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Rory Cellan-Jones

Talking To Sir Tim

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 17 Mar 08, 09:13 GMT

He's the greatest technological pioneer Britain has produced over the last 30 years - and Sir Tim Berners-Lee has been rewarded with all kinds of honours, from his knighthood, to the Millennium Technology Prize, to Time Magazine's list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. What he is not is the most fluent of interviewees - so I was rather worried about our encounter the other day. I need not have been.

Sir Tim Berners-LeeAs you can see, he gave us a great story with his views on the importance of privacy and choice for consumers on the web. And, as we sat in the slightly incongruous surroundings of the Millers Association in a lovely old St James's building (getting the wi-fi working almost proved too great a challenge for the web's creator), he delivered a fascinating 25-minute tour of a whole range of issues.

Social networking (he's tried it - and thinks it may eventually be more for the old than the young), what's right and wrong with the web (it's great that user-generated content is taking off - but why aren't more people doing it?), why we need to study the science of the web (so mistakes such as allowing e-mail to be swamped by spam won't be repeated), whether web firms were right to compromise their principles to get into China (maybe it was worth it to bring a degree of openness to the web there). His mind seems to work rather like the web itself - one idea links to another, so you suddenly find him galloping off in an all sorts of different directions, and have to try to haul him back to the original question.

The man who could have made a fortune out of his invention but chose instead to stay in academia has firm principles. He believes the web is all about open standards and interoperability and he is determined to be seen as above all commercial interests. We had asked him to choose a number of websites that illustrated the web's growth - but he was adamant that he could not be seen to endorse any particular product, whether it be Google or Amazon or eBay. He'd even put a World Wide Web Consortium sticker over the logo on his laptop to avoid any product placement. (Here's a clue - it was a fruity logo).

For a television report you do need some pictures - so we asked Sir Tim to talk us through a map he has created as a way of depicting the growth of the internet and the web. It shows a few streams feeding into a small lake marked "internet", and from there into a bigger lake marked "World Wide Web". The web river then meanders through a green and fertile land land before flowing into the "Sea of Interoperability."

Sir Tim Berners-Lee's webmapBut there is also a parched area on one side of the map described as "wasted arid lands". Among its features are the "Patent Peaks" and the "Proprietary Pass". And right at the centre of this gloomy landscape is something called the "Tor of Cism". For the life of me, I can't work out what that means, but I have a feeling Sir Tim might have been passing on a coded message.

PS. For a larger version of the map, click here (pdf format).

Comments

  • 1.
  • At 10:39 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Borarah wrote:

Maybe something to do with ahistoricism?

  • 2.
  • At 10:47 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Steve wrote:

Perhaps the "Tor of Cism" should really read "Tor of Schism", and the great Tim Berners-Lee is referring to worries about a fracture in the Internet and/or the WWW caused by large manufacturers not adhering to the universal standards that underpin the astonishing interoperability.

My dictionary defines schism as "division caused by grave disagreement within a church or other organisation"

  • 3.
  • At 11:05 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Adam wrote:

I reckon it's a little disrespectful and underhand that Mr Cellan-Jones should enforce any product placement at all on Tim Berners-Lee when the latter is so clearly against commercialising his ideas and so explicitly against being seen as endorsing any specific product. This applies whether that product is considered mainstream or not. For shame, BBC!

  • 4.
  • At 11:07 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • emchi wrote:

"Tor of Cism" is an anagram of Microsoft, so I'm sure that would be a coded message... any anagrams of "apple", "Google" or "Cisco" in there?

  • 5.
  • At 11:08 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Adam wrote:

I reckon it's a little disrespectful and underhand that Mr Cellan-Jones should enforce any product placement at all on Tim Berners-Lee when the latter is so clearly against commercialising his ideas and so explicitly against being seen as endorsing any specific product. This applies whether that product is considered mainstream or not. For shame, BBC!

  • 6.
  • At 11:13 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Paul Youngson wrote:

Tor of Cism?

CISM is a Certified Information Security Manager - A certificate that the united states department of defense want its staff to have so that they know everything they possibly can about internet security.

Tor is "the onion router" which allows people to communicate anonymously across the internet. so called because it is made up of lots of layers of security like an onion.

Perhaps Sir Tim is making a suggestion about the future battles that will be waged between the web users and the governments that want to regulate the web. With the landscape he has drawn out representing the battlefield.

  • 7.
  • At 11:29 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Adrian wrote:

It's disappointing that despite Sir Tim's efforts not to advertise or endorse any particular product, you felt it necessary to give such a heavy clue about his brand of computer even a four-year old could work it out; no wonder journalists are treated with suspicion when they treat others with such disrespect.

  • 8.
  • At 11:31 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Sam wrote:

emchi, if you look above the big dark patch you can just about see "Giants" written in the Google logo style.

I agree with Adam incidentally, revealing the product when he quite specifically did not want to do so is a real cheap shot.

  • 9.
  • At 11:47 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • derek orme wrote:

Isn't Tim Berners-Lee a "pioneer of technology" or a "technology pioneer", not a "technological pioneer"?

  • 10.
  • At 11:48 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Paul Wilkinson wrote:

I can't see any anagrams of "Google", but the word "Giants" appears in google colours just above the area that appears to be in shadow. It would be interesting to see the full version of this map.

  • 11.
  • At 11:53 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Wirley wrote:

It's also an anagram of 'Comforts I' - perhaps TBL is gladdened by the possibility of making this area fertile. Then again, perhaps it is Microsoft.

  • 12.
  • At 11:54 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • csw wrote:

It's always interesting what a man like Tim Berners-Lee finds puzzling, so for me, his question - "it's great that user-generated content is taking off - but why aren't more people doing it?" - is the kernel in this blog. My answer would be that there are a lot of people out there who prefer to relate to each other in the flesh rather than spend hours irritably tinkering with their software, just so that they can have the satisfaction of seeing their own name in lights. Whilst there is much to celebrate in the digital explosion of creative self-expression, Tim Berners-Lee may be forgetting that there are other, more potent, forms of creativity - live theatre, live music, street theatre, dancing with another real live human being, for example....user-generated content such as Youtube has it's place, but it can't replace real human-to-human contact...and as the Web has created the potential for a greater degree of alienation by isolating people behind their computer screens, perhaps the hunger for human contact is now greater than ever....of course, the other, simpler answer to his question is that, with the added burden of work created by e-mail, most people simply do not have time.....

  • 13.
  • At 11:56 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Alex wrote:

mmmm - emchi (post 4) has identifed Tor of Cism as an anagram of Microsoft - I would say that serves the purpose of this article well. The author has quoted it perhaps in the hope that someone would decipher it (as emchi has done). The media are all arty types and mostly Mac users. Including the BBC, they love to hate MS and are so in love with the even more proprietary and protectionist Apple Corp. Surprised that Berners-Lee is not a Linux user actually - at least that is open and even MS is more open that Apple!

  • 14.
  • At 11:57 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Alan wrote:

"... he is determined to be seen as above all commercial interests. We had asked him to choose a number of websites that illustrated the web's growth - but he was adamant that he could not be seen to endorse any particular product..."

Good for TBL. Unlike BBC News who regularly use YouTube in TV news reports because the BBC has a commercial interest in it. Shouldn't BBC News, as a non-commercial organisation, adopt the same stance as TBL?

  • 15.
  • At 12:01 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Simon wrote:

Here is a link to the map.

http://www.w3.org/2007/09/map/main.jpg

Interesting read, and the map is pretty accurate too!

  • 16.
  • At 12:08 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Steve wrote:

I agree with Adam, why did you feel the need to reveal the laptop brand when it was something Mr Berners-Lee wished to not expose?

  • 17.
  • At 12:12 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Andy wrote:

So although he wanted to avoid any product placement, the BBC just had to squeeze in a shameless plug for their 'fruity' friends?

Presumably you wouldn't have done that had the logo "started with 'd' and ended with 'ell'" etc.

  • 18.
  • At 12:20 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Alex @ Phorm wrote:

We believe that it is wrong to store Internet users' personal data.

Our technology is a real turning point in the protection of privacy online - it does not store personally identifiable information, does not store IP addresss and nor does it store browsing histories. By contrast, ad targeting from other major Internet companies means that potentially identifiable personal data is stored for over 12 months before it is even anonymised. Also, because these companies reach nearly all UK Internet users, consumers effectively have no real choice about being targeted in this way. With the Phorm technology, users can choose - they can opt out or in at any time; and again, no personal data is stored .

We look forward to speaking to Tim Berners Lee to explain how our technology is a ground breaking advance in delivering targeted ads while protecting privacy online and consumer choice, as we have with other experts.

You can ask questions about the system and find out more by visiting blog.webwise.com or www.webwise.com

Phorm Comms Team

  • 19.
  • At 12:37 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • rooee wrote:

Good article, good man. Does anyone know where I might find a list of ISP's who've signed up to Phorm? I'll be leaving Virgin unless they opt for opt-in.

  • 20.
  • At 12:39 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Robert Carnegie wrote:

I didn't know that Apricot was still in business!

On reflection, I think those of you who have complained about my line hinting at the maker of Sir Tim's laptop are right, and I apologise.

All I would say is that anyone who has met Sir Tim or seen him lecture will know which kind of hardware and software he uses - and I'm not sure why that should be a secret.

And Alex (post 13)- thanks for this. We at the BBC are used to being accused of being in bed with Microsoft - so it's a refreshing change to hear the opposite view!

  • 22.
  • At 01:02 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Alan Jennings wrote:

Let's not forget, guys: here is the man credited with INVENTING THE INTERNET! (or whatever).

Really, we're all damn lucky to be alive I reckon and using computers to communicate and commerce with each other has probably helped save the day.

Maybe it's just me: I was slow to get connected up I admit; but life was getting pretty dreary before all the WWWs appeared.

If the man's an academic then surely he won't mind a little sly fun at his expense. He sounds as if he's garnered enough praise and credits to salve his wounded sense of propriety.

Bring on the dancing girls, that's what I always say...

Not that anybody listens of course.


  • 23.
  • At 01:02 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Chris wrote:

Re: Tor of Cism. Surely 2 and 4 are both right? Large corporations operating a divide-and-rule strategy are the perceived threat.

  • 24.
  • At 01:17 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Dan wrote:

Clearly, Tor of Cism is Microsoft, and it also looks like they are slap bang in the middle of Mordor.

Which is all the comparison I think he wanted to make really.

  • 25.
  • At 01:21 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • steve wrote:

Perhaps Adam is right, Cellan-Jones was just disrespectful in revealing that product.

But maybe he felt obliged to mention it.

To recover any credibility, Rory, I think you should tell us what laptop you use, who paid for it and what corporate gifts and hospitality you have received.

  • 26.
  • At 01:30 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Brendan wrote:

"Tor of Cism" its an anagram of "Microsoft". Which makes a lot more sense than lots other.
The depressing thing is that companies like google and yahoo had started out with intentions of not falling into this corporate trap, and yet they all do, Shame these sites can't stand up and be counted, one day someone will and thats when we will be in the sea of interoperability

  • 27.
  • At 01:33 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Bhupinder Bhasin wrote:

Talking about interoperability.... This page does not display properly in firefox - the pictures are missing. When I tried it in IE the pictures showed up normally.

When will the BBC site switch to using open web standards so that it can be viewed in all browsers?

  • 28.
  • At 01:40 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Andrew wrote:

"The man who could have made a fortune out of his invention but chose instead to stay in academia has firm principles."

This is a myth that is repeated often. TBL could NOT have made a fortune out of his "invention" because the ONLY reason it took off was that it was a public, free to use protocol. If it had been a proprietary commercial protocol then it wouldn't have become popular.

The reality is that if TBL hadn't "invented" the web someone else would have come up with it; he just happened to be in the right place at the right time as the technologies matured.

  • 29.
  • At 01:41 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • emchi wrote:

I kind of found it rather ironic that Tor of Cism is an anagram of Microsoft, was it a tongue in cheek comment by the reporter? It wasn't that hard to work out, if that's the case then that would be the second brand name drop (three if you include the Giants logo... didn't spot that, blind as a bat I am). So with three name plugs there then perhaps it was Tim's way of name dropping, without actually name dropping?

As for "Mr Phorm", care to explain why if you opt out, you'll still be holding the data? I'd do the same thing as Tim Berners-Lee if I were with an internet provider who were Phorm customers.

Tim is obviously platform agnostic, so why do you insist on informing us of the brand of his laptop?

It's not even as if the beeb are fans of that platform, allowing iPlayer downloads only on Microsoft OS's for so long.

There are more comments about this than the actual topic of the post!... And on that point, I agree that interoperability is the way forward. :-)

  • 31.
  • At 02:13 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Paul chapman wrote:

I know the media likes to build up "heros" but your piece has lost a grip on reality. It's interesting to note the technologies that Sir Berners-Lee did not invent: TCP/IP Networking - the basis of all communications on the Internet. Mark-up languages such has HTML - The printing industry where he worked for many years was awash with them. File servers - such as FTP are an industry standard, Domain naming - as in webserver.com are again an industry standard. So what in fact did he invent?

You go on to say:

"The man who could have made a fortune out of his invention but chose instead to stay in academia has firm principles."

Nonsense. He integrated HTML into a TCP/IP based daemon and released it in to the open source community. The reason he didn't make a fortune was that there wasn't anything to make a fortune out of!

  • 32.
  • At 02:22 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Miles Hayler wrote:

The full sized map can be found at:
http://www.w3.org/2007/09/map/main.jpg

  • 33.
  • At 02:37 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Robert wrote:

I'm not sure why people are bashing Mr Cellan-Jones for dropping a heavy hint the Sir Tim uses a Macintosh. He didn't have to include the bit about the "Tor of Cism" either, but both give the reader extra insight into the mind and values of Sir Tim. The bloke invented the web! i want to know what computer he uses and what he thinks of the Microsoft.

Let's not forget that once MS woke up to the internet being important, they very quickly tried to control it as best they could - the proprietary ActiveX technology as opposed to the more universal Java, for example. Exactly the sort of thing the W3C group was formed to stop happening. Apple, for all their faults are much more open than Microsoft. And more compliant with web standards.

Oh, and by the way - Sir Tim is on the record as being an OSX user in other interviews. And he doesn't think Linux is going to be ready for the desktop anytime soon, if ever.

  • 34.
  • At 02:39 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Graham wrote:

A little too much fuss about the implication that he uses an Apple. Apple and Microsoft both produce proprietary operating systems, and the merits of each, as well as of Linux, are hotly debated. However, in the context of an interview with TBL, what would be more interesting than knowing the OS he prefers would be knowing what browser he uses and why - Firefox, Opera, Safari or other? As far as the WWW is concerned, the choice of OS is almost irrelevant.

And note to BBC: I couldn't post this comment from Firefox, and had to go to IE.

  • 35.
  • At 02:42 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Lily Kelly wrote:

The map is in the style of the Lord of the Ring's. Tor of Cism (Microsoft) is Mordor and Steve Ballmer or Bill Gates (hm which!) plays the part of the Dark Lord! Google are neither good nor bad giants, they are at a 'tipping point'. This is the interface between open and closed source software. They appear to stand between us and Microsoft domination of the the world wide web..the One Ring to bind us all.

  • 36.
  • At 02:43 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Doug Taylor wrote:

I Don't think it is at all in the spirit of the article about TBL to allow such a blatant plug for Phorm.

  • 37.
  • At 02:45 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Graham Hart wrote:

Tor of cism
=
Microsoft

  • 38.
  • At 02:47 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Matthew wrote:

'Tor of Cism' in a paragraph about 'Patent Peaks' and the 'Proprietary Pass'...

- "For the life of me, I can't work out what that means, but I have a feeling Sir Tim might have been passing on a coded message." -

...coded message, you think!?

BBC technology correspondent!

Wow the level of sophistication is mind blowing.

'Tor of Cism' is about the easiest anagram in the history of huge multinational companies started by people who actually have a clue about technology. No doubt if it was something to do with Apple you'd be screaming it from the rafters against TB-L's wishes.

Reply to no. 27, BB

I am using Firefox 1.5xx in Win98. This gives the same display as Internet Explorer v5.5.

Regarding comment no. 27 which says:
"Talking about interoperability.... This page does not display properly in firefox - the pictures are missing. When I tried it in IE the pictures showed up normally."
The page displays perfectly in Firefox on my computer, pictures and all, so something amiss on your computer, not the page.

  • 41.
  • At 03:18 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • MikeW wrote:

Yes, according to the 9am Radio4 news today (17/03), TBL "invented the Internet".

In "Harry Hill" style, he'll have to fight it out with Al Gore ...

  • 42.
  • At 03:22 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Ross wrote:

I must say I find this article fascinating for the reason that it brings to the fore the debate about what has in the past harmed the internet, and where we would like to see it go in the future. Although TBL 'invented' the Internet does that make him an expert on which direction the web should be moving in? Would Karl Benz have forseen the future of the automobile, and would he have been the right man to ask? Microsoft had a very clear vision 10 years back of how we would use the internet in the future - and they used almost illegal tactics to secure that future. Luckily there has been an open source rebellion - and IMO the idealism of the internet looks safe if maybe the technology doesn't.

  • 43.
  • At 03:23 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Peter wrote:

Much is made of the fact that TBL champions platform agnostics and interoperability, yet uses a laptop with a "fruity" logo. Could it be because said laptop just happens to be the only one on the market capable of running all the worlds major operating systems?

Andrew (28) - how does that detract from what he did?

Robert (20) - could be an old Acorn. They're going strong via RISC OS.

  • 45.
  • At 03:30 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • jon wrote:

I don't think the criticism for revealing the laptop brand is fair. Sir Berners-Lee said he can't discuss brands, but then put thinly veiled criticism of Microsoft and Google in his map. I think he clearly wanted it to be revealed that he was using an Apple laptop, if he really didn't want it to be reported he would have used a generic Far-Eastern brand or built the laptop himself.

  • 46.
  • At 03:35 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Knightlie wrote:

Tim Berners-Lee developed the web using NEXT computers, whose software went on to form Apples OS X, so it's not surprising he uses Apple kit.

  • 47.
  • At 04:44 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Neil wrote:

I don't understand why he considers MP4 and H.264 technology as bad? They both offer great compression which for video content on-line is a must. Plus both cater for advancing technologies such as High Definition video. I'm a bit miffed about that one.

He has also put the word Microsoft in the green good bit as well....

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