Documentary Review: ‘Foreveryone.net’

Inventions do not exist in a vacuum. What an inventor chooses to do with his creation is often as important as the creation itself. After Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, he could have monetized it in any number of ways. Instead, he refused to seek a patent and thus paved the way for the open internet from which we all benefit today. When Steve Jobs died, millions tearfully mourned his passing as if he he were some kind of civil rights hero, not an arch-capitalist asshole whose primary genius lie in marketing. Whenver Berners-Lee passes, it seems unlikely that the world will react quite so strongly, even though he created one of the most significant inventions in the history of mankind and then gave it away for free.

Berners-Lee seems content with this fact. Early in “Foreveryone.net,” he remarks that he couldn’t imagine being a household name. And, as director Jessica Yu demonstrates in a montage of people on the street drawing a complete blank when asked who invented the World Wide Web, he’s not. Yu’s film seeks to correct that, providing a (very) quick introduction to Berners-Lee for a public that, for the most part, has no idea who he is. Yu covers Berners-Lee’s upbringing and development of the World Wide Web quite quickly, including some fun footage of the web’s awkward ‘90s phase—boxy PCs and frumpy all-text early versions of sites like Google and Amazon. Unlike the internet titans for whom he paved the way (Page and Brin, Zuckerberg, Bezos, et al), Berners-Lee was no marketing whiz. While developing the web, he struggled to explain the concept coherently to people, and he gave it an exceptionally clunky name.

In its second half, the film then transitions into a call for net neutrality, a cause dear to Berners-Lee’s heart. As “Foreveryone.net” makes clear, that platform is continuously under threat. For Berners-Lee, access and fairness trump monetization The biggest issue with “Foreveryone.net” is that it is much too brief. At only a little over 30 minutes, Yu is forced to compress so much information into so little time that many topics feel rushed through and incomplete. If Jobs’ life can support multiple biopics and documentaries, it seems only right that Berners-Lee should get at least one full one. But, for now, “Foreveryone.net” serves as a pleasantly straightforward account of the man behind the web and his vision for its preservation.

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