Introduction for Tim Berners-Lee

Computer History Museum 2003 Fellow Award

Good evening.

I am here this evening to welcome Tim Berners-Lee into the hallowed halls of fellowdom at the Computer History Museum.

Tim's citation as a Computer History Museum fellow is "for his seminal contributions to the development of the World Wide Web."

Tim has outlined much of the interesting history of the creation of web in his book, "Weaving the Web." However, a book is, of necessity with all histories, a single linear journey through what was, in fact, a complex web of events.

At the time at which it is said that Tim "invented" the web, the concepts, operational characteristics, and theory of Hypertext systems were well developed. There were many systems and demonstrations of the embedding of hyperlinks into text.

The concept of "Network Information Retrieval" was also thriving. Ongoing work in the area of using the Internet to link people and information included a wealth of experimental and popular systems, including WAIS, Gopher, Veronica, Prospero, Hytelnet, Archie, Hyper-G, Whois++; there were a number of additional digital library systems focused on augmenting access to information.

Within this chaos, Tim, with his amazing combination of modesty and hubris (which he retains today) managed to weave something utterly new and compelling. While Tim is often cited for "inventing" the web, I think the title of his book is more appropriate: Tim wove the web, and it is this persistent herding that is the accomplishment for which he should be best celebrated.

In 1991, I was a researcher at Xerox PARC working in the area of network information access. Having heard about this "WWW" system at CERN, I inquired, and received a nice email summary of the vision the WWW project ("merges the techniques of information retrieval and hypertext to make an easy but powerful global information system."). The summary started with a disclaimer ("WWW is a practical system, not a research project."), and ended with an offer "Try it", with a pointer to the source code.

I still have that source code, and I recently threatened Tim that I might show some of it this evening.... but I won't. However, I will say, reviewing it, that it's good source code, clearly written, reasonably structured. I had the honor of being the first person ever to have patched it so that it would work through a firewall.

Of course, the significance is that Tim wrote and distributed the source code and the documentation. Tim's weavings included not only the web and its early implementation, but the community that built it, used it, promoted it, distributed it, standardized it in the IETF and later the World Wide Web Consortium. And it is for this weaving that we thank, and honor him, tonight.