Tim Berners-Lee

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Computing People

Timothy Berners-Lee

Tim Berners-Lee on November 18, 2005.
Born Timothy Berners-Lee
June 8, 1955 (1955-06-08)
London, England
Residence Lexington, Massachusetts, USA
Other names Tim
Education Queen's College, Oxford
Occupation Computer Scientist
Employers World Wide Web Consortium and University of Southampton
Title Senior Researcher
Known for Inventing the World Wide Web
Religious beliefs Unitarian Universalism
Spouse Nancy Carlson (remarried)
Children 2
Parents Conway Berners-Lee and Mary Lee Woods
Tim Berners-Lee
Holder of the 3Com Founders Chair at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee OM KBE FRS FREng FRSA (born June 8, 1955) is an English developer who invented the World Wide Web in March 1989. With the help of Mike Sendall, Robert Cailliau, and a young student staff at CERN, he implemented his invention in 1990, with the first successful communication between a client and server via the Internet on December 25, 1990. He is also the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (which oversees its continued development), and a senior researcher and holder of the 3Com Founders Chair at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).


Background and early career

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.

He is an alumnus of The Queen's College, Oxford where he played table tennis for Oxford, against rival Cambridge. While at Queen's, Berners-Lee built a computer with a soldering iron, TTL gates, an M6800 processor and an old television. During his time at university, he was caught hacking with a friend and was subsequently banned from using the university computer. He graduated in 1976 with a degree in physics.

He met his first wife Jane while at Oxford and they married soon after they started work in Poole. After graduation, Berners-Lee was employed at Plessey Controls Limited in Poole as a programmer. 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.

Inventing the 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, he went to work at John Poole's Image Computer Systems Ltd., but he returned to CERN 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 CERN and was first put online on 6 August 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 that were willing to create standards and recommendations to improve the quality of the 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.

On Domain Name Controversy

In the past, Sir Tim Berners -Lee has vehemently opposed the addition of new tier domain names like ‘.xxx’ and ‘.mobi’. In fact, when the ‘.mobi’ came into existence, he was the biggest dissenter. He argues that every one should be able to access the same web, irrespective of whether it is from a computer or a mobile.

"We have spoken about the mobile Web and how different people would be accessing the Web at different times and on different devices, a very great diversity. You have a screen with 3 million pixels one moment and would have a 3 inch screen the next moment. But is important that if I refer to something like train timetable for example and if I bookmark it using my phone, I can view it on my computer screen. Hence, it very important that the same URI works on different devices. The problem with .mobi, I didn’t want to have a domain that limited accessibility from certain devices, small devices in this regard. Then this would mean that, there would be a different URI for the computer and mobile devices. I fail to understand the need for it. The important thing is that the same URI should work, I don’t want to keep track of two URI for same thing, and I do not want to keep two bookmarks of same thing, depending on whether I am using my computer or my mobile device. It is very pragmatical engineering reason. The engineering of the Web depends on you have a general one URI for something and wherever you use it, it works, irrespective of the software or the hardware you are using. That is part of the universitality of the Web. I think the consortium behind .mobi have the best intention because they are trying to -- and we are working closely with them -- see a lot of content available from mobile devices. But architecturally I feel that .mobi is a gimmick, the same URI should work very well on different devices."

There has also been an ongoing tussle between different government bodies and ICANN on the ownership of the domain names, especially ".com". Sir Tim supports the contention that any body should not own the domain names, as it is a public resource.

"The roots of the domain named should not be owned, it is a public domain resource and it should be managed very carefully for the people of the world. There is a lot of management that has to be done for the domain names and it has to be done carefully. As you know I am not in favor of creating just top-level domain left, right and centre. I think the Internet can happily survive for the next ten years without the need of a new top-level domain. I think most of the time people are doing this not because they think it will help the society but because they can own a whole lot of Internet real estate. For instance I don’t think that the .info domain has really helped as very much, people still feel they should get a .com and it only adds to the confusion if different companies have the .com, .biz and so on. And there isn’t very clear definition what each domain is for."

In an interview, he hinted that an international body like the UN could do the governance of the domain names.

"I think that the top level domains, it is very important, are run fairly internationally with a fair representation of businesses and consumers worldwide, not just the companies that run the Internet. I think that whenever you have something that represents the whole world, like the United Nations, it becomes bureaucratic and it becomes slow, because it takes a long time to take into account everybody’s point of view. So we should be prepared to put up with some bureaucracy."

Sir Tim, also dismissed the whole controversy saying that the domain names are not as critical as the standard setting process is.

"We don’t need a domain name system in which you could very very quickly get a new domain name. Domain names are not the most critical part for the functioning of the Web. The Web depends on the development of standards, I think we should put our energy into creating new standards, bringing new technologies, like open standards for video, encoding, open standards for data communication, putting scientific and clinical data out there on the Web, to spread that sort of information between countries. I think that sort of thing is very important, that’s where our energy should be spent."

Personal life

Berners-Lee is living in Lexington, Massachusetts (USA) with his wife Nancy and two children, Alice and Ben.

He left the Church of England, a religion in which he had been brought up, as a teenager just after being "confirmed" because he could not "believe in all kinds of unbelievable things." He and his family eventually found a Unitarian Universalist church while they were living in Boston. He appreciates Unitarian Universalism and hence settled in it.


Millennium Technology Prize laureate
Tim Berners-Lee
Millennium Technology Prize
Year awarded: 2004
Invention: World Wide Web
Prize presented by: Tarja Halonen
Previous laureate: First recipient, no previous laureates
Following laureate: Shuji Nakamura
  • A Conference Room at AOL's central campus is named after Berners-Lee.
  • 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 and he was awarded the Telluride Tech Festival Award of Technology in Telluride, Colorado.
  • In May 2006 he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
  • On 15 April 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 16 July 2004.
  • On July 21, 2004 he was presented with the degree of Doctor of Science ( honoris causa) from Lancaster University.
  • On 27 January 2005 he was named Greatest Briton of 2004 for his achievements as well as displaying the key British 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.
  • On 8 January 2007 it was announced that he had won the 2007 Charles Stark Draper Prize. The prize includes a $500,000 award and is founded in honour of Charles Stark Draper.
  • On 14 January 2007 he was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering
  • On 13 June 2007 he received the Order of Merit, a personal gift from Queen Elizabeth II where ministerial advice is not required, becoming one of only 24 living members entitled to hold the award and use 'OM' after their name.


  • 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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