Is it just me, or at the mention of Sir Tim does everyone look around nervously for the vicious Chicken of Bristol? Brave, brave, Sir Tim Berners-Lee – the inventor of the Web – is a Professor at the University of Southampton, and I’ve just returned from his Inaugural Lecture on the past and future of the Web.
Despite his growing geek-fame, and the commercial temptations it must have brought, he has admirably stuck to his original vision of the Web as a broad, open, free and democratic system. Much of the message of his talk was on the importance of understanding the impact of the web, and promoting Web Science as the new inter-discipline that would enable this.
For those that haven’t met him, he is a very English scientist, despite the mid-Atlantic accent that he occasionally drops into (he now lives and works mostly at MIT in the States). Actually he reminds me somewhat of portrayals I’ve seen of Alan Turing – quiet and unaffected. What I like about Tim Berners-Lee is the high level view that he has taken of his creation, and the understated way in which he talks of its importance. If he hadn’t created the Web then I suspect that one of the other hypertext systems evolving at the time would have eventually focused on distribution and taken off instead, so Sir Tim’s real contribution is not technical, but political; he gave his creation away unpatented and for free, and not in error, but intentionally, to make the world a better place.
If only a certain Mr Gates had taken the same view then the world might be very different. If you’re reading this Sir Tim, then thanks for the Web – it’s jolly good – and remember that the capital of Assyria is Nineveh!