Open Letter To Sir Tim Berners-Lee
Google has opened a Pandora’s box by proposing a W3C standard that would allow browsers to unilaterally freeze or even unload web-sites in/from the browser. I this becomes standard, the ownership of the web is transferred to a few corporations.
We don’t know each other but we both have a long history of building the web. Your part as its founder is well known, It was my part to develop web-services starting in 1993, I built the first web-based on-line service which grew to become Germany’s second largest online-service, ‘germany.net’ with about 500.000 users in 1999. I am still building and coding complex web-environments – even today.
We both watched the web grow – from simple static web-pages to the interactive environments of today. Wow – what a development.
But the continued development is threatened by a proposal that is currently pushed by Google. It’s called the “Page Lifecyle” and it is meant to codify an unfortunate development that threatens the interactive web as we know it. Browser developers basically reserve the right to freeze or even unload any valid web-site as soon as it is no longer visible. They claim this to be necessary in order to reduce CPU loads. While this claim sounds somewhat logical, it is bogus anyway. Even today, all backgrounded tabs are slowed down to reduce energy draw. And it absolutely makes no sense to freeze or unload pages on Desktops and other fully powered devices with plenty of memory. Even worse, this intervention does not require the users consent, most users will most likely not even be aware of the fact that all of their backgrounded web-sites have been frozen silently.
Here is why this a big problem: There are many, many web-environments that require interaction even if not visible. Browsers nowadays connect to machines, even medical devices, to record data such as EEG which would be impossible if the tab is frozen or unloaded. Webchats will not work anymore, news will not be updated, games will be put on hold if the user backgrounds the tab. Never before has a proposed standard disrupted the functionality of our web as this proposal does.
I have brought my problems to the attention of Google and Mozilla
developers, even offered possible solutions to the problem, but I
don’t carry much weight and therefore I am usually brushed off
with platitudes. After all – I am just a web-developer and I am
not working for any of the ‘big’ boys. It is unfortunate that W3C
has no meaningful way to for the web-developer community at large
to make an impact. Wouldn’t it be time to have a few experienced
web-developer community advocates within the W3C so that the
organization becomes less of a club for a few large corporations?
Anyway – Google proposes the usage of their (mostly worthless) web-push environment to solve the freezing tab interaction problem. But that proposition has inherent flaws too: First it would chain any interactive web-service into the Google environment. Second: As it is today, every push would end up popping up a message. Third: For web-services without Internet connectivity (e.g. connected to an internal network and to an EEG machine) – push wouldn’t be available anyway. Forth: Google push services are not available on alternative operating systems (like Lineage OS, the free Android alternative, or Huawei phones due to the embargo).
If this proposal becomes the law of the land, every interactive
web-site without a permanent link to either Google, Apple or
Mozilla will not function properly anymore.
I hope I was able to convey my concern. The web doesn’t belong to America. It doesn’t belong to Google, Apple or Mozilla. W3C should take a strong stand and oppose any and all efforts to terminate the interactive web or to monopolize what we call ‘our’ web.
Thank you Sir and please excuse my attempt to pull you into this struggle.
Michaela Merz is an entrepreneur and first generation hacker. Her career started even before the Internet was available. She invented and developed a number of technologies now considered to be standard in modern web-environments. Among other things, she developed, founded, managed and sold Germany’s third largest Internet Online Service “germany.net” . She is very much active in the Internet business and enjoys “hacking” modern technologies like block chain, IoT and mobile-, voice- and web-based services.