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If you like Timothy Berners-Lee's story, you might also like:
Jeff Bezos,
Sergey Brin,
Stephen Case,
Michael Dell,
Lawrence Ellison,
Bill Gates,
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Timothy Berners-Lee
World Wide Web Consortium
The Data Web
The Semantic Web: An Overview

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Sir Timothy Berners-Lee
Sir Timothy Berners-Lee
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Sir Timothy Berners-Lee Interview (page: 5 / 8)

Father of the World Wide Web

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  Sir Timothy Berners-Lee

All these other questions aside, what motivates you?

Timothy Berners-Lee: What motivates a human being? I think the excitement of solving problems motivates me. Working with other people, the excitement of doing things together, it's a fairly visceral sort of thing. I enjoy working with students who have got lots of fresh ideas. I enjoy working with people who have been in the business for ages and who have got lots of new wisdom about it all. There are other things -- like flying all over the world persuading people that something is going to be a good idea -- which I find that I am not so good at. I'm not a natural fund-raiser. I'm not a natural for explaining to somebody why they need to use this technology, which is what we have to do now with the Semantic Web. I'm back in the same place as I was with the web in 1991. So...

In 1991, '92, every day I'd have to decide whether to write some code, or go and persuade somebody else to write some code, or write some documentation, or persuade somebody else to write some documentation, or go and give a motivating talk somewhere explaining what the whole thing is supposed to be about, or try to argue with administration for funds or resources or whatever it takes. Today, everything -- the same sort of choices exist all the time, and I have to balance my time and find more things. Some things are more motivating than others, but I find to stay sane I have to keep working with other people, and I have to keep programming. I have to keep involved with the actual design.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

Other people might have seen this work as a way to become very rich, but you chose to make the web free and available to everybody. Did you ever consider turning it into a commercial enterprise?

Timothy Berners-Lee: Well, let's get this little myth out of the way. No, I couldn't have been rich. I'm not a very good entrepreneur, for one thing. Secondly, the whole ethos of the people who designed the Internet, the Internet Engineering Task Force, was a sharing of new ideas, bootstrapping, making systems which would allow us to communicate in such a way that we can then design systems even better. So now we have e-mail, or now we have net news, or now we have the HTTP. The whole ethos was of sharing. The idea of patenting it and trying to run off with the keys to the cars was not part of the world in which I lived. And also, had I done it, I knew very clearly that everybody would have dropped it like a hot potato.

The people who were crucial to the pickup of the web were, for example, people in companies who probably had day jobs, but were doing this out of interest, engineers who were picking it up. If there had been patents around it, their lawyers would have told them not to even read the code, not to download it, not to install it, not to read anything about it, in case they were tainted by something which would allow the company later to be sued. So similarly, somebody else in their garage or their basement, just doing it for fun, they're doing it because they think it would be really exciting. Because they share the twinkle in their eye, they understand what it would be like if everybody had a web server, or if everybody had a web page and everybody had a web browser. So they're some of the people who do it because it would be cool if everybody did it. Right?

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

People who are doing that are not going to do it if the work will actually be intellectual property belonging to this or that company. The web relied, and still relies, on people contributing because they know it's an open, common system. They know this is the commons. This is our common grazing ground. It's our common thoroughfare. It's a space that we're using together. They are only contributing because of that. When we make new developments like the data protocols, the Data Web, Semantic Web, same thing again. Everybody is excited about the new things which can happen when everything you can do on a computer, you can now do on a phone, as we move towards the mobile web. Whole new markets open up.

Everybody realized that these new markets, these new spaces, these new ideas -- there will be new spaces of things in which other things will be built -- but they will depend on the basic web infrastructure being royalty-free. It's always been like that. Every now and again, we've had a hiccup when somebody didn't understand it, when somebody thought that maybe they'd try to make a quick killing by somehow getting a stranglehold on it, somehow finding a way to be able to limit your access -- everybody's access -- to the web, and then they would be able to charge for it. Yeah. You can see they had a different gleam in their eyes. But rapidly, they found that really people treated them with the utmost contempt and programmed around them, went around them, and left them, having learned a lesson, and generally picking up the pieces and moving on and joining this world of openness, of open standards, of royalty-free standards.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

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This page last revised on Sep 22, 2010 14:54 EDT
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