In honor of National Inventor’s Month, we’re continuing our inventor-focused series with a spotlight on the great Sir Tim Berners-Lee. While some people may not have heard of him before, you’ve definitely used his most famous invention. It’s called the World Wide Web.
Tim Berners-Lee is an incredibly interesting individual. Not only did he choose not to profit from the World Wide Web, shaping the open-sourced culture of the Internet, but he also continues to fight against censorship and oppressive forces on the Internet today.
Simply put, Tim Berners-Lee is the real deal Holyfield. Let’s dive into his story and learn about the origins of the World Wide Web.
Tim Berners-Lee was born in England in 1955. After finishing high school, he attended Oxford University where he studied and graduated with a degree in physics.
After completing his university studies, he started working as an independent consultant. He worked for many companies with CERN being the most notable. During his time at CERN, where he worked as a consultant software engineer, an important component of his duty was communicating information to researchers all around the globe. This was no easy task back in the 80’s. That’s why Tim Berners-Lee invented a system that could share hypertext documents via the Internet. This system, called ENQUIRE, would play a crucial role in Tim Berners-Lee's invention of the World Wide Web.
After his time as a consultant at CERN, Berners-Lee worked for John Poole’s Image Computer Systems Ltd. He worked at this company for three years, gaining experience in many facets of computer science, which would serve him later as he developed the World Wide Web concept.
In 1984, Tim Berners-Lee received a fellowship from CERN and returned there as a full-time employee.
A few weeks ago we discussed the nature of creativity and how many inventions come about from unique combinations of pre-existing parts. Tim Berners-Lee is a great example of this type of inventor.
According to Biography Online, “The Internet had been developed since the 1960s as a way to transfer information between different computers. However, Tim Berners-Lee sought to make use of Internet nodes and combine it with hypertext and the idea of domains.
Tim Berners-Lee later said that all the technology involved in the web had already been developed – ‘hypertext’, the Internet; his contribution was to put them all together in one comprehensive package.”
Tim Berners-Lee and his associate Robert Cailliau produced the initial version of the World Wide Web in 1990. This included the first web server, browser, and editor. The first address added was “Info.cern.ch.”
Just as with Tim Berners-Lee’s ENQUIRE program, the intent of the World Wide Web was to make accessing hypertext documents easy and achievable from any computer connected to the Internet.
The main components of Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web included hypertext markup language (HTML), hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP), and uniform resource locator (URL).
Surprisingly, Tim Berners-Lee declined to patent his invention. He collected no royalties and holds no ownership. He believed that if he had patented his system, someone else would have created a free alternative. As a result, he never became super wealthy. He was notorious for driving a 13-year old Volkswagen Beatle for many years.
After launching the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee spent the immediate years spreading word of his invention and pushing for its growth and evolution.
Today he is an active proponent of freedom of information and net neutrality. He is a true dreamer.
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