Berners-Lee, Tim

born June 8, 1955, London, Eng.

British physicist.

The son of computer scientists, he graduated from Oxford University and in 1980 accepted a fellowship at CERN in Geneva. In 1989 he suggested a global hypertext project. He and his CERN colleagues created a communications protocol called HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) that standardized communication between computer servers and clients. Their text-based Web browser was released to the public in 1991, marking the beginnings of the World Wide Web and general public use of the Internet. He declined all opportunities to profit from his immensely valuable innovation. In 1994 he joined MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science as director of the World Wide Web Consortium.

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▪ 1999

      As the World Wide Web grew in social and economic significance in 1998, heated debate ensued on such related issues as censorship, monopolization, and privacy rights, and the industry looked increasingly toward hypertext pioneer Tim Berners-Lee for a vision of the electronic future. As the Web's creator, he saw it grow into an interactive, dynamic global medium where ideas were exchanged, goods and services were purchased, and virtual communities were born at a previously unimaginable pace. In 1998 the unassuming innovator was also the recipient of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grant and the Eduard Rhein Foundation prize for technology.

      Born on June 8, 1955, in London to two computer scientists, Berners-Lee became fascinated with computers at an early age. He built toy computers from cardboard and later constructed his first working computer from a television set and a variety of spare parts. He graduated with an honours degree in physics from Queen's College, Oxford, in 1976 and worked for several technology firms in England before being hired in 1980 as a software developer for CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, in Geneva. It was there that he struggled with the problem of integrating and exchanging information held on different computers in often widely scattered places. His solution, a program he dubbed "Enquire," incorporated the use of hypertext, a system that links documents from different sources, forming an electronic path that users follow to obtain related information. Although he quickly envisioned its potential, it was not until 1989 that he was able to gain support to develop the system. By the end of that year, Berners-Lee had developed software to edit and view documents and the protocol to transfer them. In 1990 his system, the World Wide Web, was made available to the CERN community. It was released to the public on the Internet in the summer of 1991. With its ability to transfer text, sound, images, and even video in a simple, straightforward manner, the World Wide Web grew from a resource used by researchers to exchange information to an international communications medium, commercial tool, and social phenomenon used by millions of people. Already a multibillion-dollar industry in 1998, the Web was expected to continue its exponential growth over the next several years.

      Although Berners-Lee could have parlayed his invention into incredible wealth—and he did receive many lucrative commercial offers—he instead became (1994) the director of the newly formed World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Laboratory for Computer Science. As the W3C director, he worked with quiet diligence to improve the Web's technological capabilities and help set the design standards for more than 275 member organizations and companies, such as IBM, Microsoft, and Netscape. As the Web continued to grow, Berners-Lee remained an advocate for its easy, inexpensive, and unrestricted use as a communications tool into the next millennium.

CHRISTOPHER CALL

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Universalium. 2010.

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