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The Story of Tim Berners-Lee

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We say thank you to strangers for small things such as when someone opens a door for us or helps lift a heavy bag. However, for many of the major benefits in modern life, we do not know who helped give us these advantages and do not even imagine saying thank you.

The World Wide Web is a wonderful part of the Internet. It allows us to access information and communicate through websites and webpages and use hyperlinked texts. This is such a simple and intuitive design that we do not need any training to use it. My mother at 87 uses this with as much ease as my children. You trade securities online, do your bank work, interact via social media, and shop online all through the World Wide Web.

This gift of the World Wide Web is thanks to computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee. Unlike the “tech tycoons” who have made billions from online services, Berners-Lee has given this fantastic resource, free to use, by all humans.

Berners-Lee was born to two computer scientists and this background helped foster and enhance an interest in science. (Berners-Lee’s brother does research on climate change). Berners-Lee studied physics at Oxford University where he constructed his own computer. After he graduated in 1980, Berners-Lee got a job as a computer engineer and was sent to Geneva to work for CERN. CERN is the intergovernmental organization where physicists explore the deepest mysteries of what makes up our universe.

At CERN there were many different computers, with different types of data, and all of them were incompatible with each other. Berners-Lee began thinking of a way to, as he says, “understand the mass of information and how to link people, hardware and software.” He wrote a proposal for the first World Wide Web in May 1989 and then later with help from a Belgian engineer, Robert Cailliau, this began to be used at CERN in 1990. In 1993, thanks to Berners-Lee’s requests CERN allowed his invention to become a free open Standard.

When Berners-Lee set up the first World Wide Web server, around 100 “hits” were registered on his machine. A year later this became 1,000 hits and a year after that 10,000 hits. There are now over 2 billion web sites worldwide!

We take the World Wide Web so much for granted that we do not realize how much of a challenge it was for Berners-Lee to create it. Berners-Lee says, “It used to be difficult to explain what the web would be like. Now it is difficult to explain why it was difficult.” In a sense, Berners-Lee created a universal language and culture for all human beings to share and use.

Berners-Lee is now a Professor at both Oxford University and MIT. He is also a director of the World Wide Web Consortium, which sets standards for use in the World Wide Web.

At the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web, Berner-Lee said, “The web has become a public square, a library, a doctor’s office, a shop, a school, a design studio, an office, a cinema, a bank, and so much more. Of course, with every new feature, every new website, the divide between those who are online and those who are not increases, making it all the more imperative to make the web available for everyone. How do we connect the nearly two-thirds of the planet who can’t yet access the Web? Citizens must hold companies and governments accountable for the commitments they make, and demand that both respect the web as a global community with citizens at its heart.” To address these challenges, Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports having a free and open web. The Foundation aims to foster free and increased access to the World Wide Web for all.

Looking to the future, Berners-Lee says, “Here is my hope: The Web is a tool for communicating. With the Web, you can find out what other people mean. You can find out where they are coming from. The Web can help people understand each other.” Every time we connect to the World Wide Web we should all say, “A big thank you, Tim Berners-Lee”.

© Kaikhushru Taraporevala

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