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Happy Birthday, Tim Berners-Lee, Inventor of the World Wide Web

June 08, 2010
by Haley A. Lovett
Known as the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee's work to develop html, http, and the url system changed the way the world used computers. Today Berners-Lee continues his work with the Internet, now focused on developing the Semantic Web.

Tim Berners-Lee’s Early Days

Born on June 8, 1955 in southwest London, Tim Berners-Lee was the son of two mathematicians who worked on the first computer sold commercially, the Ferranti Mark I. During childhood computers fascinated Berners-Lee: he discussed them with his father and even made pretend computers out of cardboard.

Berners-Lee studied physics at the Queen's College at Oxford University and it was during his time there that he built his first computer out of spare parts. He earned his degree in 1976 and worked as a software engineer for a few years before going out on his own as a consultant.

Creating the World Wide Web

In 1980, Berners-Lee got a consulting job for CERN (the European Particle Physics Laboratory), where he developed the concept of hypertext and wrote a program that would allow him to access many documents via linked words, and called it Enquire.

Berners-Lee wrote a paper in 1989 in which he brought up the idea of using his hypertext with the Internet. His idea was to allow computers worldwide to communicate with each other, and so he developed a language that could be used by all programmers called HyperText Mark-up Language (HTML).

He also developed a way to give each document online its own location (called a uniform resource locator, or URL), and he created a way for the documents to be shared over the Internet (HTTP). Together this formed the World Wide Web. On Aug. 6, 1991, he made the first web site available online.

In 1994, Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium at MIT in order to help develop a system of standards for the Web. Always aiming to keep the Web free and to promote the free exchange of information among people, Berners-Lee has not profited from his own invention in the way that many other tech industry leaders have. 

“What impresses me was that he was not in it for the money,” one of his former employers told The Guardian. “That's his background: the academic side. His dream was a free interchange of information, and he stood by his principles.”

The Rest of the Story

Although Tim Berners-Lee has not recieved the fortunes that could have come with such as world-changing invention, he has gained great noteriety and been decorated with numerous awards.

Berners-Lee, or TBL as he is known in some tech circles, was named one of Time's most important people of the century in 2000. In 2004 he was knighted, was once named the greatest living Briton, and he is a recipient of the Millennium Technology Prize from Finalnd (which came with 1 million euros).

Berners-Lee has been working for years on a project called the Semantic Web, or Data Web, which aims to take all of the information available to humans but not yet understood by your computer (like the actual information contained in the words on a web page), and find a way for computers to put together this data to use simultaneously.

In 2006, he launched the Web Science Research Initiative to study how the Web has affected society along with other Web-specific issues with privacy, copyright, and security. When asked about the Initiative by New Scientist, Berners-Lee explained that, “Nobody has thought to look at how people and the web combine as a whole—until now.”

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