Richard Whitt featured in Fast Company's "World Changing Ideas" column: "To fix the web, give it back to the users"


First Published in Fast Company on January 22, 2019.

“When we think of a technology’s trajectory, we generally imagine it evolving over time–becoming more useful, more sophisticated, more delightful. The telephone developed from handcranks and party lines into the smartphone; automobiles are well on their way to becoming fully autonomous.

But today, the World Wide Web–our most vital communications technology–seems to be devolving. The online experience is deteriorating before our eyes. Adjectives like “open” and “empowering” are rarely used anymore to describe the present web. Instead, it’s words like “polarizing,” or “insecure,” or “fake.”

In recent years–and 2018 specifically, with the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal–the web’s ills have entered the mainstream conversation. Journalists, policymakers, researchers, and everyday citizens are now more adept at identifying some of the web’s problems, from biased algorithms and malicious bots to rampant misinformation. But while we are getting better at diagnosing these symptoms, actual prescriptions are rare. And those prescriptions that do exist are often ineffective. Some suggest the Silicon Valley giants police themselves. Others suggest drawing up regulations that are hard to agree on, challenging to enact, and even more difficult to enforce.

The ongoing devolution of the online experience doesn’t have to be a worrisome downward trend. Nor does it require a nonexistent regulatory silver bullet. By shifting certain empowering technologies from the platforms to the users, we can enable a web where individuals once again have agency. And by fueling a new industry of intermediaries that actually supports ordinary users, we can create a vibrant ecosystem where choice, privacy, and control are the status quo–not fading relics from the past.”

Read the full article via Fast Company.

Richard Whitt