March 12 was not the day most people would have designated as the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web because 25 years ago they hadn't heard of it. In fact, it didn't actually exist. In 1989, it was simply the day when a CERN software engineer, Tim Berners-Lee (now Sir Tim), "filed the proposal for what was to become the World Wide Web". As he notes on the official webat25.org birthday website, "My boss dubbed it ‘vague but exciting’."
You can read it in all its glory at Information Management: A Proposal
He also used the 25th birthday to call for a "Magna Carta" or "bill of rights" to protect users. He told the BBC TV Breakfast show: "It's time for us to make a big communal decision. In front of us are two roads — which way are we going to go? Are we going to continue on the road and just allow the governments to do more and more and more control — more and more surveillance? Or are we going to set up a bunch of values? Are we going to set up something like a Magna Carta for the World Wide Web and say, actually, now it's so important, so much part of our lives, that it becomes on a level with human rights?"
This was not an aside. The Web Foundation has launched a Web We Want website and campaign "calling on people around the world to stand up for their right to a free, open and truly global internet". This includes: "Drafting an Internet Users Bill of Rights for every country, proposing it to governments and kickstarting the change we need."
The Southbank Centre in London has already announced that it will run a "Web We Want" festival from September 2014 to May 2015 to explore "the creativity and collaboration the Web has afforded and asks the big questions of how we can guarantee our privacy and our freedom from all kinds of tyranny online". There will be similar events in other countries, which will be listed on a calendar on the website.
In conjunction with the celebration, Berners-Lee has done a number of interviews, including An online Magna Carta: Berners-Lee calls for bill of rights for web by Jemima Kiss at the Guardian and Tim Berners-Lee: 25 years on, the Web still needs work (Q&A) at our sister site, CNET. He also did a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), where he revealed that The Information Mine was another possible name he considered. You might have spent years typing tim instead of www.
The Science Museum in London also hosted a small party to display the NeXT computer on which Berners-Lee developed the web, and ran the first web server. Also, Nominet, the UK's not-for-profit domain name company, launched a 25th birthday website on The Story of the Web, to which I contributed an editorially-independent report (PDF) covering the story so far.
The 25th birthday celebrations should feed the Web We Want campaign, which will be given a boost by the celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the founding of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). A Symposium on the Web's Future and a celebratory dinner will be held at the Santa Clara Marriott in California on October 29, 2014.
The web's existence isn't threatened: it has two billion users and is looking to add another two billion. However, the mass surveillance revealed by whistle-blower Edward Snowden and the massive user-tracking systems run by commercial companies such as Google have certainly raised doubts about the freedoms web users have enjoyed for the past 25 years. People who want those freedoms to continue need to put some effort into preserving them.