Editor’s note: Paul Jones is the Director of ibiblio.org, a project that includes the Site Formerly Known as MetaLab and SunSITE, The Public’s Library.It is better to give than to receive, but in the case of Tim Berners-Lee, who has given so much to all of us by creating the World Wide Web and fighting to keep it free, it is time for the joy of getting.
Berners-Lee receivec 1 million euro (approx 1.23 million US$) as part
of the world’s largest technology prize, the first Millennium Technology Prize from the Finnish Technology Award Foundation, this week. While the award, the largest of its kind, is for Berners-Lee’s invention of the Web, it is his gift for organizing and managing a free and open project with completely open protocols that has made the Web more than some elegant lines of computer coding.
Back in 1991 when Berners-Lee’s presentation for the Hypertext conference in San Antonio was accepted as a poster/demo session – but not as a paper – one Computer Scientist told me, “That project could have been done in about three days by any of my students; it’s jus too simple.” The simplicity of the Web has allowed it to be extended in the broadest possible manner, to include all kinds of media and all kind of ideas. That simplicity also allowed many programmers to get their collective minds and coding fingers into the process. That simplicity let the Web spread across the wide world.
But the complex part of the Web was and in many ways still remains, the excellent and visionary project management led by Berners-Lee. From the start, Berners-Lee envisioned a highly interoperable environment in which many creators might participate. And participate they did. Undergrads working at the National Center of Supercomputing Applications developed Mosaic. A diverse group of programmers, who were discontent with the rate that patches were applied to the WWW servers, created their own patched up server called Apache. Even today, the open protocols of the Web allow interaction between software developed by volunteer efforts, like Mozilla, and proprietary software like Internet Explorer.
The Berners-Lee led World Wide Web Consortium ( http://www.w3c.org/ )keeps the process and the dream of interoperability alive and keeps it growing.
Much more than the code for the WWW, the protocols and specifications and guidelines from W3C have directed the future of the Web. Words you have heard and seen if now used from Semantic Web to Style Sheets, from Uniform Resource Identifiers (URI) to Portable Network Graphics (PNG) have come from the W3C.
We would have had a very different future had Berners-Lee and CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research http://cern.ch), his employer during the creation of the first Web software decided that hold the product, software and concept closely. Think of the lack of
interoperability of the old systems like Genie, Compuserve and AOL and magnify that or even worse imagine that the Web never took off at all.
How many of us would still be wondering where our UPS packages are, wondering what unique hotels there are in Elko Nevada, wondering what the weather is like in Sri Lanka? Thanks to Berners-Lee and his efforts to keep the Web open to private and personal uses, to commercial and educational and most importantly research uses.
Berners-Lee has been a valiant crusader for standards and for openness. In software, as in democratic government, openness goes a long way. We all benefit for openness in ways we could not individually imagine. I hope to see Tim Berners-Lee awarded another prize for his efforts beyond code as well. He deserves that and more.
To be introduced to the W3C, see:www.w3c.org/2002/03/new-to-w3c
For Finnish Technology Awards information, see:
For a copy of Tim Berners-Lee’s Demonstration WWW page shown at
Hypertext 91, see: www.ibiblio.org/pjones/old.page.html
Although often mistaken for other unreconstructed relics of the failed social policies of the Sixties, Paul Jones is the Director of ibiblio.org, a project that includes the Site Formerly Known as MetaLab and SunSITE, The Public’s Library — a large contributor-run digital library. Besides speaking at several conferences world-wide, Paul teaches on the faculties of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the School of Information and Library Science. He can be found many places on the Internet. He was the original manager of SunSITE.unc.edu, one of the first WWW sites in North America and is co-author of The Web Server Book (Ventana, 1995) (rereleased as The Unix Web Server Book, Second Edition Ventana, 1997).
Jones is author of recent articles on digital libraries in Communications of the ACM in May 2001 and February 2002. Jones has an additional on-going research interest in Open Source and Sharing Communities and Information policy issues as well as being an actively publishing poet. Paul is the editor of the Internet Poetry Archives, published with UNC Press.
Paul is a founding board member of the American Open Technology Consortium, a member of the Board of Trustees of Chapel Hill Public Library, and a board member of the Linux Documentation Project. But he is most pleased to have been admitted into the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists and to have been selected in April 2003 as Best Geek in the Research Triangle by the Independent Weekly.