Book Review: Weaving The Web

The book “Weaving The Web”, from the creator of the World Wide Web himself, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, was first published in around 1999. But it was quite pleasant to read, and I think was surprisingly relevant to what’s going on with the Internet and the web now, in 2019, 20 years later.

Sir TBL introduced his experience of coming up with the idea of a universal “information aggregator” that unifies access to all world’s knowledge and information online while working at CERN, how he cooperated with similar brilliant minds to come up with first tools for the web, how he pushed the web into momentum, and finally, his own reflections on the impact of the web on society, both positive and negative.

The “Internet” was already a widespread concept before Sir TBL started working on the web. And Sir TBL brought up with this simple yet powerful concept: all the world’s document on the Internet addressed by a “Universal Resource Locator”, and linked together via “hyperlinks”. In this way, you can start your research from any documents, and find all relevant resources by simply clicking on these “links” from any document. And in this way, all world’s online knowledge is weaved together and accessible to you. This abstraction helped made the Internet much more accessible to the public, and opened doors to waves of innovations and business opportunities. I think this is one of the reasons why TBL and his invention was great: he pondered on one complicated problem of organizing the Internet’s information long and hard and came up with the most essential but powerful abstraction, which benefited the whole world.

Thanks to CERN, Sir TBL was able to work on this side-project, and finally made it completely free and open to the world. Also, thanks to Sir TBL, when he left CERN to cofound WWW Consortium (W3C) in MIT, he wanted to make sure the Internet is kept running free and open to all. Without his spirit of openness and efforts to keep the web on this track, the web would be a much more dismal place. For this, he should be truly respected.

In the book, he also discussed his philosophy of keeping the open web: including topics on privacy, net neutrality, censorship, etc. It’s striking to see some of these ideas are still so relevant, if not more important today. In 2019 we are experiencing woes from abuses of web’s power, from the very Internet conglomerates the web helped to nurture, and governments who use it to rip off the freedom it’s designed to give people. That’s why I find this book still relevant and interesting today: the founder had expressed his concerns on the web long before. Had we listened to his ideas more carefully, we would be more aware and prepared to save it.

There are more interesting nuggets in the book: the whole thought process when he designed the web, the anecdotes when he first demoed the web, the stories of the first browsers of the web, and his musings on semantic web and his ultimate goal to “link the world’s information”. In all, it’s a recommend to read.