The Contract for the Web that Tim Berners-Lee put forth last month has been bouncing around the web. Principle 7 of the contract states that citizens should “Be creators and collaborators on the Web.” It was the only principle that jumped out at me, I think because “creator” is just one of those words right now. What does it mean? It’s been heavily diluted, applied to just about everybody. Post photos on the web? You’re a creator! It pairs nicely with “content,” an equally nebulous term at this point.
Without digging in and actually reading what Principle 7 meant, I assumed that “creator” here was the current popular idea of a creator. That, the principle was suggesting that individuals should be putting stuff on the internet, whatever that may be. Uploading photos and sharing thoughts and leaving comments or whatever else it is that people are compelled to do. But that’s not really what is meant. “Creator” here is used to refer to people adding… things of value? Unfortunately, that’s just as hard to stick a tack in.
Looking at the definition of Principle 7, it says that we should “share information of public interest.” Sounds quite noble, and also sounds like much of what currently gets added to the popular web does not count. It seems the word “information” is the key element here. Information helps people. It makes them more informed [rimshot]. It allows them to accomplish something or improve their world view. Social media takes up most of the airwaves, but there’s a quieter web underneath full of rich information. The good bits of social media use this part of the web, but it’s getting more and more difficult to merge the two as the walled gardens get taller and taller.
“Public interest” seems a little more nebulous to me, but just as important. On Wikipedia, it’s defined as “the welfare or well-being of the general public.” When a definition includes a link to another definition, you know you’re already headed down the rabbit hole. But, generally, Principle 7 seems to be out to help people. It’s difficult to put parameters around this, but this list from Harvard Law seems to do a pretty good job. This is from a law perspective, though, so I don’t think it would be complete. Interesting to mull some of these over though, in how they would translate to the web.
Most government websites, at least here in the US, are not good. Even if they are designed well, it’s hard to get all of the information that you need from them. When I’m trying to figure something out, I often have many, many tabs open. For government, it’s tricky because each person is going to have different circumstances. Doing work on these sites can have a huge impact though. Watching the healthcare.gov rollout in 2013 (yikes, that was a while ago!) was stressful. That was the web letting a lot of people down, in a way that was absolutely public interest. We’ve collectively learned a lot since then, but it still serves as a poignant example of how important the open web can be for all people.