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Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Sir Tim Berners-Lee is a British computer scientist. He was born in London, and his parents were early computer scientists, working on one of the earliest computers.

Growing up, Sir Tim was interested in trains and had a model railway in his bedroom. He recalls:

“I made some electronic gadgets to control the trains. Then I ended up getting more interested in electronics than trains. Later on, when I was in college, I made a computeout of an old television set.”

After graduating from Oxford University, Berners-Lee became a software engineer at CERN. Scientists come from all over the world to use its accelerators, but Sir Tim noticed that they were having difficulty sharing information.

“In those days, there was different information on different computers, but you had to log on to different computers to get at it. Also, sometimes you had to learn a different program on each computer. Often it was just easier to go and ask people when they were having coffee…”, Tim says.

Tim thought he saw a way to solve this problem – one that he could see could also have much broader applications. Already, millions of computers were being connected together through the fast-developing internet and Berners-Lee realized they could share information by exploiting an developing technology called hypertext.

In March 1989, Tim laid out his vision for what would become the web in a document called “Information Management: A Proposal”. Believe it or not, Tim’s initial proposal was not immediately accepted. In fact, his boss at the time, Mike Sendall , noted the words “Vague but exciting” on the cover. The web was never an official CERN project, but Mike managed to give Tim time to work on it in September 1990. He began work using a NeXT computer, one of Steve Jobs’ early products.

By October of 1990, Tim had written the three fundamental technologies that remain the foundation of today’s web (and which you may have seen appear on parts of your web browser):

  • HTML: HyperText Markup Language. The markup (formatting) language for the web.
  • URI: Uniform Resource Identifier. A kind of “address” that is unique and used to identify to each resource on the web. It is also commonly called a URL.
  • HTTP: Hypertext Transfer Protocol. Allows for the retrieval of linked resources from across the web.

Tim also wrote the first web page editor/browser (“WorldWideWeb.app”) and the first web server (“httpd“). By the end of 1990, the first web page was served on the open internet, and in 1991, people outside of CERN were invited to join this new web community.

As the web began to grow, Tim realized that its true potential would only be unleashed if anyone, anywhere could use it without paying a fee or having to ask for permission.

He explains: “Had the technology been proprietary, and in my total control, it would probably not have taken off. You can’t propose that something be a universal space and at the same time keep control of it.”

So, Tim and others advocated to ensure that CERN would agree to make the underlying code available on a royalty-free basis, forever. This decision was announced in April 1993, and sparked a global wave of creativity, collaboration and innovation never seen before. In 2003, the companies developing new web standards committed to a Royalty Free Policy for their work. In 2014, the year we celebrated the web’s 25th birthday, almost two in five people around the world were using it.

Tim moved from CERN to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994 to found the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international community devoted to developing open web standards. He remains the Director of W3C to this day.

New permutations of these ideas are giving rise to exciting new approaches in fields as diverse as information (Open Data), politics (Open Government), scientific research (Open Access), education, and culture (Free Culture). But to date we have only scratched the surface of how these principles could change society and politics for the better.

In 2009, Sir Tim established the World Wide Web Foundation. The Web Foundation is advancing the Open Web as a means to build a just and thriving society by connecting everyone, raising voices and enhancing participation.

Please do explore our site and our work. We hope you’ll be inspired by our vision and decide to take action. Remember, as Tim tweeted during the Olympics Opening Ceremony in 2012, “This is for Everyone”.

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