Saturday, July 11, 2009

WWW at 20

The BBC has been observing the 20th anniversary of the birth of the World Wide Web. Its technology blog reports an interesting discussion with Sir Tim Berners-Lee the inventor of the concept when he was at CERN. He regards the impact of web communication and its future development's as a real evolutionary stage in the history of humanity, a paradigm shift in consciousness. I begin to wonder if Christians and the churches, keen though they may be to exploit the technology, have really got to grips with deeper understanding of this change for humanity in a theological way. It's worth a read and can be found here - no technical jargon to bamboozle you either.

Bill Thompson, a well known tech journalist involved in the discussion regarded himself as a latecomer to the web, starting in 1993. Funnily enough that was the year I acquired my first email address through the internet service account of Holy Trinity Anglican Church where I was Chaplain. With several CERN mathematicians and physicists as members the congregation, it was only a couple of years before I was being shown the prototype of a church website, written in early HTML code, by someone who could get his head around doing this kind of programming, something requiring too much attention to detail for me to make a success of.

By the time I left Geneva at the end of 2000, website authoring programs were freely available, and I was able to construct my first church website for St Paul's Monaco. I did the same when I came to work in Central Cardiff Parish, with a rebuild of the website when the benefice was dissolved, to reflect the change. Earlier this year I did a complete re-build of St John's website, in a way that reflects the evolution now taking place.

Instead of using a familiar web-site authoring program on my computer, I used free tools and web hosting facilities offered by Google. The website making program resides on the web itself, and can be accessed from any computer with an internet connection anywhere in the world. This means anyone with the authorisation codes can access the site and update information on it. When I move on, handing over responsibility for the church website to another will be uncomplicated.

I found the Google Sites tool easy to learn how to use. Familiarity with its routines and tightly controlled structures is all that's needed. If you make a mess of something, there are possibilities to un-do actions and recover from disaster a lot easier than used to be the case. In the old days before 'autosave' (even for un-named files) was a built in feature of programs, a power cut or a computer crash could destroy hours of work.

Nowadays with digital storage on the Web being cheap enough for companies like Google to give out free, all one's data and working programs can be stored on the Web and accessed from anywhere. This is what 'cloud computing' is all about. All data. That includes one's mistakes, messes and for some with a darker turn of mind and soul, their guilty secrets as well. They're all out there somewhere, accessible with the right authorisations. It's hard to trust totally in such a system, however secure or stable. I still carry the bulk of my library of files in my pocket on a memory stick that cost me less than a tenner. Just in case. For insurance.

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