Tim Berners-Lee

Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee OM KBE FRS FREng FRSA (born 8 June 1955) is an English computer scientist, who is credited with inventing the World Wide Web. On 25 December 1990 he implemented the first successful communication between an [] client and server via the Internet with the help of Robert Cailliau and a young student staff at CERN. He was ranked Joint First alongside Albert Hofmann in The Telegraph's list of 100 greatest living geniuses. Berners-Lee is the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which oversees the Web's continued development, the founder of the World Wide Web Foundation and he is a senior researcher and holder of the 3Com Founders Chair at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).


Background and early career

His parents, both mathematicians, were employed together on the team that built the Manchester Mark I, one of the earliest computers. They taught Berners-Lee to use mathematics everywhere, even at the dinner table. Berners-Lee attended Sheen Mount Primary School, before moving on to study his O-Levels and A-Levels at Emanuel School in Battersea, where a computer centre is dedicated in his name.

He is alumnus of The Queen's College, Oxford. While at Queen's, Berners-Lee built a computer with a soldering iron, TTL gates, an M6800 processor and an old television. During his time at university, he was caught hacking with a friend and was subsequently banned from using the university computer. He graduated in 1976 with a degree in physics.

He met his first wife Jane while at Oxford and they married soon after they started work in Poole. After graduation, Berners-Lee was employed at Plessey Controls Limited in Poole as a programmer. Jane also worked at Plessey Telecommunications Limited in Poole. In 1978, he worked at D.G. Nash Limited (also in Poole) where he wrote typesetting software and an operating system.

Inventing the World Wide Web

While an independent contractor at CERN from June to December 1980, Berners-Lee proposed a project based on the concept of hypertext, to facilitate sharing and updating information among researchers. While there, he built a prototype system named ENQUIRE. After leaving CERN, in 1980, he went to work at John Poole's Image Computer Systems Ltd in Bournemouth but returned to CERN in 1984 as a fellow. In 1989, CERN was the largest Internet node in Europe, and Berners-Lee saw an opportunity to join hypertext with the Internet: "I just had to take the hypertext idea and connect it to the Transmission Control Protocol and domain name system ideas and — ta-da! — the World Wide Web. He wrote his initial proposal in March 1989, and in 1990, with the help of Robert Cailliau, produced a revision which was accepted by his manager, Mike Sendall. He used similar ideas to those underlying the Enquire system to create the World Wide Web, for which he designed and built the first web browser and editor (called WorldWideWeb and developed on NeXTSTEP) and the first Web server called httpd (short for HyperText Transfer Protocol daemon).

The first Web site built was at CERN and was first put online on 6 August 1991. It provided an explanation about what the World Wide Web was, how one could own a browser and how to set up a Web server. It was also the world's first Web directory, since Berners-Lee maintained a list of other Web sites apart from his own.

In 1994, Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It comprised various companies that were willing to create standards and recommendations to improve the quality of the Web. Berners-Lee made his idea available freely, with no patent and no royalties due. The World Wide Web Consortium decided that their standards must be based on royalty-free technology, so they can be easily adopted by anyone.


1976 A Physics graduate of The Queen's College, Oxford University, UK. Principal engineer with PlesseyTelecommunications in PooleFounding.
1980 First hypertext system called "Enquire"
1981-1984 Director of ImageComputer Systems
1989 Started at CERN, Geneva Switzerland and writes his "www proposal"
1990 Invents World Wide Web server and client software for NeXTStep.
1995 Received a "Kilby Young Innovator" award by the The Kilby Awards Foundation and was a co-recipient of the ACM Software Systems Award.
July, 1996 Was awarded a Distinguished Fellowship of the British Computer Society
Currently The Director of the W3C and also a Principal Research Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Laboratory for Computer Science (MIT LCS). A director of The Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI) , and a member of the advisory board of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence

Current Life

In 2001, he became a patron of the East Dorset Heritage Trust having previously lived in Colehill in Wimborne, East Dorset, UK.

In December 2004 he accepted a chair in Computer Science at the School of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton, UK, to work on his new project — the Semantic Web.

Berners-Lee believes the future of Semantic Web holds immense potential for how machines will collaborate in the coming days. In an interview with an Indian publication, he shared his views as:

"It is evolving at the moment. The data Web is in small stages, but it is a reality, for instance there is a Web of data about all kinds of things, like there is a Web of data about proteins, it is in very early stages. When it comes to publicly accessible data, there is an explosion of data Web in the life sciences community. When you look about data for proteins and genes, and cell biology and biological pathways, lots of companies are very excited. We have a healthcare and life sciences interest group at the Consortium, which is coordinating lot of interest out there."

He has also become one of the pioneer voices in favour of Net Neutrality..

He feels that ISPs should not intercept customers' browsing activities, the way companies like Phorm do. He has such strong views about this that he would change ISPs to get away from such activities.

Criticising Domain Extensions

In the past, Sir Tim Berners-Lee has vehemently opposed the addition of new tier domain names like ‘.xxx’ and ‘.mobi’. In fact, when the ‘.mobi’ came into existence, he was the biggest dissenter. He argues that every one should be able to access the same web, irrespective of whether it is from a computer or a mobile phone.
"We have spoken about the mobile Web and how different people would be accessing the Web at different times and on different devices, a very great diversity. You have a screen with 3 million pixels one moment and would have a 3 inch screen the next moment. But it is important that if I refer to something like a train timetable for example and if I bookmark it using my phone, I can view it on my computer screen. Hence, it very important that the same URI works on different devices.

The problem with .mobi, I didn’t want to have a domain that limited accessibility from certain devices, small devices in this regard. Then this would mean that, there would be a different URI for the computer and mobile devices. I fail to understand the need for it. The important thing is that the same URI should work, I don’t want to keep track of two URI for same thing, and I do not want to keep two bookmarks of same thing, depending on whether I am using my computer or my mobile device. It is very pragmatical engineering reason.

The engineering of the Web depends on you have a general one URI for something and wherever you use it, it works, irrespective of the software or the hardware you are using. That is part of the universitality of the Web. I think the consortium behind .mobi have the best intention because they are trying to -- and we are working closely with them -- see a lot of content available from mobile devices. But architecturally I feel that .mobi is a gimmick, the same URI should work very well on different devices."

There has also been an ongoing tussle between different government bodies and ICANN on the ownership of the domain names, especially ".com". Berners-Lee supports the contention that no body should own the domain names, as they constitute a public resource.

"The roots of the domain names should not be owned, it is a public domain resource and it should be managed very carefully for the people of the world. There is a lot of management that has to be done for the domain names and it has to be done carefully. As you know I am not in favor of creating just top-level domain left, right and center. I think the Internet can happily survive for the next ten years without the need of a new top-level domain. I think most of the time people are doing this not because they think it will help the society but because they can own a whole lot of Internet real estate. For instance I don’t think that the .info domain has really helped as very much, people still feel they should get a .com and it only adds to the confusion if different companies have the .com, .biz and so on. And there isn’t very clear definition what each domain is for."

In an interview, he hinted that an international body like the UN could do the governance of the domain names.

"I think that the top level domains, it is very important, are run fairly internationally with a fair representation of businesses and consumers worldwide, not just the companies that run the Internet. I think that whenever you have something that represents the whole world, like the United Nations, it becomes bureaucratic and it becomes slow, because it takes a long time to take into account everybody’s point of view. So we should be prepared to put up with some bureaucracy."

Berners-Lee also dismissed the whole controversy saying that the domain names are not as critical as the standard setting process is.

"We don’t need a domain name system in which you could very very quickly get a new domain name. Domain names are not the most critical part for the functioning of the Web. The Web depends on the development of standards, I think we should put our energy into creating new standards, bringing new technologies, like open standards for video encoding, open standards for data communication, putting scientific and clinical data out there on the Web, to spread that sort of information between countries. I think that sort of thing is very important, that’s where our energy should be spent."

Personal life

Berners-Lee currently lives in Lexington, Massachusetts (USA) with his wife, Nancy, and two children, Alice and Ben.

He left the Church of England, a religion in which he had been brought up, as a teenager just after being confirmed because he could not "believe in all kinds of unbelievable things." He and his family eventually found a Unitarian Universalist church while they were living in Boston.


Millennium Technology Prize laureate
Tim Berners-Lee
Millennium Technology Prize
Year awarded: 2004
Invention: World Wide Web
Prize presented by: Tarja Halonen
Previous laureate:
Following laureate: Shuji Nakamura


  • Berners-Lee, Tim; Mark Fischetti (1999). Weaving the Web: Origins and Future of the World Wide Web. Britain: Orion Business. ISBN 0-7528-2090-7.

See also



External links

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