Web creator Berners-Lee knighted

Tim Berners-Lee, who combined HTML with URLs and came up with the World Wide Web, becomes a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

3 min read
Tim Berners-Lee, who combined HTML with URLs and came up with the World Wide Web, has been knighted.

Sir Tim said the honor, announced Tuesday by Buckingham Palace as part of the New Year honours list, is an acknowledgement that the Net is becoming globally powerful and isn't just a passing trend.

"By recognizing the Web in such a significant way, it also makes clear the responsibility its creators and users share," said Berners-Lee, who serves as director of the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, a key Internet standards group. "Information technology changes the world, and as a result, its practitioners cannot be disconnected from its technical and societal impacts. Rather, we share a responsibility to make this work for the common good and to take into account the diverse populations it serves."

Berners-Lee came up with the idea of what he called "global hypertext space" while working at the European Particle Physics Laboratory at CERN in 1989. Until then, hypertext was used to mark up documents but contained no notion of linking to documents on other computers. Berners-Lee's innovation was to develop a Universal Document Identifier (UDI), later to become known as a Universal Resource Locator (URL). URLs are now commonly referred to as Web addresses and appear in a browser's address bar.

The closest thing at the time to what was to become HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) and HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) was Apple's Hypercard program--what former Apple CEO John Sculley recently said was one of Apple's biggest missed opportunities.

"We weren't insightful enough to recognize that what we had inside of Hypercard, essentially, was everything that later was developed so successfully by Tim Berners-Lee with HTTP and HTML," Sculley told CNET News.com in October, but "we could never figure out exactly what it was. We thought it was a prototyping tool. We thought it was a database tool. It was actually used by people as a front-end communications device for TCP/IP to connect the Internet to large Cray computers."

While Apple fumbled, over at CERN, Berners-Lee wrote a program called WorlDwidEweb, a point-and-click hypertext editor that ran on the NeXT machine--which, ironically, was developed by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

"This, together with the first Web server, I released to the High Energy Physics community at first, and to the hypertext and NeXT communities in the summer of 1991," Berners-Lee wrote in his short history of the Web, hosted on the pages of the W3C. On that first Web server, Berners-Lee published the specifications of UDIs, HTML and HTTP, to promote wide adoption and discussion.

"The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information," wrote Berners-Lee. "Its universality is essential: The fact that a hypertext link can point to anything; be it personal, local or global, be it draft or highly polished."

But there was a second part of the dream, too, Berners-Lee said, and this was dependent on the Web being so generally used "that it became a realistic mirror (or in fact the primary embodiment) of the ways in which we work and play and socialize." Once the state of our interactions was online, Berners-Lee said, we could then use computers to help us analyze it, and help us make sense of what we are doing, where we individually fit in, and how we can better work together.

ZDNet UK's Matt Loney reported from London.