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January 28, 2005
I Didn't Know Al Gore Was British

The inventor of the World Wide Web received an award for outstanding achievement in science and technology for Britons, the London Telegraph reports this morning. Imagine my surprise to find out that Al Gore is British! Actually, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who first engineered the architecture of HTML and created the first browser that launched the commercial Internet, received the first annual honor that promotes British achievement:

Sir Tim, 49, who now lives and works in America, where he heads the World Wide Web Consortium, accepted his accolade by video link.

In an interview with The Telegraph, he said he was "chuffed to bits'' to win the first of what is intended to be an annual award.

The internet had already been in existence for 20 years when Sir Tim, a physicist then working in Geneva, developed the web in 1991 as a way of enabling people to share information. Despite its huge impact, he was for many years largely unknown in his own country before he was knighted last year.

He wasn't unknown after being knoghted and afterwards included in Time Magazine's 100 Most Important People Of The Century list:

[H]e cobbled together a relatively easy-to-learn coding system HTML (HyperText Mark-up Language) that has come to be the lingua franca of the Web; it's the way Web-content creators put those little colored, underlined links in their text, add images and so on. He designed an addressing scheme that gave each Web page a unique location, or url (universal resource locator). And he hacked a set of rules that permitted these documents to be linked together on computers across the Internet. He called that set of rules HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol).

And on the seventh day, Berners-Lee cobbled together the World Wide Web's first (but not the last) browser, which allowed users anywhere to view his creation on their computer screen. In 1991 the World Wide Web debuted, instantly bringing order and clarity to the chaos that was cyberspace. From that moment on, the Web and the Internet grew as one, often at exponential rates. Within five years, the number of Internet users jumped from 600,000 to 40 million. At one point, it was doubling every 53 days.

Berners-Lee heads the W3 Consortium, a non-profit that keeps the Internet open-source rather than allow software developers to Balkanize it with competing, exclusive standards. Berners-Lee never cashed in on his invention, either; he works at MIT, preferring academia for his contribution. No wonder he's "chuffed" at getting 28,000 pounds Sterling, although of course it's the honor that thrills him most.

I think all of us owe a debt of thanks to Sir Tim. We probably should apologize to him for Al Gore's claim to have created the Internet, too.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 28, 2005 6:56 AM

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