The names of inventors are always well remembered. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. Steve Jobs invented the iPhone. Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. Issac Newton is often credited with inventing gravity, although that makes no sense. Yet arguably the greatest invention the world has ever seen, since the printing press, is the world wide web and the average person has no idea who invented it. That man’s name is Tim Berners-Lee and he deserves to be remembered.
Tim Berners-Lee was born in 1955 and was a standout academic in the area of physics. In 1980 he started to work at CERN in Switzerland which is the European Organization for Nuclear Research, the leading physics organization in Europe. Here he needed to share information with colleagues regularly and the only way to do it was by using physical transport methods, by moving computers or using floppy disks. Berners-Lee decided there was a better way to do it, using hypertext.
Hypertext had been invented as early as 1965 by a man named Ted Nelson. Some people would argue that Berners-Lee does not have fame because the internet was an incremental invention that took place. That may be true but the idea of the world wide web is certainly owned by Berners-Lee. No one takes credit off Steve Jobs even though they didn’t invent the first MP3 players or mobile phone.
To create the world wide web Berners-Lee came up with some very clever ideas. He created what we now call a URL, a unique system that could be used worldwide and allowed for the identification of webpages. The system needed a language and Berners-Lee created HTML, still in use today. It also needed a way to put them on a server and so Berners-Lee created HTTP, the hypertext transfer protocol. These three things are the essential building blocks of the web and one man created them, this man deserves a lot of credit (and probably a fortune).
After the first webpage was built it didn’t take long for demand to explode. Starting in 1991 it had nearly 3,000 webpages by just 1994, Amazon and Yahoo were some of the first. Today there are likely billions of these webpages. Amazingly, Berners-Lee never patented his idea and never made any money from these inventions. He said that he felt they would benefit mankind a great deal and was happy for them to be open to the world. Generous but perhaps a little silly. There is no doubt if he had patented it he would be a billionaire today and likely a household name.
Still, the man has not ended his life in poverty, he is currently worth around $50 million. When the World Wide Web started to take off he became Director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). He is also on a number of boards and it still a professor, so he is kept busy.
The invention that Berners-Lee created can not be understated and probably only falls short of inventing gravity (but there is no man that we can credit for that). The web has allowed rapid communication between the world and the accelerated development of our species. Indeed if anything is to prolong the length of time our species is on this planet it may be this single invention. It has created a place for brilliant minds to share their ideas, for information to be shared with the world and for cat videos to be laughed at by everyone.
Tim Berners-Lee is a name that should be honored more and should be held in high esteem. His incredible work has provided us with the life we all choose to live today.