Tim Berners-Lee is a British computer scientist credited with inventing the World Wide Web (WWW). Berners-Lee enabled a system to be able to view web pages (hypertext documents) through the internet. He also serves as a director for the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) which oversees standards for the Internet and World Wide Web. Berners-Lee is also concerned about issues relating to freedom of information and censorship on the internet.
Short Biography Tim Berners-Lee
Tim Berners-Lee was born on 8th June 1955 in London, England. After doing his A Levels at Emanuel School, he went to Queen’s College, Oxford University, where he received a first-class degree in physics.
After graduation, he gained employment for a printing firm in Plessey, Poole. From 1980, he was employed as an independent contractor at CERN in Switzerland. An essential part of his job involved sharing information with researchers in different geographical locations. To help this process, he suggested a project based on the use of hypertext. (a language for sharing text electronically) The first prototype was a system known as ENQUIRE.
The Internet had been developed since the 1960s as a way to transfer information between different computers. However, Tim Berners-Lee sought to make use of internet nodes and combine it with hypertext and the idea of domains.
Tim Berners-Lee later said that all the technology involved in the web had already been developed – ‘hypertext’, the internet; his contribution was to put them all together in one comprehensive package.
In 1990, with the help of Robert Cailliau, he produced the first version of the World Wide Web, the first web browser and the first web server. It was put online in 1991. “Info.cern.ch” was the address of the world’s first-ever web site and web server, running on a NeXT computer at CERN. The first web page address was http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html.
Essentially the contribution of the World Wide Web was to make it easy for people to view hypertext web pages anywhere on the internet. The essential elements of this new development was:
- A universal system for recognising the location of web pages (Uniform Resource Locator, URL)
- HTML – Hypertext Markup Language – how web pages are published.
- Hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) – serves up web pages on request.
Or as Tim Berners-Lee said:
“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 Answers for Young People
In 1994, Berners-Lee founded W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) at the Laboratory of Computer Science (LCS) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. This is an organisation to try to improve the quality and standard of the world wide web. He could have tried to monetise his creation but decided to offer the world wide web with no patent and no royalties due.
Berners-Lee said if he hadn’t – someone else would have come up with a free idea later. Berners-Lee is modest about his achievement, stating the work of others involved in developing aspects of the internet. However, others argue that Berners-Lee was influential in shaping the free, open-source nature of the early internet. Marc Anderson who helped implement the vision of Berners-Lee stated how the Berners-Lee team were trying to make the internet widely available:
“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.” (Guardian article)
In the early years, Berners-Lee was an evangelist for the development of the internet. As it gained global critical mass, he reflected on the satisfaction of seeing the growth of the internet; he said it was:
“an incredibly good feeling, a lesson for all dreamers … that you can have a dream and it can come true.” (Atlantic)
As a founder of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee has a relatively high profile, and he has often spoken up for the freedom of information and net neutrality – arguing that governments should not be involved in censorship of the internet. He has expressed concerns the US may move to 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.” Net Neutrality: This is Serious (June 2006)
In 2009, he worked in a project set up by Gordon Brown to help make UK data more publically available. Data.gov.uk. Writing about the importance of the internet, Berners-Lee has stressed the importance of improving communication between people within an interconnected 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)
He has received many orders including an OBE, knighthood and Order of Merit – becoming one of only 24 living members entitled to the honour. He was knighted in 2004 “for services to the global development of the Internet.”
Tim Berners-Lee was recognised for his invention of the world wide web in the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony. During the ceremony, he tweeted “this is for everyone.” The tweet was shown live to the 80,000 audience and tv spectators.
On 30 March 2011, he was one of the first three recipients of the Mikhail Gorbachev Award for “The Man Who Changed the World”, at the inaugural awards ceremony held in London. Time Magazine listed Berners-Lee in its list of 100 influential people of the Twentieth Century. Time Magazine wrote of Berner’s-Lee:
“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 on the world. And he more than anyone else has fought to keep it open, nonproprietary and free.”
He has married twice – first to Jane Northcote. He married for a second time – Nancy in 1990; they have two children. He is a member of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church and appreciates the liberal, ecumenical approach of the church, which stresses the
“the inherent dignity of people and in working together to achieve harmony and understanding.”
Despite the scope of his invention, Berners-Lee is not rich. Unlike contemporaries, such as Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape who is now a millionaire. For many years he drove a 13-year-old VW Beatle, recently replaced with a VW EOS. He seems content with the non-profit path he took.
“You’re right though. I’m not very materialistic. I enjoy being in nature, so protecting nature would be how I would want to spend money.” (Telegraph)
Weaving the Web – Tim Berners-Lee
Famous English people – Famous English men and women. From Anne Boleyn and Queen Elizabeth I to Henry VIII and Winston Churchill. Includes the great poets – William Shakespeare, William Blake and William Wordsworth.
People who changed the world – Famous people who changed the course of history including Socrates, Newton, Einstein and Gandhi.