Sir Tim Berners-Lee on the Web (past, present and future)

sir-tim-berners-lee.jpg What if you weren’t using the Web to read this blog post? What if you were using the Mesh? That’s not as outlandish as it might sound: the father of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, considered calling his invention ‘the Mesh’ and only ruled the name out because it “sounds like a bit of a mess”.

That’s something I found out last night when I attended a talk by Sir Tim at the Science Museum, here in London. The talk was part of the museum’s centenary celebrations – and it’s birthday cake all round because while the Science Museum is 100, the Internet has recently turned 40. The Mesh Web, meanwhile, is not quite out of its teens.

Some other snippets from the talk:

  • According to Sir Tim, there are 1×1011 Web pages in existence – “but I didn’t count them”, he promises. It’s no surprise, then, that “technical properties that make it scale” are so important to the Web.

  • “The value-add of the Web is serendipitous reuse” – and to that end, it should be a place “where information can go no matter what its status”.
  • Sir Tim on the early days of the Web: “What I look back on is the fun that it was, the spirit that everybody had.” So is this spirit – of creative collaboration – intrinsic to the Web? No, says Sir Tim: after all, “the Web is a reflection of humanity”. That means the bad as well as the good.
  • What about the question of paid-for content on the Web? As a journalist, I was particularly interested in the answer to this one. Sir Tim recognises that “the content industry is going through a huge change” and he has identified a “crying need for professional, high-quality, edited information”. The real challenge, he believes, is making sure that people can find it. Perhaps the solution is to mark up information as ‘written by a professional’, ‘an eye-witness report’, ‘not Photoshopped’ – or whatever the case may be.
  • And so to the future. As well as his work with the World Wide Web Foundation, Sir Tim hopes to use the Web to create a “Domesday Book snapshot of the environmental state of the planet” which can then act a baseline to track change. And he made a final plea to the audience: “If you have any environmental data, stick it on the Web. You have a duty to make it available.”

The slides from Sir Tim’s talk are available on the W3C website.

Photo courtesy of Rex Features.