see British Open (disambiguation) and The Open (disambiguation).

      The Open Championship, often referred to as The Open or the British Open, is an annual golf tournament conducted by The R&A. It is one of the four major championships in professional golf, and is the oldest of the four. The Open is traditionally played in mid-July; beginning 2019, with the rescheduling of the PGA Championship to May, the tournament will be the final major of the golf season.

    2. MonkeyControl

      I think that most of the world knows what country London is located in.

      You beat me to it. Unfortunately the article was written by some arse in San Fransisco, (North Amerika).

  15. Commswonk Silver badge

    From the Article...

    Is Sir Tim right? Or has he just entered the grumpy old man phase of life?

    If the second of the above sentences is the case, I would very much like to welcome him into the fold and assure him that he will find that he is in excellent company.

  16. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Social media will be the ultimate proof for A.I that Humanity deserves extermination.

    Amazon is another story. It destroys a lot of local businesses alright, but isn't it the same case than cars eradicating horse transports? The worrying point is when Amazon will be a monopoly there won't be any competition anymore.

    1. soulrideruk Bronze badge

      Potemkine!: "Amazon is another story. It destroys a lot of local businesses alright, but isn't it the same case than cars eradicating horse transports?"

      No, it is not even vaguely the same thing. Cars replaced horses, but the jobs didn't disappear. Hearses changed from horses to cars, only the horses themselves were put out of work, not the business owners running the business.

      With Amazon, the jobs disappear and the business owners lose the business, and sometimes their homes and family too. It is not even close to being comparable. Amazon is already a monopoly, just no-one has realised yet... Facebook and Google are other examples of monopolies from the wonderful internet age.

  17. The Dogs Meevonks

    I've been saying for almost 20yrs now.

    "The greatest thing about the internet is that it gives everyone a voice.

    The worst thing about the internet... Is that it GIVES EVERYONE a voice."

    It's given a certain portion of people the misguided belief that their voice and opinions are more important than anyone elses, that their POV and agenda is the only one that matters. They will then attempt to bully, campaign and force that view on everyone else regardless of how stupid and bigoted it is.

    All we really see on twitter these days are endless #inserthasttaghere campaigns to send prayers for (insert tragedy here) tragedy or #boycotcompany campaigns, or just simply #mybigotry/racismmustbelistenedtoandgivencreedence ones.

    We've seen people attacked and bullied, lives threatened all for wearing a shirt some fuckwits didn't like, or telling a joke that some people dislike... Newsflash fuckwits... EVERY JOKE IS OFFENSIVE TO SOMEONE.

    When I see that kind of behaviour... I simply tend to respond with that lovely quote from Stephen Fry.

    “It's now very common to hear people say, 'I'm rather offended by that.' As if that gives them certain rights. It's actually nothing more... than a whine. 'I find that offensive.' It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. 'I am offended by that.' Well, so fucking what."

    1. VikiAi Silver badge
      Go

      I generally respond to such things along the lines of "The very idea that anyone would be offended by such a thing is something I find quite offensive!"

  18. JimC Silver badge

    Well, grumpy old men are often right

    There are those who would argue that's why evolution has generated grumpy old men.

    I think the big problem is the way that the net has extended the power of trans national organisations. perhaps the breakup needs to be on a national scale with legislation that companies must exist on a national level and somehow be prevented from offshoring profits. It would sort out a lot in terms of tax problems as well.

    Very hard to do well though, I'm not sure I'm clever enough to suggest how it could be done practically.

  19. ecofeco Silver badge

    We either break them up or accept a fascist Internet

    See title.

    Nobody, not even your friends and family, will care about your niche, back alley website no matter how cool it is when they can't find it.

    We are pretty much there already.

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