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Insights from Tim Berners-Lee AMA On WWW’s 25th Birthday


On March 12, 2014, the World Wide Web turned 25 years old. In the year 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist submitted a proposal, which was initially meant for a better CERN communication. His boss called the proposal “vague but exciting.”

Lee was an employee with CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) at that time, and even he didn’t know that the proposal he submitted would change the way world communicates and shares ideas.

Internet has indeed changed everything! Here are 25 milestones for the World Wide Web which defined the Internet as we know today.

To mark this 25th anniversary of WWW, it’s founder Tim Berners-Lee initiated an AMA session on, which incidentally is known as the “Front Page of the Internet”.

Tim Berners Lee on Web

AMA or Ask Me Anything is one of the most popular features of Reddit where users ask random questions to the person who has initiated the session.

We present to you some very interesting questions, and some very interesting answers as well![divider]

Q: Tim, What other names did you consider other than the world wide web? (2nd Most upvoted question with 1692 points)

A: Mine of Information, The Information Mine, The Mesh

None had quite the right ring. I liked WWW partly because I could start global variable names with a W and not have them clash with other peoples’ (in a C world) …in fact I used HT for them)[divider]

Q: What was one of the things you never thought the internet would be used for, but has actually become one of the main reasons people use the internet? (Most upvoted question with 2534 points)

A: Kittens. (3752 upvotes for this answer!)[divider]

Q: Do you think in the (not too distant) future we’ll look back and think ourselves lucky to have witnessed a neutral, free, and uncensored world wide web?

A: I think it is up to us. I’m not guessing, I’m hoping. Yes, I can imagine that all to easily. If ordinary web users are not sufficiently aware of threats and get involved and if necessary take to the streets like for SOPA and PIPA and ACTA. On balance? I am optimistic.[divider]

Q: Do you have any ideas about how interface for the web could change in a real, transformational way?

A: I think that is a really good question. I don’t have the answer off the top of my head. Also think when your vision can be completely surrounded with pixels so small you can’t see them, a very powerful interface — how can we use that — and to be creative together, not just watch? Inter-creativity I called it early on. Still don’t have it.[divider]

Q: Did you ever think that the internet would get this big?

A: Yes, I more or less had it nailed down when it comes to the growth curve. I didn’t get it completely right — 25 years ago I was predicting Id be asked to do an AMA on reddit next week, but it turned out to be this week. Well, we all make mistakes. (no of course not)

Q: where do you think the web will end up in the next 25 years?

A: It is up to us. It is an artificial creation, as are our laws, and our constitutions … we can chose how they work. We can make new ones. Our choice.[divider]

Q: Who was your role model as a kid?

A: My parents, who met building the first computer commercialized in the UK – the Ferranti Mk 1, and some of the people they worked with, my math teacher Frank Grundy, chem teacher Daffy….[divider]

Q: what was your first computer?

A: I got a M6800 evaluation kit in 1976, and built a bunch of 3U high cards, put them in a rack with a car battery in the bottom of the crate as UPS. All hand-soldered on veroboard, and programmed in hex. 7E XX XX was a long jump, and 20 XX a relative jump IIRC. The display was an old TV and some logic and a bunch of discarded calculator buttons lovingly relabeled with transfer letters. Those were the days….[divider]

Q: How do you feel about the supposed dark side of the internet, such as the black markets? (Silk Road etc.)

A: Complicated question. I am not a great expert on them. Simple answers include of course that illegal things are crimes on or off the web. But anonymity is tricky. We have a right to be anonymous as a whistle-blower or under an oppressive regime but not when we are bullying someone? How can we build technical/social/judicial systems for determining which right is more important in any given case? Relates to tor…[divider]

Q: Edward Snowden- Hero or Villain?

Answer: Because he
? had no other alternative
? engaged as a journalist / with a journalist to be careful of how what was released, and
? provided an important net overall benefit to the world,
I think he should be protected, and we should have ways of protecting people like him. Because we can try to design perfect systems of government, and they will never be perfect, and when they fail, then the whistle blower may be all that saves society.[divider]

Q: Do you still have an interest in trainspotting?

A: Still like trains, travel on them when I can and when in a country which has gotten its train act together.[divider]

Q: What web browser do you use?

A: My default browser at the moment is Firefox. I also use Safari, Opera and Chrome each a reasonable amount. Firefox has the Tabulator plugin which does neat things with linked data. If I am running a latest version of that (I check it straight out of github) which can be unstable, I’ll use one of the others for things which need to be stable. Joe Presbrey ported the plugin to Chrome too BTW[divider]

Q: A lot of people think that your calls for an open web are a bit hypocritical considering your support for the HTML5 DRM spec. What would you tell them?

A: I would suggest to them the DRM question is not that simplistic. People want to watch big movies. DRM is a pain in many ways, but if you have used Netflix or bought a DVD or a bluray, then DRM is part of your life. I agree DRM is a pain in many ways, and should only be used for very “high value” streams. I also would point out that Copyright, DMCA aand CFAA in the US are seriously broken, and need fixing separate from the DRM question. Actually I would get involved with a very long complicated discussion, as I have already with many people. Not sure we have space here. Other points include the the browsers have putt DRM in — they have to to keep market share — irrelevant of whether the HTML specs make the connection to the web more standard.

Q: Did you ever post a picture of your cat?

A: Dog: Yes, Cat: No.[divider]

Q: Is it true that error 404 came to be as a result of there not being a room 404 in the office you were working at?

A: No. Nonsense.[divider]

Q: What are your thoughts on the increased surveillance on internet based mediums like GCHQ’s monitoring of all the Yahoo video chats. Do you personally think it should be controlled, non existent or fine the way it is now?

A: I think that some monitoring of the net by government agencies is going to be needed to fight crime. We need to invent a new system of checks and balances with unprecedented power to be able to investigate and hold the agencies which do it accountable to the public.[divider]

Q: Something I’ve been wondering for a while: did the name “World Wide Web” have anything to do with the “WorldWeb” in Dan Simmons’ 1989 novel “Hyperion”? (the timing is a funny coincidence if not)

A: No, didn’t read that[divider]

Q: Have you learned to spell referrer yet ?

A: No, my speling is still terible. Hopefully not to much or it will get into header field names without some review at this stage![divider]

Q: Given your work at the World Wide Web Consortium and support of Internet decentralization, what are your thoughts on the W3C Web Payments Community Group and their effort to standardize web payments using Bitcoin and other digital currencies (source)? / Q: What impact, if any, do you think digital currencies might have on how value is sent over the Internet?

A: I think that it is important to have lots of different ways getting money to creative people on the net. So if we can have micropayment user interfaces which make it easy for me to pay people for stuff they write, play, perform, etc, in small amounts, then I hope that could be a way allowing people to actually make a serious business out of it. Flattr, I found an interesting move in that direction.[divider]

Q: Why does no one mention Robert Cailliau anymore when it comes to the www? Didn’t both of you invent it?

A: Robert didn’t invent it. I invented it by myself, and coded it up on a NeXT, but Robert was the first convert to it, and a massive supporter. He got resources together at CERN, helped find students, gave talks. He also later wrote some code for a Mac browser called “Samba”. He also put a lot of energy into persuading the CERN directorate that CERN should declare that it would not charge royalties for the WWW, which it did April 1993.[divider]

Q: I don’t really have anything to ask, i’d just want to thank you. Alright.. maybe one question. What site do visit on a daily basis?

A: Since the beginning W3C has worked in the web. “If it isn’t on the web it doesn’t exist” when it comes to discussing things in meetings etc.[divider]

Q: An Internet Bill of Rights feels like a nice concept, but even with the right intentions, it also feels like it centralizes power. And the goal of the Web today is to decentralize power. Can you explain how the two might balance?

A: Funny – I don’t see how a bill of rights (like the right to connect with whoever you want to) centralizes power. I think is lays the basis for steering laws, and governments are rather centralized things, but rights constrain governments for the benefit of individuals.[divider]

Q: You talked recently about having a “Magna Carta” of sorts for the web. How do you envision that sort of system working?

Answer: Well, what do you think? Crowd source a bill of rights at the very high level — values level — globally, non-nationally, in the first half of this year, and then in the second half of the year in each country make a list of the changes to the national system which will be necessary to implement it? That is plan A I think. See[divider]

You can read the entire AMA session here .

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