Tim Berners-Lee – the WWW inventor

Tim Berners-Lee while developing the World Wide Web at CERN

Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee (born 8 June 1955), also known as TimBL, is an English computer scientist, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web. He made a proposal for an information management system in March 1989, and he implemented the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet sometime around mid-November of that same year.

1 Childhood, youth and education
2 Career
    2.1 ENQUIRE
    2.2 First web browser
    2.3 First web site
    2.4 W3C founding in 1994
3 Current work
    3.1 Web Foundation
    3.2 A4AI
4 Personal life
    4.1 Rosemary Leith
    4.2 Unitarian Universalism
5 Books

Berners-Lee is the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which oversees the continued development of the Web. He is also the founder of the World Wide Web Foundation, and is a senior researcher and holder of the founders chair at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). He is a director of the Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI), and a member of the advisory board of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence (CCI).

Early life and education of Tim Berners-Lee

Berners-Lee was born in London (England), one of four children born to Mary Lee Woods and Conway Berners-Lee. His parents worked on the first commercially-built computer, the Ferranti Mark 1. He attended Sheen Mount Primary School, and then went on to attend south west London’s Emanuel School from 1969 to 1973, at the time a direct grant grammar school, which became an independent school in 1975. A keen trainspotter as a child, he learnt about electronics from tinkering with a model railway. He studied at The Queen’s College (Oxford) from 1973 to 1976, where he received a first-class degree bachelor of arts degree in physics.

Career of Tim Berners-Lee

After graduation, Berners-Lee worked as an engineer at the telecommunications company Plessey in Poole (Dorset). In 1978, he joined D.G. Nash in Ferndown (Dorset), where he helped create type-setting software for printers.


Berners-Lee worked as an independent contractor at CERN from June to December 1980. While in Geneva, he proposed a project based on the concept of hypertext, to facilitate sharing and updating information among researchers. To demonstrate it, he built a prototype system named ENQUIRE.

After leaving CERN in late 1980, he went to work at John Poole’s Image Computer Systems, in Bournemouth (Dorset). He ran the company’s technical side for three years. The project he worked on was a “real-time remote procedure call” which gave him experience in computer networking. In 1984, he returned to CERN 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 Transmission Control Protocol and Domain Name System ideas and — ta-da! — the World Wide Web. Creating the web was really an act of desperation, because the situation without it was very difficult when I was working at CERN later. Most of the technology involved in the web, like the hypertext, like the Internet, multifont text objects, had all been designed already. I just had to put them together. It was a step of generalising, going to a higher level of abstraction, thinking about all the documentation systems out there as being possibly part of a larger imaginary documentation system.”

– Timothy Berners-Lee, June 22, 2007 in interview for achievement.org

Here it is the interview:

The first Web browser

Berners-Lee wrote his proposal in March 1989 and, in 1990, redistributed it. It then 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. His software also functioned as an editor (called WorldWideWeb, running on the NeXTstep operating system), and the first Web server, CERN HTTPd (short for Hypertext Transfer Protocol daemon).

This NeXT Computer was used by Berners-Lee at CERN and became the world's first web server.
This NeXT Computer was used by Berners-Lee at CERN and became the world’s first web server.

The first web site

The first web site built was at CERN within the border of France, and was put online on 6 August 1991 for the first time. It provided an explanation of what the World Wide Web was, and how one could use a browser and set up a web server. In a list of 80 cultural moments that shaped the world, chosen by a panel of 25 eminent scientists, academics, writers and world leaders, the invention of the World Wide Web was ranked number one, with the entry stating:

“The fastest growing communications medium of all time, the Internet has changed the shape of modern life forever. We can connect with each other instantly, all over the world”.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee is a Professor at MIT.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee is a Professor at MIT.

The founding of W3C in 1994

In 1994, Berners-Lee founded the 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 its standards should be based on royalty-free technology, so that they easily could be adopted by anyone.

Dom Joly about Sir Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web:

In 2001, Berners-Lee became a patron of the East Dorset Heritage Trust, having previously lived in Colehill in Wimborne (East Dorset). In December 2004, he accepted a chair in computer science at the School of Electronics and Computer Science (University of Southampton, Hampshire), to work on the Semantic Web.

Tim presented his Semantic Web ideas about Linked Data (2009):

In a Times article in October 2009, Berners-Lee admitted that the initial pair of slashes (“//”) in a web address were “unnecessary”. He told the newspaper that he easily could have designed web addresses without the slashes. “There you go, it seemed like a good idea at the time,” he said in his lighthearted apology.

Tim Berners-Lee talks about how the World Wide Web just happened:

Current work of Tim Berners-Lee

In June 2009, then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced Berners-Lee would work with the UK Government to help make data more open and accessible on the Web, building on the work of the Power of Information Task Force. Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt are the two key figures behind data.gov.uk, a UK Government project to open up almost all data acquired for official purposes for free re-use. Commenting on the opening up of Ordnance Survey (OS) data in April 2010 Berners-Lee said that:
– “The changes signal a wider cultural change in Government based on an assumption that information should be in the public domain unless there is a good reason not to — not the other way around.
He went on to say:
– “Greater openness, accountability and transparency in Government will give people greater choice and make it easier for individuals to get more directly involved in issues that matter to them.

Web Foundation

In November 2009, Berners-Lee launched the World Wide Web Foundation in order to “advance the Web to empower humanity by launching transformative programs that build local capacity to leverage the Web as a medium for positive change.

Web founder Tim Berners-Lee and Steve Bratt discuss the WWW Foundation’s initiatives to bring about positive change in the world:

Berners-Lee is one of the pioneer voices in favour of net neutrality, and has expressed the view that ISPs should supply “connectivity with no strings attached” and should neither control nor monitor the browsing activities of customers without their expressed consent. He advocates the idea that net neutrality is a kind of human network right:
– “Threats to the Internet, such as companies or governments that interfere with or snoop on Internet traffic, compromise basic human network rights.

Tim Berners-Lee shares his concerns regarding net neutrality and online privacy. He says that Internet users need to be responsible for “keeping an eye out” to protect the freedom and anonymity of the Web:

As of May 2012, Berners-Lee is president of the Open Data Institute (ODI).

The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI)

The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) was launched in October 2013 and Berners-Lee is leading the coalition of public and private organisations that includes Google, Facebook, Intel, and Microsoft. The A4AI seeks to make Internet access more affordable so that access is broadened in the developing world, where only 31% of people are online. Berners-Lee will work with those aiming to decrease internet access prices so that they fall below the UN Broadband Commission‘s worldwide target of 5% of monthly income.

Personal life of Tim Berners-Lee

Tim and Rosemary Leith

Berners-Lee was married to Nancy Carlson in 1990, a marriage that ended in divorce. In 2014 Berners-Lee and Rosemary Leith were married at St. James’s Palace in London. Leith is director of the World Wide Web Foundation and a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center. Previously, she was “World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council Chair” of the Future of Internet Security and now is on the board of YouGov.

Tim Berners-Lee and Rosemary Leith at the US launch of *impossible* (from 38:00 min):

Tim Berners-Lee and Unitarian Universalism religion

Berners-Lee was raised as an Anglican, but in his youth, he turned away from religion. After he became a parent, he became a Unitarian Universalist (UU). He has stated:
– “Like many people, I had a religious upbringing which I rejected as a teenager… Like many people, I came back to religion when we had children.
He and his wife wanted to teach spirituality to his children, and after hearing a Unitarian minister and visiting the UU Church, they opted for it.

Tim Berners-Lee is an active member of that church, to which he adheres because he perceives it as a tolerant and liberal belief. He also has recognized the value of other faiths, stating:
– “I believe that much of the philosophy of life associated with many religions is much more sound than the dogma which comes along with it. So I do respect them.


  • Tim Berners-Lee and the Development of the World Wide Web (Unlocking the Secrets of Science) – Mitchell Lane Publishers, 2001, ISBN 1-58415-096-3;
  • Tim Berners-Lee: Inventor of the World Wide Web – Melissa Stewart, Ferguson Publishing Company, 2001, ISBN 0-89434-367-X;
  • How the Web was Born: The Story of the World Wide Web – Robert Cailliau, James Gillies, R. Cailliau (Oxford University Press, 2000), ISBN 0-19-286207-3;
  • Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Its Inventor – Tim Berners-Lee, Mark Fischetti (Paw Prints, 2008).