BBC BLOGS - dot.Rory
« Previous | Main | Next »

Sir Tim on an open, democratic web

Rory Cellan-Jones | 13:01 UK time, Monday, 18 April 2011

"Geeky but important" - that's what one of the slides said about open web standards at a conference in Oxford to mark the opening of the World Wide Web Consortium's UK office.


Sir Tim Berners-Lee

 

You might say the same - with knobs on - about Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who opened the conference. The inventor of the web is extremely important - and still insufficiently recognised in his own land, given the scale of his achievements. While giving a talk to an engineering trade body recently, I put up a slide of Sir Tim - and asked some students in the front row to name him. "Err, the guy from Apple?" came the response.

But the man who two decades ago laid the foundations for our modern information era is also very geeky. When he speaks, usually without notes, ideas spill out of him at a rapid rate and, like a web surfer clicking on links, he tends to go off at a tangent.

In Oxford he was no different, giving us a potted history of the internet and the web which headed off in all sorts of directions at once. But he also had some interesting and important things to say.

Sir Tim stressed that, while it might seem we had made huge progress since the invention of the web, with 25% of the world's population now using it, it would be complacent to take that view. Instead, he asked: what are we going to do about getting the rest of the world on board? The infrastructure is there, so why are so many people still not taking advantage of it?

He lauded the web's power to promote democracy but again said that we had taken it for granted, "until Egypt goes and shuts down the internet".

He talked of social networking's power to connect people - but lamented the way debates on Twitter always seem to tend to extreme views.

And he said that open data programmes, which have seen governments in the US and UK allow citizens far greater access to their data, were vital to the democratic process. At a time of cuts in government spending, Sir Tim stressed that initiatives to promote transparency were all the more important.

So, through the mist emerged a clear picture of what still drives Sir Tim. He wants a web which is open, friendly, civil and ever smarter - and he wants governments to behave better towards it. Important stuff, and I'm sure you'll agree of interest far beyond the confines of a geeky conference.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    How come all the genius's with the best ideas aren't actually running the country?
    Instead we get a succession of fools.
    Let's have Sir Tim as PM!

  • Comment number 2.

    Man i can't believe this guy did not patent his idea. If he had, he would have been sitting on a gazilion billion bucks by know. I know he wanted the web to be free for everyone. Think about it, if he had set up a company to control the license, then maybe we won't see rogue elements like viruses, spyware, malware, hackers, criminals etc. Then again everyone would have probably have to pay a small fee to use the web. I would have preffered that to the threats one ecounters on the web everyday

  • Comment number 3.

    "Sir Tim stressed that, while it might seem we had made huge progress since the invention of the web, with 25% of the world's population now using it, it would be complacent to take that view. Instead, he asked: what are we going to do about getting the rest of the world on board? The infrastructure is there, so why are so many people still not taking advantage of it?"

    Some people have higher priorities, e.g. around 25% of the world lives in poverty so the internet would be useless to them as they have no stable electricity or telecommunications (let alone food or water).

  • Comment number 4.

    Sir Tim changed the world, yet he seems like an ordinary bloke. He's definitely one of my personal heroes. Aside from his huge technical achievements, I admire him for sticking to his principles and turning down billions of dollars to keep the web free.

    More of us should listen to him.

  • Comment number 5.

    Man i can't believe this guy did not patent his idea. If he had, he would have been sitting on a gazilion billion bucks by know.


    If he had, it would've been no different to AOL, CompuServe, GEnie, Prodigy, …

    The Web’s killer feature is, and always was, that it is open to everyone.

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    Rory: '"The inventor of the web is extremely important - and still insufficiently recognised in his own land, given the scale of his achievements."

    That is a shame. It never seases to amaze me the amount of people who don't know the names of their fellow compatriots who have changed their countries and/or the world in such a colossal way. But forgive me. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I was always under the impression that while Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web, the internet (I.E. the method of comunication that occurs between computers) was invented by the Pentagon during the 70s. Am I wrong? Is there any truth to that?

    "He (Sir Tim) talked of social networking's power to connect people - but lamented the way debates on Twitter always seem to tend to extreme views."

    Unfortunately, I believe that this is one of the drawbacks of the web. Along with 24 hour cable news channels, though their intent was to keep the public constantly up-to-date on the latest news and respective politicians' views on that news, a bi-product of these new media formats is that the extreme elements of political parties always seem to get more coverage/have a louder voice than the rational, even keeled, sensible ones. This doesn't look set to change any time soon; sorry to disappoint Tim Berners-Lee and Christina Taylor Green.


    "And he said that open data programmes, which have seen governments in the US and UK allow citizens far greater access to their data, were vital to the democratic process. At a time of cuts in government spending, Sir Tim stressed that initiatives to promote transparency were all the more important."

    While our governments certainly do their civic duties in allowing us our right to freedom of the press in a way that few other democracies do, there is always room for improvement. The neediest place, in my opinion, is in our governments' reaction to Wickileaks revealations.




  • Comment number 8.

    One thing I don't get is why the person who invented the technology would be seen as any sort of expert in how the system is used in a social sense?

    It often seems as though as soon as anything that impacts society happens techy journalists immediately run off and ask techy people about it, rather than ask people who are experts in societies and so on.

    It is the same with democracy - I am sure TBL has opinions about how democracy works, we all do, but I cannot see anything in his training or background that makes him a huge expert in the political make up of our world.

    The use of the web has not exposed any new human behaviour, or changed society. It has allowed society to expose it self in different ways through different communication systems, but it is still based on how human beings intereact instinctively.

    PS: Completely off track for a moment - why do the BBC keep on insiting on saying "so-and-so joins us via skype..?" I dont remember them ever saying "And we are joined Via British Telecom..."

    There are countless ways of connecting. Stop advertising or trying to sound trendy and just say "We are joined by XXX from Berlin (or wherever)"

  • Comment number 9.

    "The inventor of the web"

    There isn't one inventor of the web. There were many people involved. Berners-Lee is just one. The BBC's pathetic nationalism is showing.

  • Comment number 10.

    @7 - You are right! TBL did NOT invent the 'internet',he came up with the idea for,and was key in the implementation of, "The World Wide Web". @9 - You are also right! TBL DID need help and assistance in implementing HIS idea.I think you'll find that to be true for most of the great inventors throughout history.

  • Comment number 11.

    8. At 22:58pm 18th Apr 2011, Hastings wrote:
    ...
    PS: Completely off track for a moment - why do the BBC keep on insiting on saying "so-and-so joins us via skype..?" I dont remember them ever saying "And we are joined Via British Telecom..."

    ==========

    Agreed Hastings – but the way that the BBC push Twitter is even worse. The BBC actually promote its use.

  • Comment number 12.

    Rory wrote:

    "You might say the same - with knobs on - about Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who opened the conference. The inventor of the web is extremely important - and still insufficiently recognised in his own land, given the scale of his achievements. "

    Sorry to break it to you but even the man himself realizes his so-called "achievements" are quite modest. He took existing knowledge and said let's use this for the "web." He also did not create the idea for the web because the Internet was created in the first place to be what the web is. The linking of information between computers is what the Internet was and still is all about. He did not make it possible for information to be linked between computers, whether text, images, audio and video, nor was it his idea.

    "But the man who two decades ago laid the foundations for our modern information era is also very geeky."

    No, that would be the American government, military, universities and many American companies that today still develop and control most of the technology having to do with the Internet.

    With respect but as a technology writer I find it rather disturbing that you have such a distorted view on the history of the Internet. Give praise when praise is due, not just because someone is a fellow Brit.

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 14.

  • Comment number 15.


    He wrote the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP).

    With Robert Cailliau and a CERN student, he did the first successful communication between a HTTP client and server over the Internet.

    Used ideas from his ENQUIRE system to create the "WorldWideWeb" (linkage of hypertext, TCP, DNS).

    He says he could have designed URLs without the forward slashes in the web address, that it seemed a good idea then.

    In 1999, Time Magazine named him one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century.

    He made his idea available for free, no patent, no royalties.

    He is certainly important. As is his contribution.

  • Comment number 16.

    15. At 19:49pm 19th Apr 2011, alanskillcole wrote:

    "He made his idea available for free, no patent, no royalties."

    Would have been kind of hard to "patent" three different existing technologies being used together.

    "He is certainly important. As is his contribution."

    Unfortunately, while he did contribute his importance is by far the most exaggerated of anyone involved in the development of the Internet, typically expressed by nationalistic Britons.

    It has to be said, again, Mr. Lee did not invent what the web fundamentally is, a network of world wide computers sharing information in the form of text, images, audio, video, etc. That is what the Internet was created for. He also did not make it possible for that to happen.

    I'm all for praising and supporting fellow countrymen that have achieved great things but sorry, he did not. There are many other Britons of the past that have done that. Lets try and keep things factual and grounded in reality, despite the fact that he is British.

 

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.