The man credited with creating the web says that television channels will be history and that the internet should be able to offer a random access library of anything that has ever been broadcast. Twenty years after a modest proposal for information management that has become the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee says the concept of a channel will no longer be relevant on the internet.
He first proposed a global hypertext project at the CERN centre for nuclear research in March 1989, to enable people to collaborate by sharing their knowledge in a web of hypertext documents. He went on to develop a client browser called WorldWideWeb that was made available on the internet in the summer of 1991. The rest is history. So it seems, are television channels.
Following a speech at the BBC Media Centre in London to recognise The Web At 20, in anticipation of a BBC documentary on the history and the future of the web to be broadcast next year, Sir Tim was asked for his vision of broadcasting and the future of video on the web.
“As a consumer, if I have an internet connection I should be able to get at, and pay for if necessary, anything that has ever been broadcast,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to when the BBC, for example, [offers] a complete random access library so that I can follow a link, so that somebody can tweet about some really, really cool thing or some fun show, or some otherwise boring show, and I can follow a link directly to that. I’m looking forward to a time when, as somebody who lives a lot of the time in the United States, I can find a way of subscribing and getting the BBC without being just blocked by my IP address, and I’m prepared to pay a licence fee.”
It is a commonly held view that if people outside the UK were to pay the licence fee or its equivalent they should be able to watch BBC programmes. In practice, rights and distribution agreements mean it is rather more complicated than that.
Nevertheless, Sir Tim suggests that people will expect to be able to watch individual programmes or clips by following links on the internet.
“Whether it’s pay or free, it’s per view, and I get it by following a link, one way or another. I won’t be searching channels. I think the concept of a channel is going to be history very quickly on the internet. It’s not relevant.”
However, he seems to see broadcasters as providing “a stream of trusted things” that people will be able to link to and quote. He said: “Three hundred years later somebody will be able to follow that same link and pull the same video clip and see what it was that I was watching. That’s the world that I think that we need.”
At the same event, technology journalist Bill Thompson described the internet as “much bigger than television”. He said that what it has achieved in just twenty years is astounding, more important even than print.
The BBC is developing a collaboratively produced documentary series on the way the web is changing our lives, with the working title of Digital Revolution. It is described as an experiment to see how the audience can help shape the television and online project. Apparently, the series will be ‘open source’ with the rushes available to anyone.
Indeed, it is possible to find a video of the unscripted speech and interview with Sir Tim on You Tube, although it is rather badly lit and the sound is rather distorted. Let us all hope that is not a sign of things to come.