Tim Berners-Lee

Inventor of the World Wide Web
Tim Berners-Lee


Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web—the part of the internet that makes websites and web browsers work. Without the World Wide Web (WWW), you wouldn’t have a browser to read this webpage on. Not that it would matter, because without the WWW, this webpage wouldn’t exist for you to browse to.
Tim Berners-Lee Overview ‧ read
Tim Berners-Lee: A Magna Carta for the web
So although Berners-Lee didn’t invent the internet, he did invent arguably the most useful part of it. That’s why he’s one of the most important figures in internet history.

So who is Tim Berners-Lee, how did he come to invent the Web, and what’s he doing now? Here’s our biography, with all the answers.

Tim Berners-Lee’s early life

Let’s start at the beginning. Tim Berners-Lee came from a computing family. His parents, Mary Lee Woods and Conway Berners-Lee, both helped to design the Ferranti Mark I computer, which was installed at the University of Manchester in 1951. The Ferranti Mark 1 was the world’s first commercial computer.

Tim Berners-Lee was born in London, England in 1955. He liked trainspotting, and learned about electronics by playing with model railways. Later he studied at the world-renowned Queen’s College, Oxford University. Berners-Lee graduated with a first class degree in physics.

At university, he followed in his parents’ footsteps by building his own computer “using a soldering iron and an old television set.”

‘Enquire’: Berners-Lee’s 1980 hypertext experiment

Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web while working at CERN , the European Organization for Nuclear Research. He worked there twice. In 1980, Berners-Lee was working as a consultant at CERN and had to “master its labyrinthine information system” in only six months. But by his own account , Berners-Lee has a bad memory. His brain is bad at making “random connections” and he’s “certainly terrible at names and faces.” So he wrote a program called Enquire to act as his own “personal memory substitute.”

Enquire used hypertext to link phrases in one document to other, related documents. It was similar to how web page links work today. Berners-Lee didn’t invent hypertext - the idea had been around since the 1940s. But in 1980, hypertext systems relied on a centralized database to work. Berners-Lee would go on to change that.

Why Sir Tim invented the World Wide Web

In 1989, Berners-Lee went back to CERN. And again, he was finding it difficult to organize all the different kinds of information at the multinational organization. It was also difficult to collaborate with staff in other countries. “The other projects I was doing were done by volunteers all over the world,said Berners-Lee . “I wanted to be able to have it as a very collaborative play space.”

So Berners-Lee submitted a proposal to CERN to “develop a radical new way of linking and sharing information over the internet.” That proposal document, called “Information Management: A Proposal,” outlined the structure for the Web.

Berners-Lee developed three important new systems to make the new Web work. Hypertext markup language (HTML) was the coding language for Web pages, which allowed content creators to format articles and add hyperlinks and media. Hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) was the system for retrieving documents. And universal resource locators (URLs) made web addresses like www.website.com possible.

These three systems, devised by Tim Berners-Lee, are still the bedrock of the World Wide Web today.

The world’s first website

Thankfully for the whole world, CERN accepted Berners-Lee’s proposal. They gave the go-ahead to develop the World Wide Web. And in 1990, Berners-Lee and CERN launched the world’s first website.

You can still see it at http://info.cern.ch . It’s a little plain by today’s standards, but it’s a good place to learn more about how the Web was created.

Making the web better at the W3c

You know what happened next: The World Wide Web took off in a big way. There can be no doubt that it changed our lives forever. The Web’s impact has been arguably as big as the invention of the printing press, or television.

You might think that Tim Berners-Lee went on to be be a millionaire, like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. But he didn’t. Instead, Berners-Lee has continued to devote his life to making sure our World Wide Web stays free and open.

In 1994 Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) . W3C is an international community that develops Web standards to make them better. HTML and HTTP have changed a lot since Berners-Lee invented them, but he’s still guiding their evolution.

Protecting the freedom of the web

As director of the W3C, Berners-Lee is also vocal about protecting the Web against corporations that want to control it and make it less open. “The Web evolved into a powerful, ubiquitous tool because it was built on egalitarian principles,” says Berners-Lee . In other words, if the Web would never have taken off it wasn’t open for everyone to use - so we should keep it that way.

Berners-Lee spoke out about the importance of online privacy in 2013, after NSA surveillance revelations.
“Increased monitoring powers is something which is a red flag... this discussion is a global one, it’s a big one, it’s something that people are very engaged with, they think it’s very important, and they’re right, because it is very important for democracy.”
He has also publicly supported net neutrality. “There’s this huge corporate pushback,” he said in 2014 at the time of the Battle for the Net. “We've got to use this year to get to a peak of understanding, public awareness and not taking it for granted.”

Arise, Sir Tim Berners-Lee

In 2003, Tim Berners-Lee received a knighthood from the Queen of England. That means as well as being called “Sir Tim,” he’s also recognized as an “inspirational and significant” person.

We couldn’t agree more. Maybe the internet would still be around without Tim Berners-Lee. But it wouldn’t be as interesting, as accessible, as colourful or as diverse. The World Wide Web has made lots of the most exciting things on the internet possible. And we have one man to thank for it.

Thank you from everyone, Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

Featured image: “Tim Berners-Lee” by ITU Pictures is lice