Inspiration Online Magazine



Who invented the World Wide Web
and was even knighted for it?

Inspiration Online Magazine - Tim Berners-Lee
Combating the Digital Divide:
Tim Berners-Lee with the original Web browser.

Tim Berners-Lee, the London-born scientist who invented the World Wide Web, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II on Friday, July 16, 2004. He received the knighthood in recognition of his services to the development of the Internet through the invention of the Web, a system to organize, link and browse pages on the Internet. The Queen made the 49-year-old scientist a knight commander, the second-highest rank of the Order of the British Empire, in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

Dubbed the "Father of the Web", he came up with a system over 10 years ago to organize, link and browse net pages. The famously modest man said he was "quite an ordinary person", and although it felt strange, he was "honored". Sir Tim was recently reunited with the machine he used to invent the web when he e-mailed 80 schools from the UN's summit on the information society.

The British scientist, who lives in the US, was told he was getting the unexpected Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the New Year honors list a few days ago - by telephone, not by e-mail. He said he never expected his invention would lead to such an accolade.

The physicist created his hypertext program, which was to revolutionize the net, while he was at the particle physics institute, Cern, in Geneva. The computer code he came up with let scientists easily share research findings across a computer network. In the early 1990s, it was dubbed the "world wide web", and is still the basis of the net as we know it.

If Tim Berners-Lee had decided to patent his idea in 1989, the Internet would be a different place. Instead, the World Wide Web became free to anyone who could make use of it. The Internet has many fathers: Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn, who came up with a system to let different computer networks interconnect and communicate; Ray Tomlinson, the creator of e-mail and the "@" symbol; Ted Nelson, who coined the term hypertext; and scores of others. But only one person conceived of the World Wide Web (originally, Berners-Lee called it a "mesh" before changing it to a "web"). Before him, there were no "browsers," nothing known as "hypertext markup language," no "www" in any Internet address, no "URLs," or uniform resource locators.

Because he and his colleague, Robert Cailliau, a Belgian, insisted on a license-free technology, today a Gateway computer with a Linux operating system and a browser made by Netscape can see the same Web page as any other personal computer, system software or Internet browser. If his employer at the time, CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, had sought royalties, Berners-Lee said, he thought the world would have 16 different "Webs" on the Internet today.

Sir Tim recently told the BBC World Service's Go Digital program his invention was "just another program", and that he originally wanted it to help achieve understanding. "The original idea of the web was that it should be a collaborative space where you can communicate through sharing information. The idea was that by writing something together, and as people worked on it, they could iron out misunderstanding." Sir Tim said the honor was an acknowledgement that the net was becoming globally powerful, and not just a "passing trend".

"There was a time when people felt the Internet was another world, but now people realize it's a tool that we use in this world." He added that his knighthood proves what can happen to "ordinary people" who work on things that "happen to work out", like the web. "What's at stake here is the whole spirit in which software has been developed to date," he said. "If you can imagine a computer doing it, then you can write a computer program to do it. That spirit has been behind so many wonderful developments. And when you connect that to the spirit of the Internet, the spirit of openness and sharing, it's terribly stifling to creativity. It's stifling to the academic side of doing research and thinking up new ideas; it's stifling to the new industry and the new enterprises that come out of that."

Sir Tim currently heads up the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, where he is now based as an academic.

Born in London in 1955
Studied at Wandsworth's Emanuel School
Read physics at Queen's College, Oxford
Banned from using the university's computer when he and a friend were caught hacking
Built own computer with old TV, a Motorola microprocessor and soldering iron
Created web in late 1980s and early 1990s at Cern
Offered it free on the net
Previously awarded an OBE
In 1994 he founded World Wide Web Consortium at MIT
In 1999 he became first holder of the 3Com Founders chair
Time magazine named him one of the top 20 thinkers of the 20th Century

~ Story from BBC NEWS

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