- 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.
As 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."
But 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).
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