ERCIM News No.41 - Àpril 2000 [contents]

The future Web and Europe
- the Web and future Europe

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has gained a lot from ERCIM. The strong overlap between the membership of ERCIM and the W3C offices has made it very easy to set up the European offices; it has helped W3C to be connected into Europe. Concerning Europe, a frequently asked question is: Why did the Web take off more quickly in the US, when it was invented in Switzerland? There are many reasons. The Internet was far more deployed in the US than in Europe. When I invented the Web in 1989, the Internet had just got through to CERN. Many US universities were connected on the Internet, which enhanced a rapid spread of the Web across the USA. The American entrepreneurial spirit may also have something to do with it. There are many start-ups in America. The European ethos to doing things is discussing them first and then doing them. The huge difference in diversity between the US and Europe is a third factor. Europe does not have the same model language block. There is an incentive to put up a website in America, because so many people understand English. 

Diversity is very valuable, and Europe should use this. We get a much richer set of ideas with boundaries which allow people to think independently. At the same time, you need balance between diversity and homogeneity. ERCIM is part of that: it builds bridges between different cultures and allows technical ideas to move freely within the academic community and across different borders.

There are several directions in which Europe could now go. American industry seem to move ahead faster, but Europe could still very well be ahead of the next wave, because it has a lot of the know-how. There could be an excellent opportunity for Europe to address issues such as intellectual property rights, negotiation, and privacy. The Web is not yet done. The Web as you see it now, is just an information dissemination system for most people. I’d always wanted it to be a collaborative system, in which creating links, creating hypertext, is just as simple and intuitive as browsing currently is.

ERCIM provides a way of moving information and facilities between different people in different countries. It coordinates and facilitates, and the Web is a tool for doing that. Europe should think carefully about how to use the Web, in order to build a new society on top of that. Europe is going through a large change, finding out how to construct a society of many nations. The Web can give Europe more of a varied set of connections, which will make it very resilient and able to remain stable but at the same time to move very fast. This interesting general question I leave with you to think it over.