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Tim Berners Lee the web’s inventor

October 12, 2009, 3:31 pm


The Web’s Inventor Regrets One Small Thing




Keystone/Martial Trezzini, via Associated Press Tim Berners-Lee

Any conversation with Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the Web’s bedrock software standards, tends to be fast-paced and nonlinear. When he worked at the CERN physics laboratory in Geneva, colleagues tried to get him to speak French instead of English, in hopes of slowing him down.

No surprise, then, that a half-hour dialogue with Mr. Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web Consortium and these days a professor at M.I.T., at a symposium on the future of technology last Thursday, fit that mold. I started, just for fun, with a historical question. If he were do it over again today, would he do anything differently? Any regrets?

Mr. Berners-Lee smiled and admitted he might make one change — a small one. He would get rid of the double slash “//” after the “http:” in Web addresses.

The double slash, though a programming convention at the time, turned out to not be really necessary, Mr. Berners-Lee explained. Look at all the paper and trees, he said, that could have been saved if people had not had to write or type out those slashes on paper over the years — not to mention the human labor and time spent typing those two keystrokes countless millions of times in browser address boxes. (Today’s browsers, of course, automatically fill in the “http://” preamble when a user types a Web address.)

With history dispatched, Mr. Berners-Lee focused on his current enthusiasm — getting more government data on the Web, in the interest of openness, transparency and efficiency. Mr. Berners-Lee is working with the British government in its efforts to do so, and at the symposium he cited some favorite examples of benefits of simple mash-ups like combining roadway maps with bicycle accident reports. The result, he said, helps bikers know which roads to avoid to reduce their chances of being hit by a car.

In a separate interview at the symposium in Washington, sponsored by the Finnish government and the Technology Academy Foundation, Mr. Berners-Lee said this was the year when governments around the world, led by Britain and the United States, are beginning to put vast amounts of information they collect on the Web. It is often seemingly mundane data in raw form, he said, including traffic, local weather, public safety and health data.

But the lesson of the Web, Mr. Berners-Lee said, is that making information and simple online tools freely available inevitably fuels innovation. If you liberate the data, he asked, who knows what applications people will create?

“Innovation is serendipity, so you don’t know what people will make,” he said. “But the openness, transparency and new uses of the data will make government run better, and that will make business run better as well.”

Bright Star by John Keats

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night

And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors–
No–yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever–or else swoon to death.

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Punxsutawney Phil predicts the weather



After casting a joyful eye

towards thousands of  his faithful followers, Phil proclaims:

If you want to know next
You must read my text
As the sky shines above me
My shadow I see beside me
Six more weeks of winter
It will be!


February 2010

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