“Oh yeah?”

Imagine having a button on your browser that you press to check the “gigantic accumulation of crowd-sourced credibility” around what it says or what you read on it? Sounds like something we could do with at the moment? What if you found out Tim Bernes-Lee was thinking this very thing over 25 years ago?

[Berners-Lee] suggested that every browser be equipped with what he called the “Oh, Yeah?” button. The idea was that we all would start building trust through signed metadata as we moved around the web. In a sense, our normal web browsing would create a gigantic accumulation of crowd-sourced credibility. “When we have this, we will be able to ask the computer not just for information, but why we should believe it,” he said.

The “Oh, Yeah?” button, it should be noted, was not truly about verifying information or locating “truth.” Berners-Lee wasn’t suggesting that ontological certitude would arise from the web mob’s ranking of websites that distributed the most accurate information. Rather, the “Oh, Yeah?” button would suggest a more paradigmatic truth—that is, a reasonable approximation of whether something you read on the web was considered generally in the realm of credible by most people.

The “Oh, Yeah?” button represented an early warning that we’d all need to be more skeptical in cyberspace in the future. It was also an admission that the web, in the future, would likely be employed to fool us with some regularity. Politicians, salespeople, criminals, miscreants, and liars would abound, and we’d need an easy way to counter them in our daily perusal of information.

The Button That Could Have Changed the Internet by Michael Socolow

Photo by Sebastian Herrmann on Unsplash