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Tim Berners Lee goes postal on spam

The Greatest Living Briton explodes

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

The GLB stuck to his account:

But AltaVista never gave good results. It never did this Eigenvector calculation. It never found the representative page for a given community. It would find pages which contained the page a lot of times it wouldn't do any link analysis. The older search engines before Eigenvector machine systems came out were just never as good. And even, still, yes, they're being spammed, [inaudible] but it hasn't made the search engines less usable they're still much more usable than the previous generation

But Google has a real problem, here, and it employs some of the cleverest people in the world.

" You'll have to figure out something Google can't figure out if your research is going to be worth anything," El Reg asked.

"How will you do that, exactly?"

Sir Tim replied:

It's about much more than people defending against abusing the system. There are a huge number of opportunities that will make the industry work more efficiently.

But he was getting snidey:

In your life, do you feel that spoofing of search engines is the main thing, the one that bugs you?

So, er .. the cornerstone of the New Economy wasn't a concern. (I'll explain why this answer was somewhat short of being satisfactory, but let's continue with what happened next.

Scenting blood, another reporter pursued the enquiry:

"So how are you going to stop the Semantic Web being poisoned?"

TBL, the GLB, replied:

Well, everybody who's building the semantic web pretty much that I know are building systems take data from lots of places, but take data with an awareness of where those places are. So for example, suppose you're getting Geotags and the OS runs a service, lots of people in this country might trust the OS to say this point has a church with a spire - other people might say it's a great church to go to, other people might say it's a heathen church to go to... those are the other sources of data...

There was no let up from the press:

"But that was the basis for Google, and Google got poisoned... "

Shadbolt and Hendler stepped in to shield Sir Tim, but he was seething at the impertinence:

I remember a conference, we were discussing the Semantic Web, and someone asked what do you think is the worst thing that can happen and all the pencils come out. I know you two have been asking about "Woargh - I know the one about... what about the bad guys? Won't we be phished" There's a temptation to give readers about all the terrible things out there OK, and all the ways the web can become less usable.

At this point, your reporter wanted to remind Sir Tim that of all the problems the web has, a hostile press is not one of them. In fact, you can't pick up a newspaper or magazine without reading about how it's ushering in a New Age of Enlightenment. Time magazine gave "Person Of The Year" to every web user in America - or at least every one who looked at the mirror Time placed on its front cover.

He continued, cryptically:

Yes you'll find a bank that's less usable - ... I've never been phished.

So the Greatest Living Briton has never been phished, which is a relief. His answer to the Semantic Web didn't inspire much confidence for the rest of us: it would be used within the firewall, amongst trusted groups, "areas where one is much less worrying about the bad guys".

Here's what I found both disquieting and depressing from the GBL.

I've asked similar questions to engineers in every field. Without exception, all have thought deeply about the consequences of their original design decisions, and express quite specific solutions. These are often quite radical rewrites - throwing out many of the assumptions they first made.

But not with the Web. It's a place to marvel and hope, and like Candide, hope for the best.

If you're not already evangelical, you probably don't have a part to play in the "new science" of the Web. ®

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