Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the internet

Key Facts about Tim Berners-Lee

  • He invented the world wide web in 1989.

  • He studied Physics at The University of Oxford.

  • He is alive and well at 62, and the internet still clearly excites him.

  • He fights for open and linked data and net neutrality.

  • He is currently working as a web developer at an MIT project called SOLID.

  • He has lots of letters after his name (Sir Timothy Berners-Lee OM, KBE, FRS, FREng, FRSA).

 

Bonus Facts

1. The £millions he gets from appearances and prestigious awards is probably nothing compared to what he could have made from commercialising the internet.

2. His religion is Unitarian Universalism - characterised by free and responsible search for truth and meaning and the belief that all religions can coexist if viewed with the concept of love for one's neighbour and for oneself.

 

The invention of the Internet - When was The World Wide Web created?

Tim Berners-Lee invented the internet just 28 years ago in 1989 because it was dreadfully difficult to share files and data from one machine to another, given that you would need to understand the programming of each individual systems.

The internet remained a twinkle in his eye until his boss at CERN gave the go ahead to work on his global network idea as “a side project”. His theoretical paper on it was described as “vague, but exciting”. Tim remembers needing to imagine a higher level of abstraction to see what could exist to connect machines globally.

He built HTTP, URLs and HTML from scratch so that machines could request, interpret and display resource stored on machine connected to a web of machines. These three technologies remain the common language foundation of the web today.

Tim also coded the first web browser because he really likes to code.

After some research institutes got on board and it gained traction, the world wide web was released to the public in 1991.

Internet usage has since gone from himself alone to half of the population of the world, roughly 3.75billion people.

Why did Tim Berners-Lee create the world wide web?

His research at CERN meant that he would access documents stored on various computers. Retrieving and editing these documents required an understanding of each computer’s programming.

Tim saw the need to learn a new program to transfer or collaborate on files as a waste of valuable research time. Why wasn't there a universal language?

His idea was to linking hypertext documents so you could go from viewing file A stored on machine A to the related file B stored on machine B without needing to go to machine B, or learn it’s programming. He then imagined doing this from any machine connected to The World Wide Web.

Having each document accessible from anywhere was truly a process innovation. The idea flourished into a global network with billions of nodes.

www url bar web link search bar.jpg

 

How did he do it? What did he actually invent?

Tim wrote the first web browser [image] to interpret a set standard of data transfer protocols, file structures and web addresses used by staff at CERN in 1990. The web grew through the use of other research institutions throughout the first half of 1991 and was ultimately released to the public in August 1991.

The internet consists of resources which can be found using a universal resource locator, or URL. This is a human-friendly way to remember the address of a website or document. Wikipedia.org for example is located at 198.35.26.96 and you can find bbc.co.uk at 212.58.244.66 Good luck remembering that instead of the URL though!

Info.cern.ch was the web address of the first ever web site which was running on a NeXT Computer. The first web page, explaining the world wide web is at http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html.

When you go to a URL you are served a website using hypertext, which is structured content and text which can link to other places. Hypertext markup language (HTML) is the structure of web pages published on the web. Webmasters use it to lay out the structure of their web site and web pages and to link to related resources on the world wide web.

This HTML needed to be downloaded from one machine onto another when a web page loads so Tim wrote Hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP). This method of data transfer still runs between web browsers and the server of a web site.

Why the net worth of Tim Berners-Lee is not £billions

Selling internet usage after patenting it could have made Sir Tim a very rich man but he decided to keep the internet as open and free as possible. This is true to its original aim to make collaboration and communication between people easier.

Imagine if he charged for £1 each registered web address or £1 each time you wanted to create a link. The internet have been very different to what it is today. Imagine if “The World Wide Web” was a public limited company listed on the London Stock Exchange. It is weird to imagine now but could have happened if Tim had wanted it that way.

He is a highly intelligent and kind bloke and we all owe him a debt of gratitude!

What has Tim done since inventing the World Wide Web?

As the web became freely adopted by ever greater numbers of people Tim recognised the need to form a set of usage standards. He created The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for this purpose at MIT in 1994, 3 years after the web went public.

From what I can find he really didn’t do that much between 1994 and 2006. If I had to guess I would say that he spent a lot of time on his computer.

[image]

What would you do after giving away a game-changing technology? Sit back and people watch I suspect.

In 2006, a full 15 years after the web went public, Tim first outlined a ‘Semantic Web’ as an aim for the future of the internet.

A Semantic Web means:

  1. Everything should have a web address starting with HTTP. People, concepts, theories, algorithms, products, dates, literally everything. Everything will be a node on a network.

  2. Each node should then be linked to every other related node.
    E.g. People who went to X, people who bought Y, date disease Z was contracted by Person J, dates of travel for Person J from place D to place E, Person J travelled with Person E, K and B, causation theories related to diseases Z and L, correlated effects of U and T etcetera. 
    Machines can store, handle and retrieve all this data when needed.

  3. Once we have entirely interlinked the data on the internet we can genuinely begin to analyse and understand the relationships between all things. We can run algorithms to predict that, given the historical and relational data we have, Person J is 90% likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in the next 12 months.
    Incredibly scary or incredibly useful?

My thoughts on the semantic web

Note #1: Tim makes it absolutely clear that you would have control over which companies would have access to your data and how much of it. He believes that people, not corporations, should own their own data. You would own your data just like you own your clothes.

Note #2: this requires standards for a universally controlled vocabulary for data input and a knowledge indexing system capable of spanning multiple languages to allow truly global adoption. We are talking about quadrillions of data points where each is linked to millions of others, how on earth can you standardise that?

Note #3: The scale of this vision may be hard to comprehend, but the purpose is simple. A world with a web of data like this would enable anyone and everyone to access, collaborate and innovate with it. If everyone can access it then everyone can do their part to find the rose amongst the thorns. A Semantic Web doesn’t need to be academic. This is a vision of global data unity.

In a way, Tim just wants to be able to know how many people in the world wear the same colour pants as him.

How far has he got with this vision then?

In 2009 he became a key member of data.gov.uk which aims to make all official data free to use. It already contains over 30,000 anonymised data sets from institutions across the UK including Ordnance Survey and The Treasury amongst others.

In 2012 he became president of the Open Data Institute with the aim of connecting people with data and enabling them to use it and innovate with it.

I think he sees data and algorithms as if they were ingredients and recipes and The Semantic Web is the ultimate chocolate cake

He was also part of the opening ceremony for London 2012, tweeting “This is for everyone” on a NeXT computer (the machine he used to invent the web) which was then written across a crowd of 80,000 people by LEDs in the seats at Wembley Stadium.

 

What does Tim Berners-Lee do now?

He is the lead developer at SOLID where he’s building decentralized social applications based on his principles for open and linked data. The idea is that if you switched to another social network, you could take your data from Facebook. With SOLID, you own your data, and you choose which corporations are allowed to access it to provide you with services.

What are his beliefs around internet privacy and Government surveillance?

Governments and corporations currently snoop on our internet usage, many even without our express permission. Tim believes that this is wrong and that the internet should be open but private. Anything else is a violation of what he calls our “network rights”.

He believes we have a great opportunity to use the internet to help everyone find connections between reliable data only, disregarding data from propaganda or commercial hogwash.

He believes that the internet should support democracy and allow accountable debates. It should be possible for anyone to use the web to collaborate and exchange products, services and knowledge.

How can you help him?

Consider what he has already done for you by fighting for the internet to be free and open to all. You can return the favour by joining him in that fight whenever possible.

  • Help others to understand the internet and to use it.

  • Opt for open-source tools and software when possible.

  • Report those who abuse the internet and praise those who make it a better place to be.

  • Help to further the potential of the Web to benefit humanity.

  • Share his talks, his publications and his books with others who may be taking our World Wide Web for granted.

  • Take part in some of the below projects close to Tim’s heart.

Projects by or endorsed by Tim Berners-Lee

Data.gov.uk

Find data published by government departments and agencies, public bodies and local authorities. You can use this data to learn more about how government works, carry out research or build applications and services.

Get involved

 

The Semantic Web

The Semantic Web provides a common framework that allows data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise, and community boundaries. Ownership of personal data is with each person which makes switching between applications easier, and decreases the opportunity for data monopolies such as Facebook and Google to form. The Semantic Web by Tim Berners-Lee is a vision of what economists might call ‘perfect information’. Every data piece linked to every related data piece which allows individuals to build machines to understand the trillions of relationships within The Semantic Web’s data set.

Find out more and publish your data

 

The World Wide Web Foundation

To establish the open Web as a global public good and a basic right, ensuring that everyone can access and use it freely

Get involved

 

Net Neutrality

The principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally.

Read more

 

The Open Data Institute

To connect, equip and inspire people around the world to innovate with data.

Get involved

 

The Alliance for Affordable Internet

To decrease internet access prices so that they fall below the UN Broadband Commission's worldwide target of 5% of monthly income.

Read more

 

The World Wide Consortium

The forum for the technical development of the Web

Participate

 

The Decentralized Information Group

We are interested in investigating decentralized techniques and technologies that effect social change. We are exploring how to radically change the way Web applications work today, resulting in decentralized architectures that enable true data ownership with the SOLID project

Read more about DIG's current projects

SOLID

Solid (derived from "social linked data") is a proposed set of conventions and tools for building decentralized social applications based on Linked Data principles.

Read more

click to see talks, articles, etc by Tim Berners-Lee and to share them.

Tim literally invented and gave us the internet. What an amazing contribution to all of our lives.

You can read and subscribe to Tim's rare blog posts at W3C covering technology topics such as DRM and the legacy of Steve Jobs.

It looks as though he's pretty good at replying to comments on there so that may be the best way to reach out to him to say thank you.

Lastly, if you found this interesting or if you think I didn't cover something - please post a comment below.