Tim Berners-Lee worked at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).
The internet was about 20 years old and connected many computers. However, once connected between computers, users searched for the material, an oftentimes odious task. Furthermore, many computers required logins.
Think of the pre-web internet as a series of libraries without central directories. Some of the libraries require keys whereas others are open. However, once inside, information lived in countless nooks and crannies. The internet had become a digital Tower of Babel.
This lack of standards made finding and connecting disparate pieces of information difficult. A scientist could write a paper and possibly, in footnotes, describe where they found information. However, this was a time-consuming, tedious, process.
Easily linking the information together, Berners-Lee reasoned, could dramatically increase the overall value of the internet itself. Ordinary users didn’t necessarily care about the computers on the internet, he reasoned. They cared about the information and did not care where it was so long as it was easy to find.
Sir Tim invented or tuned-up several innovations into the most important invention since Guttenberg’s press.
First, he simplified a way to mark documents and the information inside documents enabling ordinary users to link them together. He described this as a “hypertext project,” eventually settling on the name HyperText Market Language, or HTML.
Second, he created a standard to link the hypertext documents together called hypertext together, the HyperText Transfer Protocol, or HTTP.
Third, he created a standardized method to connect, or link, hypertext documents, the Uniform Resource Locator, or URL.
Finally, he bundled these three technologies into one computer program that served the documents. He named the overall invention the World Wide Web, the program that serves the documents a web server. One important feature of web servers is that, when running normally, they do not require a login. When a user types a URL the web browser, unless configured with abnormally high security, simply accepts the request and automatically delivers the information.
Finally, he created a software program to view and navigate the hypertext documents, calling it a “browser.”
The entire program, a World Wide Web of one computer, ran on his NEXT computer. NEXT is the company founded by Steve Jobs after John Sculley fired him from Apple.
The Web Goes to the World
Realizing that for his network to be effective it needed many nodes he turned to open-source and allowed anybody to download and use web browsers. Berners-Lee web exploded in popularity almost overnight as scientists around the globe went to attach their own web servers making not only scientific papers but all manner of documents accessible.
“Tim’s not after the money,” said a CERN colleague Robert Cailliau. “He accepts a much wider range of hotel-room facilities than a CEO would.”
Berners-Lee has won a plethora of prizes for his innovation including a knighthood. Berners-Lee is financially comfortable, thanks in large part fellowships, speaking engagements, and consulting work, though countless others reaped trillions of dollars from his work.