7 Interesting Insights from the Inventor of the Wo...
7 Interesting Insights from the Inventor of the World Wide Web
On 12th March 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. On 12th March 2015 he participated in an AMA session on Reddit to mark the 26th anniversary. AMA stands for Ask Me Anything and is a forum in which Reddit users can ask Tim any question (although he decides which ones to answer). If you’re familiar with Reddit you can read the whole thing here, but for those who may not be used to the interface we’ve highlighted some of the key discussion points below, starting with his wonderful introductory sentiments:
Question asked by userRunding: Hi! What's the best thing to come from the Internet?Answer by Tim, username ‘Timbl’: The spirit of global collaboration among all the people working on it.Onerd: What’s your best non-internet thing that you love?Timbl: People
He was then asked about his memories of the first successful communication:
Foshi22le: Do you remember your first thoughts, or words, when you achieved the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server?Timbl: Nope. I was head down getting stuff working.... the server and client were both on my machine at that stage... I wasn't using source code control, so I could not go back and find the critical commit with the "hmm GET seems to work" comment 🙂
Given the gravity of what he’d achieved, this seems a very modest response! This communication was the building block on which the World Wide Web as we know it is established. The computer he used is now on display at the Science Museum in London if you fancy seeing a piece of internet history. Here we should clarify between the World Wide Web (WWW) and the internet. The World Wide Web is a collection of connected documents linked together with hyperlinks and denoted by URLs. When you browse with a web browser, you’re browsing the World Wide Web. The internet refers to the global system of connected networks. So the WWW is part of the internet, as are email and various other services. Email is not part of the World Wide Web, however. Sir Berners-Lee was also asked his thoughts on the issues currently facing the World Wide Web:
Bay400: Hey Professor Tim! Two questions:What are your views/thoughts/feelings on net neutrality?What are your views/thoughts/feelings on the modern internet?Timbl: Net neutrality is really important. Basically we do so much cool stuff on top of the network layer, it has to remain an unbiased infrastructure for all our discussion, innovation, etc. I must have the right to be able to communicate with whatever or whoever I want, without discrimination, be it political or commercial. See for example things I've said hereMeisterLurker: You are my favorite scientist. Your invention has benefited the lives of billions of people across the planet. Case in point: it gives me the chance to communicate with you at this moment, something that will probably never happen in the physical world. I am very much fascinated by the Web and I hope to pursue research on this topic. Currently, it seems that the social media is its most influential aspect. What do you think will be the Web's next biggest contribution to society?Timbl: Hopefully, we will be able to roll out a world in which people [get] can together and merge all the data which is about themselves and use it with all sort of cool apps to really better their lives. We are working on this sort of thing in dig.csail.mit.edu
The Decentralized Information Group at http://dig.csail.mit.edu/ aims to "explore the consequences of information on the Web” and find out “where it comes from, what happens to it, and what are the rules for using it”. Then Redditors asked him about what he foresaw for the future, including ways of increasing worldwide engagement with the World Wide Web:
Gabovanlugo: How do you see the web in the next 20 years? Any milestone to consider that changes the way we use internet?Timbl: Well... We have had a whole campaign webwewant.org to ask people what sort for a web they want for the next 25 years. It is up to us, but hopefully we will lock down (in culture and where necessary law) the fact that it is open. The number of people using the web will soon cross the 50% and soon 75% of the world population, and then instead of worrying about getting the majority online the spotlight will be to those who remain disenfranchised in the remaining 25%, 10%. Milestone? When I have enough bandwidth to bring me a scene in wrap-around HD so my eyes and ears can't tell I'm not in the other place.Doppelganger3: Sir Tim, are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future relationship between technology in general terms and humankind?Timbl: Well, the outcome is not a foregone conclusion, that tech will in fact end up working in humanity's best interests. But we have a choice! These things are laws and tech standards and so on which actually we control. So it is up to us, where 'us' is humanity, and in general, about us, I am optimistic -- so long as we keep our eyes on the prize.
It’s interesting that he reinforces the need for decisions to be made on a societal level about the future of the internet. There were some less technical questions, too:
LabLizard: What is one question you wish people would ask but never do? What answer do you have for them?Timbl: “Hey, is it OK if we establish an endowment for your foundation/consortium/retirement?” “Yeah, sure!”Drewisbrat: Is it true you’re from Colehill or is it just an urban myth? If so hi from Colehill and congratulations on being awesome.Timbl: I certainly lived in Colehill, Dorset for a bit. High 5. Have a pint of Tanglefoot for me at the Barley Mow if it is still there.
To the above, another Reddit user commented that this was “perhaps the most British thing they’d ever read”. Perhaps most importantly, Tim demonstrated that he has his finger on the pulse of the World Wide Web.
Phoenixiss: What do you think about memes?Timbl: One does not simply ask the inventor of the WWW what he thinks about memes.
We wonder whether he has a favourite cat video, too.