“I’ve had lots of projects,” Tim Berners-Lee remarked at the start of his keynote speech at the Every Second Counts forum. “The World Wide Web was a pretty successful one.” And while Tim is certainly known primarily for that world-changing invention, he went on to demonstrate that he is still at the forefront of modern issues in technology, especially relating to the hot-button subject of data, and its ethical use.
“Data is being produced using taxpayers’ money, so it should be open,” he told journalist Samira Ahmed, recalling how he proposed that then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown make data available on the web. In doing so, he became the first person to make that recommendation to government, and in 2012, he was named President of the non-profit organisation The Open Data Institute, which now exists as a free resource for governments, entrepreneurs and consumers alike.
The internet belongs to all of us
In that pre-historic time “before clicking and stuff” known as 1989, Tim was given free rein by CERN to work on his idea of connecting hypertext to the internet. “Some companies nowadays will give you 20% time,” he says, nodding to tech giants like Google. “I was given 100% time.”
There were crucial points when the World Wide Web could have faltered. At one time, rival Gofer’s traffic was going up month by month, while the WWW was trailing behind – but that changed drastically after private developers using Gofer were told “this technology is not royalty free.” For Tim, that was madness; the web would only work as an open tool, available to anyone.
“I viewed it not as inter-active, but inter-creative,” he explains. “I wanted people to be able to create hypertext web pages to share their ideas… You don’t have to come to me to ask permission to build a new website, it’s just there.”
When Samira Ahmed commented that the internet has generated a culture where we can get things for free and therefore resent paying, Berners-Lee responded that while people might not want to pay in the traditional sense, they will gladly donate to a Kickstarter campaign, as they are no longer content to put their money into an old-fashioned system – they want the money to go to the makers.
It is Tim’s hope that this entrepreneurial, DIY mind-set and enthusiasm for new business models will inspire more people to look at their own computers with fresh eyes. “When you buy a laptop now, you open it up and it’s like a fridge,” he says of many consumers’ perception of technology as a product, rather than a canvas. “When in fact, what you can do with computers is only limited by the imagination of the programmer.”