The best of Tim Berners-Lee’s no holds barred Reddit AMA

The creator of the world wide web has been surprised by the amount of cats on the internet he revealed, as he took question from web users 25 years after creating the platform.

Time Berners-Lee, who was born in London, UK, answered queries on what has surprised him most about the web, what our future impressions of the internet will be and what will it be like in 25 years.

The probing was part of a Reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’ (AMA) this week, as his creation celebrated its birthday.

Berners-Lee started off his AMA setting the scene from 25 years ago.

He said: “On March 12, 1989 I submitted my proposal for the World Wide Web. 25 years later, I’m amazed to see the many great things it’s achieved – transforming the way we talk, share and create. As we celebrate the Web’s 25th birthday (see webat25.org), I want us all to think about its future and ask how we can help make it a truly open, secure and creative platform – available to everyone.”

Here are some of the best questions and answers:

Q: What was one of the things you never thought the internet would be used for, but has actually become one of the main reasons people use the internet?

A: Kittens.

Q: Edward Snowden: Hero or Villain?

A: Because he: had no other alternative; engaged as a journalist / with a journalist to be careful of how what was released; provided an important net overall benefit to the world.

I think he should be protected, and we should have ways of protecting people like him. Because we can try to design perfect systems of government, and they will never be perfect, and when they fail, then the whistleblower may be all that saves society.

Q: What web browser do you use?

A: My default browser at the moment is Firefox. I also use Safari, Opera and Chrome each a reasonable amount. Firefox has the Tabulator plugin which does neat things with linked data.

If I am running a latest version of that (I check it straight out of github) which can be unstable, I’ll use one of the others for things which need to be stable. Joe Presbrey ported the plugin to Chrome too BTW

Q: Why does no one mention Robert Cailliau anymore when it comes to the www? Didn’t both of you invent it?

A: Robert didn’t invent it. I invented it by myself, and coded it up on a NeXT, but Robert was the first convert to it, and a massive supporter.He got resources together at CERN, helped find students, gave talks. He also later wrote some code for a Mac browser called “Samba”. He also put a lot of energy into persuading the CERN directorate that CERN should declare that it would not charge royalties for the WWW, which it did April 1993.

Q: What impact, if any, do you think digital currencies might have on how value is sent over the Internet?

A: I think that it is important to have lots of different ways getting money to creative people on the net.

So if we can have micropayment user interfaces which make it easy for me to pay people for stuff they write, play, perform, etc, in small amounts, then I hope that could be a way allowing people to actually make a serious business out of it. Flattr I found an interesting move in that direction.

Q: Do you think in the (not too distant) future we’ll look back and think ourselves lucky to have witnessed a neutral, free, and uncensored world wide web?

A: I think it is up to us. I’m not guessing, I’m hoping. Yes, I can imagine that all to easily. If ordinary web users are not sufficiently aware of threats and get involved and if necessary take to the streets like for SOPA and PIPA and ACTA. On balance? I am optimistic.

Google’s Big Data Flu Predictions Overestimate Illness by 50%

A group of scientists have said that Google, Facebook and Twitter could be looking at big data incorrectly after they found errors in the search-giant’s flu predictions.

Researchers from the University of Houston, US, have analysed Google’s Flu Trends tool which aims to predict levels of flu in real-time around the world.

The trending tool looks at search terms from across the globe to estimate flu activity around the world. But the researchers found that Google’s tool overestimated the prevalence of flu during the 2012-13.

They claim that it overestimated the actual levels of flu in 2011-12 by more than 50%, and found that between 2011 and 2013 the trends tool over predicted the prevalence of flu in 100 out of 108 weeks.

The report also questioned the use of data collection from platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. The scientists questioned how easy it is for campaigns and companies to manipulate these platforms to ensure their products are trending, for example in polling trends and market popularity.

“Google Flu Trend is an amazing piece of engineering and a very useful tool, but it also illustrates where ‘big data’ analysis can go wrong,” said Ryan Kennedy, University of Houston political science professor.

He said: “Many sources of ‘big data’ come from private companies, who, just like Google, are constantly changing their service in accordance with their business model.

“We need a better understanding of how this affects the data they produce; otherwise we run the risk of drawing incorrect conclusions and adopting improper policies.”

The flu trends tool is part of Google’s range of trending information that allows users to explore around topics based on the number of searches that are happening around the world.

googletrends2

The Google Flu trends website says: “We have found a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. Of course, not every person who searches for “flu” is actually sick, but a pattern emerges when all the flu-related search queries are added together.

“We compared our query counts with traditional flu surveillance systems and found that many search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening.”

Kennedy question the use of big data and said it is important to use many sources, he said: “Our analysis of Google Flu demonstrates that the best results come from combining information and techniques from both sources.

“Instead of talking about a ‘big data revolution’, we should be discussing an ‘all data revolution’, where new technologies and techniques allow us to do more and better analysis of all kinds.”