If you’re like Meredith Vieira, you’ve never heard of Sir Tim Berners-Lee. In fact, given the contributions he’s made to daily life, he’s fairly unknown. Dr. Berners-Lee is in that rare group that includes Edison, Tesla, Franklin, Marconi and others… those who invented something that radically changed life for everyone.
In fact, many people from “average joes” to scientific scions call the World Wide Web the most important invention in history. Not just the most important invention in the last 20 years, but the most important invention in history. More important than the wheel? More important than the movable-type printing press? More important than democracy? Some think so.
In 1989, what we now call the Internet had evolved from a research project between the US Government and universities into a global network for science. Most of the basics were in place already: e-mail, the network protocols, internet addressing… but it was still an exclusive club where scientists played in relative obscurity. The reason: it was hard to use and expensive.
At the same time, everyone was talking about the idea of hyperlinking. Today it sounds like second nature, but the idea that you could click on something and it would bring you additional information was absolutely revolutionary. In fact, Apple included a simple program called HyperCard with Macs back then. It worked great, but of course you had to type everything in before you could use it.
It was “Sir Tim” who imagined the idea of combining hyperlinking with the internet. The result was named “WorldWideWeb” and existed as one web page on one server at CERN in Europe.
Want to see it? A capture of it from 1993 exists here. (Thanks to Tim Berners-Lee, I can link to it.) The first web address is still online, too: Welcome to info.cern.ch was the first destination. To date, there are over 3.6 trillion web pages, with that number growing every day.
Dr. Berners-Lee also invented the Web Browser from which all other browsers descend, and the HTML code that makes all web pages work. Not bad considering he wasn’t even 40 yet and hadn’t even attended a movie premiere with a Hollywood hottie on his arm.
If Dr. Berners-Lee had done nothing else with his life but invent the single most popular communication method of all time, he could certainly been forgiven. However, he has spent the last twenty years advocating for the idea that his creation should be free and neutral, that it should be controlled by no country or no company. And, of course, he took a few minutes out of his life to star in the Olympics’ opening ceremonies, where apparently more people recognized Voldemort and Mary Poppins.
If you want to learn more about Sir Tim Berners-Lee, there’s no better place to start than the online encylopedia that would be utterly impossible without his help: Wikipedia.