We are only just beginning to tap the potential of living in a wired world, but as technology hurtles onward without pause it's easy to overlook the size and significance of changes in communications since cyberspace opened its doors in 1991. Current estimates put the worldwide online population at a staggering 580 million* including almost 11 million** Australians - more than half our population -are now actively using the largest information repository in human history.The invention of the Internet cannot be pinned down to any specific time, place or person; developed primarily for military and scientific applications throughout the 60's and 70's in the US. Basically it's a term referring to the ability to link computers into networks. The "World Wide Web" on the other hand, the basic software building-block that makes access and categorisation of the hundreds of millions of documents that sit on the Internet possible, can be attributed to one person - Tim Berners-Lee. Although the two terms are often used to refer to the same thing these days, Berners-Lee took the disparate threads of the "Internet" and created the level playing field "World Wide Web", allowing browser based surfing of documents stored on servers all over the world.In 1980, while working as a software engineer in Switzerland, he wrote a program to help organise notes and documents on his own computer, including using random associations. Called "Enquire", this program was never published but became the conceptual basis for the future development of the World Wide Web. The serious work began in 1989 when Berners-Lee launched the "global hypertext project". Based on this earlier work, the idea of allowing people to share and combine knowledge in an online repository of hypertext documents became a reality in 1991 when the "WorldWideWeb" program was made available on the Internet for the first time.The idea of linking documents can be traced back to at least 1945, when Vannevar Bush outlined his Memex concept in an essay entitled "As We May Think". The Memex is "a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility", wrote Bush.Tim Berners-Lee's vision is to transfer the Memex concept onto a global stage - an amorphous, limitless, easily navigable information repository with no central database or single manager. This commitment to maintaining an open, non-proprietary and free resource for anyone with a PC and a modem has largely succeeded and without these key achievements the Web would almost certainly splintered into smaller, proprietary sectors.Adding to a long list of Awards and honorary degrees, Berners-Lee was recently awarded the 2002 Scientific and Technical Research Prinipe de Asturias Award in Spain along with other significant contributors to the development of the Internet - computer engineers Lawrence G. Roberts and Robert Kahn and computer designer Vinton Cerf. He also made recent headlines for inclusion in a list of the 100 Greatest Britons (along with Johnny Rotten and three of the four Beatles - Ringo missed out) but you get sense that neither this sort of attention or the more serious accolades will ever go to Berners-Lee's head.Continuing work on the design of the Web during the early 90's, Tim co-ordinated his efforts with users of the spreading technology to fine-tune his initial specifications for HTTP and HTML. His work now centres around the World Wide Web Consortium at the Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) which he founded in 1994. The aim of the consortium is to ensure the full-potential of the Web is realised and its stability is maintained as it evolves.Follow the links below for further reading on Tim Berners-Lee and the varied and complex history of the Internet. TBL has also written a non-technical book -"Weaving the Web" - to address general issues of the technology, its development and impact on our society into the future.*Source: NUA Ltd (www.nua.com) ** Neilsen NetRatings
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