Fifteen candles for the Web. Or what did Tim Berners-Lee unleash?

April 30th was a big day, in case it did not pop up in your Gmail calendar, Plaxo reminder or ToDoPub, the online to-do list.

I first heard it was the official birthday of the Web from a colleague, when he complained that someone had hacked into his web site. I suppose it was a *wicked* way of highlighting the awesome power now in our hands.

Fifteen years ago, Tim Berners-Lee unleashed this power when he applied hypertext (standing on the shoulder of Ted Nelson who conceived of the idea) and came up with the HTTP part of the web that’s almost invisible now, but knits the world together.

For some like the Magazine and Newspaper industry, ‘unleashed’ really became ‘unraveled.’ For others like Netflix, there would have been no business without this invention.

Fifteen candles later, this simple, almost invisible connective tissue of the web has reconfigured the way we communicate, market, educate and inspire each other. Oh yes, also how we find, rant, share and take notes among other things. I’ve written a lot about Wikinomics, and its malcontents and sometimes wonder if the information overload is slowing us down, rather than speeding us up. Birthdays are good times to look forward, back and sideways, aren’t they?

Recently I found an old printout of the famous “Rudman and Hart Report, (published eight months before 9/11) which had forecast in grim detail some of America’s vulnerabilities. It made a point of warning us that “new technologies will divide the world as well as draw it together.”

That irony strikes me as exactly what the web is good at –simultaneously connecting and dividing. It has made the world smaller and unified at one level, while fragmenting it into millions of niches. Or, as Thomas Friedman observed in The World is Flat, the ‘steroids’ (applications like wireless and file sharing) and the other flatteners like off-shoring, in-sourcing and open-sourcing are pulling the world in all directions. There are walled gardens like Facebook and there are open source textboooks.

And none of this could have happened without what Mr. Berners-Lee invented. Standing on the shoulder of this giant, companies such as iTunes took online music out of the the piracy world and into a business model that defies a label. Is it an application, a library, or a sharing platform? Basecamp takes files sharing into the realm of project management. There are hundreds of other examples. Without the web 1.0, there would have been no web 2.0.

As we head down the road to web 3.0, let’s tip our hats to Tim Berners-Lee.

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