WebSci18 Main Conference Day 2 – ACM Turing Award Lecture by Tim Berners-Lee

This morning I entered the VU Amsterdam building to find a huge crowd of people waiting to see Tim Berners-Lee deliver his Turing Award Lecture as part of the Web Science conference. The crowd surged forward into the stunning Aula room and settled down to wait for Tim’s arrival. Hans Akkermans from VU introduced Tim before his lecture, and then Tim took the stage.

Tim introduced the idea of the Web as a cyber-utopia and said that he thinks we are in a difficult place with the Web at the moment. Tim reminisced about the early days of the Web when he wrote a memo originally about the Web, and what he wanted it to be, around the same time that the Berlin Wall was pulled down, and other political moments shook the world. Tim said that his timing was slightly off, not wanted to start talking about the Web when these momentous historical moments were occurring. For Tim, it started as something he wanted to develop and created a drawing of what he thought it would look like. On a good day, Tim says that the Web is simply a layer of documents, an interesting thought.

Of course, Tim moved on to create the first browser, which subsequently created a battle between the browser giants Microsoft and Netscape, we all know how that one played out. Tim has some amazing visuals, showing his first NeXTcube machine, which he ran the Web on at CERN. With stickers all over it asking not to turn it off. He showed a graph that indicated the exponential growth of the Web in the first few years from a few hundred to well over 100,000 hits. Tim says quite humbly that he is always impressed that humanity managed to create something like Wikipedia.

Tim mentioned that for all the time you spend online, some of that must be dedicated to defending your use of it. Defending the ideas behind the Web, what it should stand for, how it should be governed, and that it should remain a free and open space. Of course, people like Tim are now having to defend the Web in governments all over the world that was to introduce net neutrality as a standard.

In 2014, Tim states that many people like him took a step back to look at the Web, and how it was being used, asking how humanity is serving the Web. Tim suggests that we re-decentralize the Web, as a good place to start.

There were hundreds of tweets during the lecture, and it is worth checking some of them out for a live experience of the contents. It was also live-streamed and filmed so no doubt a copy will be made available online. What a thoroughly enjoyable and amazing talk. Tim was funny, and engaging and really made me think about how I see the Web, how I use it and when I defend it.

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