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[flagged] Please Go Away, Tim Berners-Lee (tinyletter.com)
146 points by Fice 8 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 46 comments

This seems a particularly un-constructive piece of writing. All it does is flame rather than saying what could have, realistically, been done differently or better. It's easy to tear down, much harder to build up. Likewise it's easy to talk about idealistic expectations rather than the realities of real life (ie: what can you really do when a few companies with much larger budgets control almost all implementation?).

Your comment has two components; firstly you criticise the idea of criticism (hmm...), and secondly you put forwards a defeatist attitude towards situational improvement.

Those concepts go hand in hand. You can't cause change without criticism and without criticism you don't want change.

This rant is well written, well sourced, and rather on the nose. It has the potential to inspire change.

>you criticise the idea of criticism

No, I criticize the idea of un-constructive criticism especially in cases where the solution is non-obvious (my second point). Constructive criticism would have been, for example, "here's five things that should have been done differently and here's why they would have helped." If you cannot inspire change in an issue with constructive criticism then all you're doing is throwing dice and hoping the change will be positive since you have no idea what that change should actually be.

There's value in criticizing without a solution, because then someone else can read the criticism and perhaps be inspired to a solution. Or multiple people can debate the pros and cons of different solutions together.

Societal progress is the work of people working together, each contributing their part. We need some people to point out problems and other people to fix them. There's zero reason they need to be the same person.

Except then you get emotionally driven hatred of people and situations. After all, that is exactly what this sort of criticism is designed to inspire. That, in turn, tends to lead to solutions that don't actually fix the problem but just make people feel satisfied regarding their hatred.

> This rant is well written, well sourced, and rather on the nose. It has the potential to inspire change.

This isn't well written (mind you, I'm not talking about the rest of the article which I don't have a strong opinion about):

> He even considered naming his invention “TIM” (ostensibly an acronym for “The Information Mine”) before mercifully settling on the less solipsistic “World Wide Web”. In 1994, he founded the World Wide Web Consortium (= W3C) and became its director, a position he has held since.

That's a plain and simple personal attack. An unnecessary one as well. What is inherently wrong with naming something after yourself which you invented? I mean, isn't that what companies do as well? Apple Lisa? Branding such as calling all your products Microsoft <insert name>?

(At first I got puzzled by TIM as for me it stands for The Incredible Machine from around that time.)

I'll quote from the cited New York Times article, for the first part:

> Berners-Lee wrote the code for a trio of protocols, and named them HTTP fnord (hypertext transfer protocol), HTML (hypertext markup language) and U.D.I.'s (universal document identifiers). U.D.I.'s eventually became U.R.L.'s, or uniform resource locators, the abbreviation that most of today's Web fnord users recognize. For the name of the system itself, he toyed with a few ideas. First came Mine of Information, or MOI, which seemed too egocentric. Then came the Information Mine, or TIM, which was even worse. Finally, he settled on World Wide Web.

The second part is well-known public information that is not contradicted.

Where is the personal attack, exactly? It sounds like you're embarrassed on TBL's behalf, but why? Didn't all of us, at one point, imagine being curator of our own library of information? I remember the imperious feelings that came with being able to command the computers to catalog data at my whims.

> Where is the personal attack, exactly? It sounds like you're embarrassed on TBL's behalf, but why?

In the Please Go Away letter it starts with multiple personal attacks:

> Count me among those who had hoped that when Tim Berners-Lee appeared in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London, it would be a victory lap just before riding off into the sunset. No such luck. At the ceremony, Berners-Lee typed the words “this is for everyone”, but he’s always had a strangely monarchic view of his own role. He even considered naming his invention “TIM” (ostensibly an acronym for “The Information Mine”) before mercifully settling on the less solipsistic “World Wide Web”. In 1994, he founded the World Wide Web Consortium (= W3C) and became its director, a position he has held since.

"he’s always had a strangely monarchic view of his own role" isn't proven with anything, except for the acronyms. MOI was left out in the Letter (I'm aware of the meaning of moi in French). Furthermore, you could say the same about other companies and leaders. The information the Letter starts with, should stand on its own shoulders. It is weak to start with such facts, surround it with certain words such as "monarch", "but", etc. to form a narrative.

Fair points, but pass the torch to whom? I think Tim is so vocal now because of the mistakes he made in the past letting the web become more closed. He is, fairly or not, paid more attention to than many other equal minds. If we have a clearer voice, will they speak up? Will we raise them up, if we even can notice and solidify as a community?

We need cohesive and reasoned guidance more than ever. A technology once hailed for enabling free and open discourse has become the key tool for suppressing that same speech. Meanwhile, totally unmoderated forums have become a liability, and practically unhostable, mostly thanks to bad-faith actors. Does anyone posess a torch, unfiltered by money or idology, no matter how dim, to lead us out of this without leaving our humanity at the step?

I don't know the answers, but I feel like asking passionate people not to speak up, is not one of them.

I really haven't followed W3C politics, but has it really been mismanaged and captures more than is inevitable when you have power concentrated in a few companies and interest groups? Are there standard-setting bodies in other industries (ISO?) that operate with less capture? If anything I've been amazed at how much cool tech the web has been getting as a platform (WebGL, wasm, service workers) but I'm not sure how much credit to give W3C for that.

PS Matthew is also the author of the excellent Practical Topography. https://practicaltypography.com/

Typography is sweet, but I'm still a little disappointed there was no actual topography in that link.

The W3C gets 0 credit for any of the cool tech you're talking about. Basically all of the good work for browser standards gets done by the WHATWG which is essentially just the browser makers and a few other large and concerned tech companies. Every once and while the W3C copies and pastes the standards document that the WHATWG has sweated over, prints their name on it instead and says "Hey we made a new standards document! We are still relevant!"

Wow. Pretty shocked this was flagged after 110 points in less than half an hour and disappeared from the front page.

You may disagree but it certainly seems worthy of discussion.

I’m disappointed in whoever called this “flamebait” and who suggested this be flagged. Stopping discussion on a valid topic is not cool.

Users flagged it, most likely because the post is a personal attack (a pretty ugly one actually) which is not in the spirit of this site as expressed in its guidelines: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html.

We try to avoid posts that are personal attacks, not necessarily because we owe celebrities better, but because this kind of internet denunciation degrades the community, even if it also makes some good points. I think that's probably why users flagged it.

Trying to prevent the community from degrading is more important than any individual post, as it's the container that supports good discussion in the first place. The container is fragile. It's more fragile than it seems, because much of the work to prevent it from falling apart isn't visible.

Posts that feature indignation over information are always bad for curious conversation. When the indignation is directed against an individual, that's a multiplier of badness, because it brings out worse in others.

Still not sure why "Powerful Person in Tech needs to take accountability and resign" qualifies as an ugly personal attack or a "denunciation".

In the tech world recently, there have been plenty of calls for, say, Sundar Pichai or Mark Zuckerberg to resign. And those have been featured on HN. What's the difference here? If you're a Powerful Person in Tech (or industry or politics), that's just part of the gig.

"It sucks to have haters, but every founder who now runs a huge company faced this for a long time."


In this case, the author cites facts about Berners-Lee and his performance at the W3C. Each one is supported by a link to evidence. I don't agree with the author's conclusion. But if this community is so "fragile" that it needs to bury fact-based arguments, wowsers.

Because the article takes the opportunity to vent gratuitous personal bile alongside its factual claims and links. That brings out the worst in people, and it brings out the worst in people here. See my point about protecting the container above.

We don't need the call-out culture on HN. If the facts in the article are important, someone else will write a factual article that doesn't have a side channel of putdowns and snark. Then we can have a thread based on that article instead.

I suppose I should add that I have no opinion about Tim's role in web governance, only about Hacker News.

I wonder if making the list of users who flag an article publicly viewable would help.

I'm not sure what you're saying with this suggestion. If somebody has what they perceive as a minority opinion, they shouldn't feel shamed into not voting in kind. Anonymous voting subverts that awful societal problem.

Flagging is not a mechanism for people with minority opinions. Rather the opposite. It is used by people in the majority of today's moral climate to stifle the exact minority opinions that should be protected. It creates an anonymous veto power for the status quo.

The other point is whether the flagging is legit, or being influenced by special interests. If the same X number of users were flagging everything related to Y, there is no way to know under the current system.

Agreed, I was really hoping for some discussion on this.

It would be good to be able to downvote this egregious bit of flamebait

Flamebait? He is pointing out the hypocrisy of Tim presenting himself as the moral guardian of the web.... as Tim ran W3C for all of these years.

There is no hypocrisy. Tim said that DRM is a reality and that it should be standardized. Some people did not like that. We owe Tim a great debt of gratitude for inventing the web and bypassing any opportunities available to him to patent his invention so that the technology would be freely available. The OP should show him some respect.

I really don't understand people fascination with idolization. There is no such thing as "one person alone invented this great technology".

Yeah, I don't have any informed opinions on Tim's role in DRM or related things, but the idolization surrounding him always left a bad taste in my mouth.


Personal attacks and name-calling aren't allowed here, and we ban accounts that post like this. You may not owe Tim better, but you definitely owe this community better if you want to post here. Would you mind reviewing https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and taking the spirit of the site more to heart? We'd be grateful.

Its the man who designed the original protocols with expressed purpose of allowing anyone to have the ability to publishing information and link it in an open, democratic way. He also too extreme pains to make sure the work was open, unencumbered by patents etc and widely available.

You fact you;ve just types what you have means you absolutely do owe the fucking fossil something, you ingrate.

No idolization of Mr. Berners-Lee here. But certainly some respect. I think it's the dream of many engineers to product someone that many people use.

Tim invented three protocols that many people frequently use: HTTP, HTML, and URI/URL. He wnt out of his way to make sure these technologies were not encumbered by patents and made the specs and prototype code freely available, with no profit going to himself.

Do you not think this is deserving of some respect? He doesn't deserve the OP's personal attacks.

You can flag submissions you feel break the site guidelines.

This is a remarkably bitter take. Sir Berners-Lee deserves thanks. None of us created the web and I don't think we can say that it was inevitable that someone would have in its initial open form. It changed the world.

That said, his attempts to reclaim the web to its original frontier state don't seem possible. There are innumerable reasons why; network effects and entrenched interests being the least of them.

It's curious that this was flagged and removed so quickly from the front page.

What's the problem?

I don't agree with the author's take. But Tim Berners-Lee is not above criticism. These are fair questions to ask about his motivations and track record.

Moreover Berners-Lee can put his decades of celebrity behind his views, and get access to megaphones like the New York Times. There is no conceivable threat posed by this dude and his Tinyletter page.

Sorry HN mods, think you got this one wrong.

Mods didn't touch the post or even see it. Users flagged it. That's what the [flagged] annotation indicates. Well, nearly always anyway.

See also https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21651530.

While I agree in principle that he needs to shut up and that people need to stop listening to him (he made himself irrelevant as soon as he become a paid Google puppet), I don't see a way out of this, a way to make the W3C great again as it were. It's just another item on the laundry list of things Google has its tendrils coiled around and will never let go of.

I don't see why working for Google would make someone irrelevant. There's every reason to think that his choice was a reasoned one.

He gave a talk recently, broadcast by the BBC, which he used to raise the issues we have with tracking, click-bait, and misinformation. His audience looked to comprise quite influential people.

The fact is he saw the potential his software had; that the combination of server, browser, and markup could revolutionise the world, even before anyone was using it.

It would seem foolish to silence someone like that, and careless to advise people not to listen. I'm certainly not saying that we accept his opinions without question, and I'm sure he would agree.

Reminds me of TETHICS!

As I was reading it this is exactly what came to mind too.

How do you imagine this could work better in actual reality? It's nice to imagine the web as a pure location for users and developers, but nothing else in the world works like that either.

It seems a bit unfair to lay the blame for Embedded Media Extensions at TBL/W3C's feet, since (as the author mentions) W3C has no enforcement ability, so either TBL & other W3C members could be part of the decision making process for EME, or the companies that wanted it would meet somewhere else and still do it anyway, and possibly have come up with an even worse DRM system. It's unfortunate that a handful of companies are able to exert such an outsize influence on the web, but that's a bigger discussion to be had about capitalism, rather than Tim's fault.

How could it be worse? And what was the benefit of sitting at the table?

The current implementation allows Firefox to fully sandbox the DRM module, and optionally uninstall it completely if the user wants. It seems reasonable to me that if other voices hadn't been involved in the standardization process, even this small win may not have been possible.

Honest question: What would be the alternative to DRM?

How would video streaming companies “protect” their content without DRM? Or is the debate that they shouldn’t be able to?

Having the ability to stream directly in the browser is definitely a good thing IMHO.

The alternative is not pretending that DRM works. It's a giant layer of complexity that exists solely so that we can lie to the business people and tell them that we've protected our IP from piracy.

There is none. If we are going to have intellectual property, if we are going to incent developers of IP to produce, they should have some right to monetize their IP. The people who are against DRM present a certain selfishness and are never really able to answer the question of how developers, particularly of very expensive endeavors are supposed to recoup their costs and make a profit.

Like with OP you are making a lot of assumptions about consensus. Things that don't have one: intellectual property is not an oxymoron, we need to incent people to create content, right to monetize has to include strict technical limitations. Not being burdened with resolving your problem does not mean one is necessary selfish; they might just not see it as a problem worth solving.

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