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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The World Wide Web - 'Life Cycles' And The Career Of Tim Berners-Lee

What are you doing right now? You are reading my communication to the world at large, written from my study in Sydney, Australia. I love the fact that I can connect with such a spread of different countries and potential readers. I can share my cutting-edge ideas and research as I go. Isn't this fantastic? If you have a website you can do the same. We are truly the most fortunate generation in all of history. Want advice on a range of products, services and information generally? Go to a search engine (I won't single any particular one out here) and look it up. Incredible what we can find isn't it? We take it for granted. The mighty World Wide Web has changed us all forever.

But it's not all that old is it? I was raised in an era when computers were large and unwieldy things that universities had and you fed punch-cards into them and got answers to your specific (usually mathematical) questions. They used to call it jokingly - 'garbage in, garbage out'. The military used them and academics shared information with them, but it was a closed club of the elite. Just what, and more importantly who, changed all this? ....And when?? Who gave the internet to the people??

We are going to examine the 'Life Cycles' of Sir Tim Berners-Lee - the father of the World Wide Web. We are going to see the amazing correlations of his career highlights and the predictive powers of 'Life Cycles'. You know, I did this analysis on a whim after seeing an article on him. I actually had never heard his name before this. Such was my ignorance. Tim Berners-Lee was born June 8th. 1955, so the two 'significant years' we will be examining are his first two adult 'Years of Revolution' when he was aged 24 and most importantly at 36. What will we find?

We are going back to his first adult age 24 'Year of Revolution' (June 1979 to June 1980). At this time he was a physicist and software engineer, working with D.G Nash Ltd (Ferndown, Dorset, UK), where he wrote among other things, typesetting software for intelligent printers and a multitasking operating system. However, towards the end of this period he applied for and was accepted to work at CERN (the famous Particle Physics Laboratory in Switzerland). He worked as an independent consultant for six months between June and December 1980. So, this was just outside the age 24 period, although the lead-up and destiny-making job offer began within it. I'm not quite as good as science I realise, so I just deal with what I have.

At CERN, the organization consists of many facilities located in a beautiful area in the Jura mountains on the border between France and Switzerland. It was because it was so large and complex, with thousands of researchers and hundreds of systems, that Berners-Lee developed his first hypertext system to keep track of who worked on which project, what software was associated with which program, and which software ran on which computers.

He named his hypertext system Enquire after an old 19th century book he found as a child in his parents house called Enquire Within Upon Everything,which provided a range of household tips and advice. The book fascinated young Tim with the suggestion that it magically contained the answer to any problem in the world. With the building of the Enquire system in 1980, and then the Web ten years or so later, Berners-Lee has pretty much successfully dedicated his life to making that childhood book real. With the hypertext system he used, each new page using Enquire was linked to an existing page. This was the birth of the often used prefix - http://. Ever wonder what it stands for? Well it's stands for 'Hypertext Transfer Protocol'. What about the //?. Tim himself states that it has no particular meaning, just a format that he borrowed to use back in the day. Such is life.

Now we proceed to his central mid-life 'Year of Revolution' at 36 (June, 1991 to June, 1992). What happened during this time to represent the birth of a new and possibly career-defining era? Once again, I'm not representing 'Life Cycles' as foolproof, because some have argued that the birth of the first web server in Dec. 1990 was when it all started. He and his team at CERN (to whom he had returned) were working with a NeXT computer, a company founded by Steve Jobs. This had an advanced operating system, which made it possible for them to rapidly develop software to demonstrate the features of the World Wide Web. Others have pointed to March 1989 when he wrote a proposal to develop a web server, although it got little interest at the time. I'm not too sure about the validity of these arguments, however, since I would argue surely you actually need a concrete instance of the world-first use of a webpage to set the seal on things.

OK, so when exactly was this? Who knows? Without looking it up of course. The first actual website was built at CERN and went online on August 6th, 1991, when Tim Berners-Lee was aged 36. The first-ever web page address was Just 23 1/2 short years ago at this time. Indisputably the birth of the World Wide Web (other things were simply part of the gestation period). Also the birth of Tim Berners-Lee's most important career and life-defining era. That's exactly how I'd call it anyway.

Of course the rest of us caught up with www. some time later. In 1994 Tim Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) at MIT in the US. This consists of various companies and organisations, a full-time staff and the public, who work together 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. As a result of this the World Wide Web can be easily adopted by anyone. Web pages proliferated. How many are there now (of course it changes all the time)? I'm told it's 1.18 billion and you can see how fast at

Now back in June 1991, just before it all began, how do you think it was received by some of his contemporaries? Well I'm going to quote a now famous Press report which stated :-

The Sun newspaper had a Page One large headline which read


and a sub-head that read


and text which read

"A British computer geek's brainwave...could enable computer users to see documents and pictures made available by others in "cyberspace". He uses the "internet system", which so far only links academics but could eventually include anyone....

One scientist said "This could be huge. The idea of linking strangers worldwide, sharing ideas instantly is mind-boggling." But another sneered "They said Sinclair's C5 would change the world. Now you'd struggle to give one away."

And finally a teaser which read

"Riddle of 'E' mail - Page 8"

Well it's a bit of a giggle now isn't it? But such is the way of the world. All great ideas must endure a hostile, or in this case simply mixed, reception before they are accepted. You know...The earth revolves around the sun. The theory of evolution. Diseases are spread by germs etc. etc.

Thank whomever you wish for the free World Wide Web and Tim Berners-Lee. We owe him such a debt of gratitude. I can relate to this of course. My ideas are not met with open criticism or hostility, but simply indifference from academia and the mainstream press. However, it won't stop me giving my evidence to the world at large each month, at no cost. The spread of 'Life Cycles' ideas was born from this blog, in cyberspace, in April, 2009. My research is a child of the World Wide Web. One day this unique idea will also change how we all look at our lives.

This will become a linked post to my SECOND BLOG when I write an article on another great computer pioneer, Alan Turing, whose life was featured in the very popular current movie The Imitation Game. So watch out, it will tell the story of 'The Real Imitation Game'. 'Life Cycles' will return next month with articles on two of our most famous inventors, who also changed our lives forever. Don't miss it and until then :- "may the cycles always bring you good fortune."