“There have always been things which people are good at, and things computers have been good at, and little overlap between the two.”
— Timothy Berners-Lee
Before the internet changed our language with terms like “Google” or “Siri,” there was the ubiquitous term, “the World Wide Web.” Although society at large may not speak these words out loud as much, the program itself has forever changed how people learn, connect, share and receive information, and shaped the internet to what it is today. Tetra Defense recognizes Timothy Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web and current, active advocate for how to keep it safe and available to everyone.
Tim Berners-Lee was born in London in 1955 and took to trainspotting as a child. While investing his time in creating electric gadgets for his model trains, he realized he enjoyed the electronics more than the trains themselves. His family had been familiar with computers since he was a child — his parents had met while working with very early computers themselves. When he was at Oxford University, he eventually pursued a degree in physics because he “thought that science might be more practical than maths, halfway between math and electronics,” in his own words.
After Oxford, Berners-Lee went on to work in the largest physics lab in the world, CERN, in Switzerland. At the time, much of the machinery (including computers) was completely segmented. There was no central hub of all of the research, communication, nor information within the organization of thousands of scientists. Each computer only had access to the information that was recorded or executed on that specific machine, requiring scientists to compile information via note-taking, workstation-specific programming, or simply asking a colleague for the information they needed. In a large-scale organization, this is undoubtedly frustrating and time-consuming. To meet the demand for fast, accurate collaboration, Berners-Lee created several separate programs that could take information from one system and insert it into another. Eventually, he was able to use his programs universally and share every information system within their lab via HyperText Transfer Protocol, or “HTTP,” on the World Wide Web, “www.”
An important distinction to make here is “the internet” versus the “World Wide Web.” As Berners-Lee has actively clarified, he did not invent the internet. While pop culture may use these terms interchangeably, or instead use the term “the internet” to refer to all websites these days, Berners-Lee himself makes the distinction:
“When I was doing the WWW, most of the bits I needed were already done. Vint Cerf and people he worked with had figured out the Internet Protocol, and also the Transmission Control Protocol. Paul Mockapetris and friends had figured out the Domain Name System… I just had to take the hypertext idea and connect it to the TCP and DNS ideas and — ta-da! — the World Wide Web.”
While there is a distinct line in the sand as far as what can be accredited to Tim Berners-Lee, that does not dampen the significance of his inventions. In 1989 the world’s first website was published for use at CERN, via the first internet browser he invented, and on April 30, 1993, it was shared in the public domain at no cost. A restored version of this website can be found at info.chern.ch, where users can see first-hand the information, explanations, and a practical step-by-step guide of how to create websites of their own for free. It was this invention that caught the attention of our President and Founder of Tetra Defense, Cindy Murphy:
I first became aware of Timothy Berners-Lee around Christmas time in the early 1990’s when I visited my parents with my daughter who was then a toddler. My dad, then a professor at the University of Iowa, was playing around with HTTP and we created a simple children’s book together with hyperlinks that linked from words within a document file to pictures, and back again. Dad told me about Berners-Lee’s work to create information-sharing networks for scientists from universities around the world. He told me that the “world wide web” would soon revolutionize the world, and it most certainly has.
As of today, it’s clear the web was able to flourish due to its accessibility of information, and the full impact of the World Wide Web has yet to be felt.
Always Looking Forward
The vision Tim Berners-Lee had for an accessible, safe, and privacy-focused Web has not faded since the creation and free distribution of his World Wide Web (W3) project. After numerous awards and career achievements like Time’s 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, Internet Hall of Fame, and even the A.M. Turing Award, Berners-Lee only continues to advocate for the quality, safety, and best practices of the web.
Despite inventing the World Wide Web, and subsequently sharing his invention for free, Tim Berners-Lee has been one of its biggest critics and hopes to offer solutions to many privacy and accessibility issues we see today. Just last year, he led an initiative called the “Contract for the Web” to provide ethical guidelines to governments, companies, and individual citizens who interact with his invention (aka, nearly everyone with access to the internet). Several principals he includes are:
- Ensuring everyone can connect to the internet, at all times, with respect to fundamental privacy rights
- Make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone, without an exchange of personal data as a fee
- Build strong communities that promote civil discourse and humanity on the Web
We recognize Tim Berners-Lee for not only his revolutionary inventions, but his philanthropic spirit and vision for the future of an ethical World Wide Web. We at Tetra admire the responsibility he’s taken on of staying aware of the modern problems and raising an active voice to correct them collaboratively. The spirit of sharing information at no cost, advocating for safety whenever possible, and continuously striving to improve is what makes Tim Berners-Lee one of our heroes, and one of our Founding Figures. As he states in his newest initiative, “It took all of us to build the Web we have. It will take all of us to secure its future.”