ICTD2010 (IX). Keynote Speech: Tim Berners-Lee

Notes from the Information and Communication Technolgies and Development — ICTD2010, held at the Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, UK, on December 13-16, 2010. More notes on this event: ictd2010.

Keynote Speech: Tim Berners-Lee

The Web is about people — enabled by technology —, that create networks by linking. Linking is a conscious act that can be analysed: the Web Science Trust is aimed at scientifically analysing how the Web is build, what are the consequences of this or that link, how are people related by means of linked content.

Getting the Internet is not only about getting connected, but about being potentially able to access all good things of life.

It is very important to get people do things locally. It is not about localizing foreign content, of importing services… it is about people doing things home, about people blogging, chatting, being themselves on the Net and doing things. Development starts with local capacity. It is about local ownership, low cost bandwidth and low bandwidth-demanding communications, about local content again and again.

If open data are good for developed countries, why is there no more people pushing for open data in developing countries? It is in developing countries, with usually lower quality democracies, where transparency and accountability are more required. And this includes several activities that developed countries’ governments and international organizations perform in developing countries too.

Open data is about:

  • Put the data on the website.
  • Data is structured and is machine readable.
  • Open format and metadata: XML, RDF.
  • Data is linkable, with a unique resource identifier.
  • Link your data to provide context.

Indeed, open standards are key not only for government data, but for many other data like education and all ICT-enabled learning, or all business solutions, especially in developing countries where costs of ownership and costs of technological change may be much higher than in more competitive economies.

We still think of mobile phones as mainly voice devices. Data (data plans) are an add-on, you have to ask for it and, of course, pay extra for it. Notwithstanding, having data on the phone is a huge leap forward. Being able to transmit data, easily, quickly, ubiquitously should be the norm, not the exception. And, in fact, this has become technically possible at derisory costs in comparison with the past. Freeing (actuallly) low bandwidth Internet access would trigger the demand without putting at stake the sustainability of the network or of the Internet Service Providers. Mobile data plans should be free for everyone.

And what is incredible in this field is how everything integrates. And when it comes to the Internet, all countries are developing countries.


Q: Major shift in the Web in the following years? A: Mobility and much more data. The Web as a platform will definitely beat desktop/laptop computing power.

Q: What are the limits of Open Government? Wikileaks? A: Open data is actually data that the government has decided to make public. Then, we have to differentiate between transparency and privacy and (required) secrecy or stealing data. How do we define those concepts and what are their boundaries that is a difficult to answer question. Probably there’s both the need for secrecy and the need for a whistleblower.

Salma Abbasi: who’s to decide what is or what is not to be disclosed on the Net? Who’s to rate the content on the Net? A: Everyone should be able to rate the content they find on the Net. On the other hand, you can hire someone/some service to do that for you. So the default should be “all available” and let each one decide what is for them or for their children.

Douglas Namale of Map Kibera asking question of Tim Berners-Lee on internet content & governance

Ugo Vallauri: What is the future of the mobile web, beyond what we just see now in most mobiles? Stéphane Boyera: We are seing, at the same time, a boost of a mobile Internet and a tethering of the Internet in mobile apps and mobile app stores (e.g. iPhone apps). Berners-Lee: the thing is that the backbone is not closed, tethering is not mandatory. Open standards will allow anyone, any device to use specific data or a specific application. So, we have to encourage an open mobile web.

Richard Heeks: openness, transparency and accountability… where is the responsibility to be put? Stéphane Boyera: we have to begin with openness first, open nets is the first step. This will disclose lots of possibilities for people to perform actions upon those open data. Tim Berners-Lee: The value of presenting data open itself is very high. And the possibility to mash them up is incredibly interesting.

Q: What is the future of the Web with concepts like the Internet of things, augmented reality, the semantic web, etc.? A: The future is linked data. It does not seem that it will happen outside of the web with new languages different from the markup languages (or their evolutions) that we have now. So the web may change radically, but the essence of linked data will remain.

More information

Tim Berners-Lee: The 5 Stars of Open Linked Data.

Tim Unwin’s photos of the keynote.


Information and Communication Technologies and Development (2010)

Tim Berners-Lee: doctor honoris causa

Notes from Tim Berners Lee’s investiture ceremony as doctor honoris causa, Open University of Catalonia, Barcelona, October 10th, 2008.

Manuel Castells: Laudatio for Sir Timothy Berners-Lee

Quoting Tim Berners-Lee (TBL): the World can be seen as just connections, nothing else.

Net neutrality has to be maintained as one of its genuine foundations, not to create a new digital divide amongst the ones that can freely surf the Internet and those who cannot.

Timothy Berners-Lee

The Web is just a platform for people to do new things.

Lots of things that happen on the web are there just because someone else let them happen, and let people go on with their ideas… just like the Web, that in a first draft was dubbed as vage… but exciting.

Keeping one web is important, securing that computers still speak the same language, the same protocol, one to each other.

Why does the web work? Because one person puts a link, and somebody else follows it. So, understanding people is (or should be) the first step in computer science and, indeed, in designing and developing the Web of the next years. This is the aim of Web Science, to gather under the same roof computer scientists, who know about computers, and other disciplines, the ones who know about people. Web Science is about bridging the people that understand technology and people that understand people. Technology is created for the sake of Humanity, not the other way.