Tim, who had a longer experience with the internet world, convinced me that the web could only survive if all the code was freely available for everyone who wanted to tinker with it. In 1992-1993 I then worked patiently for some 6 months with CERN's Legal Service to draft a document that put the source code into the public domain. This also implied working to convince the managment, up to the Directors, of the need to do so. The result was the document signed on 30 April 1993 that gave the WWW technology to the world.
Wikinews: The web was invented in Europe, but it grew exponentially and to some extent the invention has exploded in your face; at any point did you feel that the WWW had been hijacked by the United States?
Robert Cailliau: The web was hijacked by those who put something in it. They are the people who did not make long ideological or so-called "intellectual" reasonings but who put content there. The approach differs greatly between our European parochial little cultures. For example on the whole French companies are pretty bad on the web: there is a lot of aesthetical ado but you can't find the information you are looking for. The Swiss sites, even those written in French, are much more direct and informative.
The Dutch do better than the Belgians. There is a large difference between the private sector and government agencies. The sites of the French government are a model of completeness, user friendliness and usefulness, almost completely the opposite of the sites of the private companies of the same country.
Money is virtual, it is a number on a computer in a bank somewhere. We trust the bank: nobody has gold coins in a sock under the mattress.
But we have been working on the banking establishment for a few centuries. The last time we had a great crash (depression of 1929) not only a large number of people died of hunger, but it helped bring about the most totalitarian state we ever witnessed (the Third Reich). Since those days we have learned a lot, painfully and with lots of mishaps.
Therefore now we think that we can trust the banks and the economists with our money. The breakthrough came from government controls and international conventions.
With our data it is now as it was with money about two centuries ago: everything is in the hands of uncontrolled private companies, without any legal framework, to say nothing of international agreements.
But my data are a part of myself. I want to know how my data are managed, by whom, where, and with what guarantees. Money I may lose but then I grow my potatoes in my garden.
You speak of a web-Renaissance. That would be a brilliant light that would let us see that in the information-driven era we need to build new social structures, new forms of creating trust and we need more transparency in the processes of society.
Wikinews: Do you see wikis as a viable long-term model, or do you expect something else to emerge? On the subjects of wikis, do you refer to Wikipedia?
Robert Cailliau: I use the Wikipedia often. I also contribute here and there. A very great work, looked at with a lot of jealousy. In almost all comments about the Wikipedia I perceive in the background some jealousy and intolerance.
There seems to be a strong reaction from those who derive their prestige from "secret" knowledge and consequently find it rather scandalous that everything is now not only lying around to be read but also often debunks their prejudices.
"The Wikipedia is full of errors": maybe, but printed books too and they do not get corrected. It is also totally unrealistic to compare the Wikipedia with a work like the Brittanica (for which you need a subscription because we have no micropayments). One should compare the Wikipedia with what people have in their homes (often NOTHING!) or in their heads. If the Wikipedia is as good as the Brittanica, then hats off!
Are wikis viable in the longer term? I think so. They give authors a frame to work in. Whatever comes later, that frame is important.
Wikinews: Lawmakers are lagging behind when it comes to computer- and information-technology. On your site, you say: In a society based on technology it is simply dangerous to make policy on the basis of language constructs only. What is the alternative to language-based policy?
Robert Cailliau: A few years ago I had to speak about www at the European Parliament in Brussels. I was shocked that there was no way to use anything else than spoken language. No screen, no projector, no whiteboard. How can one say anything sensible about climate change without showing maps, graphs, videos? But perhaps we should first work on the scientific literacy of our politicians.
Wikinews: Can you predict the future of the internet? Are you optimistic, or will it be "The Matrix, but worse"?
Robert Cailliau: Matrix but worse. Flight from reality is an unavoidable side effect of our brain structures. Since thousands of years people prefer to listen to fairy tales than face the boring realities. Still I think Web 2.0 is a good trend: blogs, Wikipedia, rings, all these achievements come from simple people sitting behind their home computers who share with others what they experience, and above all learn from others! This learning outside school is the biggest strength of the web and most hopegiving.