Tim Berners-Lee

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Computing People

Sir Timothy John "Tim" Berners-Lee, KBE (born June 8, 1955 in London, England) is the inventor of the World Wide Web and director of the World Wide Web Consortium, which oversees its continued development. Informally, in technical circles, he is sometimes called "TimBL" or "TBL".

Background and early career

Berners-Lee was born in London, England, the son of Conway Berners-Lee and Mary Lee Woods. 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 (which has dedicated a new hall in his honour) before moving on to study his O-Levels and A-Levels at Emanuel School in Wandsworth where he learned about computer science. He is an alumnus of Queen's College (where he played tiddlywinks for Oxford, against rival Cambridge), Oxford University (which has dedicated a computer room in his honour), where he built a computer with a soldering iron, TTL gates, an M6800 processor and an old television. While at Oxford, he was caught hacking with a friend and was subsequently banned from using the university computer.

He was employed at Plessey Controls Limited (in Poole whose main business is traffic lights) in 1976 as a programmer. He met his first wife Jane while at Oxford and they married soon after they started work in Poole. 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.

World Wide Web

This NeXTcube was used by Berners-Lee at CERN and became the first Web server.
This NeXTcube was used by Berners-Lee at CERN and became the first Web server.

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 to work at John Poole's Image Computer Systems Ltd., he returned 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 TCP and DNS ideas and — ta-da! — the World Wide Web." . He wrote his initial proposal in March of 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 http://info.cern.ch/ and was first put online on August 6, 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 willing to create standards and recommendations to improve the quality of the Web. In December 2004 he accepted a chair in Computer Science at the School of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton, UK, where he will be working on his new project — the Semantic 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.

Weaving the Web

In Berners-Lee's book Weaving the Web, several recurring themes are apparent:

  • It is just as important to be able to edit the Web as browse it. ( Wiki is a step in this direction, although Berners-Lee considers it merely a shadow of the WYSIWYG functionality of his first browser.)
  • Computers can be used for background tasks that enable humans to work better in groups.
  • Every aspect of the Internet should function as a Web, rather than a hierarchy. Notable current exceptions are the Domain Name System and the domain naming rules managed by ICANN.
  • Computer scientists have a moral responsibility as well as a technical responsibility.


  • The University of Southampton was the first to recognise Berners-Lee's contribution to developing the World Wide Web with an honorary degree in 1996 and he currently holds a Chair of Computer Science in the School of Electronics and Computer Science. He was the first holder of the 3Com Founders Chair at MIT, and is also now a Senior Research Scientist there. He is a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society, an Honorary Fellow of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
  • In 1997 he was made an Officer in the Order of the British Empire, became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2001, and received the Japan Prize in 2002. In 2002 he received the Principe de Asturias award in the category of Scientific and Technical Research. He shared the prize with Lawrence Roberts, Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf. Also in 2002, the British public named him among the 100 Greatest Britons of all time, according to a BBC poll spanning the entire history of the nation.
  • On April 15, 2004 he was named as the first recipient of Finland's Millennium Technology Prize for inventing the World Wide Web. The cash prize, worth one million euros (about £663,000 or USD$1.2 million), was awarded on June 15, in Helsinki, Finland by President of the Republic of Finland, Tarja Halonen.
  • He was given the rank of Knight Commander (the second-highest rank in the Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth II as part of the New Year's Honours on July 16, 2004.
  • On July 21, 2004 he was presented with the degree of Doctor of Science ( honoris causa) from Lancaster University.
  • On January 27, 2005 he was named Greatest Briton of 2004 for his achievements as well as displaying the key English characteristics of "diffidence, determination, a sharp sense of humour and adaptability" as put by David Hempleman-Adams, a panel member. Time Magazine included Berners-Lee in its list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, published in 1999.


  • 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.

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