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Olympics’ Tim Berners-Lee is arguably the most important Briton!


As a world of watchers said, “Who?” a world wide web of Internet enthusiasts fist-pumped and celebrated like Usain Bolt as ‘the man who invented the web’ live tweeted from the centre of the Olympic opening ceremony in London.

He’s Tim Berners-Lee, or Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, OM, KBE, FRS, FREng, FRSA to give the man the full title his world-changing work so richly deserves. On Friday, he cut an unassuming figure at a keyboard amongst the hosts of actors, athletes and aging pop legends. But when he tweeted: “This is for everyone #london2012 #oneweb #openingceremony #webfoundation #w3c” his invention went into action to send the message round the world. By the Tuesday following the opening ceremony in east London, his words had been retweeted 10,469 times.

The roots of the web lie at CERN, where the Large Hadron Collider is currently searching for the God particle. It was while working there that Berners-Lee invented an information management system that we now know as the World Wide Web.

The Olympics is a supremely optimistic event and thanks to TimBL (as he’s often known in typically modest style) the web he invented in 1989 remains for everyone.

The Internet and the World Wide Web are used interchangeably these days, but the net predates the web by a couple of decades. It was Berners-Lee’s genius to link those interconnected computer networks to a universal system of sharing documents through ‘hypertext’ – all those clickable links. Many of the terms and acronyms we now drop into conversation without thinking – browser, HTML, URL, HTTP - were there in his original idea.

It’s worth looking at the rest of that opening ceremony tweet too – shared in the user-generated content ideal of Web 2.0. The W3C or World Wide Web Consortium, of which Tim Berners-Lee is founder and chairman, is the body that helps keep the web open to all by ensuring we’re all speaking the same languages and using the same protocols.

It also aims to keep the web a force for good.

With his invention, Berners-Lee could surely have become a multi-billionaire. While he might have enough honorary degrees to paper a small country house, he has remained a committed web idealist and head of an organisation that proclaims: “Our success will be measured by how well we foster the creativity of our children.”

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