|Jobs, Gates... Berners-Lee?|
|Written by Adam Feibel|
|Friday, 11 November 2011|
It occurred to me during a particularly mind-numbing shift at my part-time job that I know who Bill Gates is, and who Steve Jobs was.
After pioneering the personal computers we use today, the names of these men became as ‘household’ as the products they created. But the name Tim Berners-Lee yields no immediate word associations, no vivid mental images of revolutionary inventions from our generation – its mention yields only the blank-faced blink or perhaps the single raised eyebrow of a person completely without a clue.
Maybe the name just isn’t zippy enough to be remembered like that of a Gates or a Jobs. Maybe the invention itself appeared as part of something so grandiose and gradual that it was swept under the rug as just another small step in technological history. But this Berners-Lee character has to be one of the most influential inventors of our time.
Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web.
No, not the Internet. The Internet existed years earlier as the ARPAnet (Advanced Research Projects Agency Networks), funded by the United States military after the cold war, and debuted in 1969. But of course, as soon as ARPAnet surfaced, computer nerds (and I use such as a term of endearment, not of mockery) began working on ways to use this networking concept to share their own information between their own computers.
Fast-forward to 1989 at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and observe Berners-Lee, alongside computer scientist Robert Cailliau, proposing an idea for a system that would combine the original Internet with hypertext (the display of text on a computer with links to other text accessible by a simple mouse click). Sound familiar?
With the help of his boss and Cailliau, he proceeded to write the code for a then-nameless computer networking system we now often rely on daily.
“During some sessions in the CERN cafeteria, Tim and I try to find a catching name for the system. I was determined that the name should not yet again be taken from Greek mythology. Tim proposes 'World-Wide Web'. I like this very much, except that it is difficult to pronounce in French,” Cailliau recalled in a speech delivered at the launch of the W3 Consortium European branch in 1995.
Two years and countless mouse clicks and keyboard taps later, both the World Wide Web and I were born, in 1991.
“The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information. Its universality is essential: the fact that a hypertext link can point to anything, be it personal, local or global, be it draft or highly polished,” Berners-Lee explained in The World Wide Web: A very short personal history in 1998.
“There was a second part of the dream, too, dependent on the Web being so generally used that it became a realistic mirror (or in fact the primary embodiment) of the ways in which we work and play and socialize.”
It’s almost eerie, really, as this dream describes so perfectly the web’s primary purpose for most users today. I wonder if Berners-Lee has revisited this vision from more than a decade ago and linked it to sites like Blackboard, YouTube and Facebook. Is it everything he imagined?
“The potential of the mixture of humans and machines working together and communicating through the web could be immense,” Berners-Lee wrote – and it has. It’s likely that what we use today is nothing compared to the future.
As we’ve sifted through the Internet, downloading our homework and then neglecting it in favour of video clips and friends’ photos, or perhaps beginning a career with a single email, we’ve overlooked the creator of it all and once again lent our full attention solely to the product. Of course, Jobs and Gates deserve their due praise for the machines that connect us to our current notion of the world at our fingertips. But remember the name Tim Berners-Lee… or at least bookmark it.
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