Sir Tim on an open, democratic web
"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.
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.