Sir Tim Berners-Lee: The Man Who Invented the World Wide Web

Tim Berners-Lee is the man who created the World Wide Web. To give him his full official name, Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, OM, KBE, FRS, FREng, FRSA, DFBCS. That’s a lot of post-nominals. Tim Berners-Lee is a British Computer Scientist who enabled a system to be able to view web pages, known as hypertext documents, through the internet. Tim Berners-Lee also serves as a Director of the World Wide Web Consortium, W3C. W3C oversees the standards of the web. He, amongst other things, is very concerned with maintaining freedom of information and restricting censorship on the internet.

That’s quite an introduction, let’s take a look at his life.

[Image Source: CERN]

Early years of the World Wide Web creator

Tim Berners-Lee was born on the 8th June 1955 in London. He completed his A-levels at Emanuel School after which he went to Queens College, Oxford. At Oxford he successfully completed his physics degree gaining a first-class degree in 1976. After his time at Oxford, he started working for a printing firm in Plessy, Poole.

In 1980, Tim Berners-Lee began working at CERN in Switzerland. His time at CERN required him to share information between researchers across the world. It soon became clear to him that they needed a means of sharing information electronically. He suggested using hypertext, a language used for sharing text electronically, to do the job. With this in mind, he began to create his first prototype called ENQUIRE.

The birth of the internet

Tim Berners-Lee is often cited as creating the internet but the technology involved in it have been in development since the 1960’s. His contribution was to actually build the World Wide Web. He introduced the concept of nodes and hypertext as well and the idea of domains to the mix. These are critical elements of the World Wide Web, that we know today.

[Image Source: Southbank Centre via Flickr]

Tim Berners-Lee himself has said of these early days, that all the technology involved in the Internet was already in place. His, not insignificant contribution, was to bring these elements all together in a coherent system. And so it was in 1990, with the help of Robert Cailliau, that the first version of the World Wide Web was launched. It came complete with the very first web page, web browser, and server. This all ran on a NeXT computer at CERN.

Building the web

The prime elements of the World Wide Web were to make it easier for people to view hypertext web pages anywhere in the world. This required a universal system for recognizing the location of web pages (Uniform Resource Locator – URL).The system also needed to have a standard language for published web pages (Hypertext Markup Language – HTML). Lastly, a method of “serving up” web pages on request was required (Hypertext transfer protocol – HTTP). As Tim Berners-Lee himself says on the matter:-

“I just had to take the hypertext idea and connect it to the TCP and DNS ideas and — ta-da!— the World Wide Web.”

Tim Berners-Lee helped found the W3C in 1994 at the Laboratory of Computer Science (LCS) at MIT, Boston. W3C had one simple, if not critically important role, to try to improve the quality and standard of the World Wide Web. Such a groundbreaking creation could easily have made him a very rich man. Seeing the potential for the future of humanity he offered it to the world with no patent or royalties of any kind. That’s incredibly generous.

A gift for us all

Tim Berners-Lee believes if he hadn’t, someone else would have come up with it further down the line. It is not unusual to find him referencing others who were involved in the creation of the World Wide Web.

[Image Source: Jonan Basterra via Flickr]

There can be no doubt, however, that Tim Berners-Lee’s work was instrumental in giving the world a free, open source information sharing service that we all love and cherish today. Marc Anderson, who helped him create his vision, sheds some more light on Tim’s objectives with the web.

“Only smart people could use the internet, was the theory, so we needed to keep it hard to use. We fundamentally disagreed with that: we thought it should be easy to use.” Marc told the Guardian.

Net neutrality must be defended at all costs

Tim Berners-Lee has often been very vocal and aggressive in his defense of freedom of information and net neutrality. Rightfully so, he is adamant that governments must not be involved in censorship on the web. He is very concerned with the US’s seeming attempt to produce a two-tier internet system.

“When I invented the web, I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission. Now, hundreds of millions of people are using it freely. I am worried that that is going end in the USA.” – Tim Berners-Lee

In 2009, Tim Berners-Lee worked with the then UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown to help make UK data publically available. He has often stated the importance of improving communication between people around the world.

“The web is more a social creation than a technical one. I designed it for a social effect — to help people work together — and not as a technical toy.” – Weaving the Web, 1999.

Honoring the creator of the World Wide Web

Tim Berners-Lee’s achievements have been recognized both officially and unofficially over the years. He has received many honors in the UK including an OBE, Knighthood and Order Merit. This makes him one of only 24 living members with this honor. He was knighted in 2004 “for services to the global development of the Internet.”

He became one of the first three recipients of the Mikhail Gorbachev Award for “The Man Who Changed the World”. The inaugural ceremony was held in 2011 in London. Time Magazine even listed Tim Berners-Lee as one of the top 100 influential people on the 20th Century.

“He wove the World Wide Web and created a mass medium for the 21st century. The World Wide Web is Berners-Lee’s alone. He designed it. He loosed it the world. And he more than anyone else has fought to keep it open, nonproprietary and free.” – Time Magazine

[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

We salute you

In 2012, Tim Berners-Lee was recognized as the inventor of the web at the Summer Olympics opening ceremony. His modesty was rampant even then tweeting that “this is for everyone”.

His invention has changed the world as we know it. He could so easily have monetised it but chose instead to gift it to all of us. You could argue that this act of incredible philanthropy has paid dividends in the long run for him. We thank and salute you, Tim Berners-Lee.

Sources: BiographyOnlineW3CERN

SEE ALSO: Stephen Hawking: Life of a Modern Day Genius


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