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Web inventor: Online life will produce more creative children

Editor's note: As part of a special report on online evolution, is asking several Web and Internet pioneers for their thoughts on the impact and future of the Internet.

Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web.



Tim Berners-Lee
Telecommunications Equipment

(CNN) -- Since he invented it more than 15 years ago, Tim Berners-Lee has watched the Web change the way the world communicates, works and learns.

He laid the groundwork for the World Wide Web in 1980 when he wrote a program called "Enquire" to help him organize his computer files with links. He later built on the idea and created a network of linked information that would be available to everyone across the Internet.

Today, Berners-Lee directs the World Wide Web Consortium at MIT, an organization dedicated to standardizing Web guidelines and components.

In a recent e-mail interview with's Lila King, the Briton, now Sir Berners-Lee, reflected on the impact of the online revolution and where he thinks it's headed.

CNN: What do you think the Internet's biggest impact has been?

BERNERS-LEE: Connecting everyone (on the Net) to everyone (on the Net) has made the world a smaller place by breaking down geographical barriers. It has not, however, enabled everyone to work with everyone else!

For instance, the Net does not change the number of hours in the day or the number of things you can keep in your head. So an individual person has the same amount of time and energy -- but more interesting choices about how to spend it. I hope we will use the Net to cross barriers and connect cultures.

CNN: What do you use the Internet for primarily?

BERNERS-LEE: At the World Wide Web Consortium, we are an international set of people working together, so we live and work on the Net. We post meeting agendas and minutes on the Web, archive our e-mail and chat channel discussions on the Web, and continue to explore how the Web can help us achieve our goals and do our work more efficiently.

As a basic example, when we discuss a document in a meeting, we require that it be available on the Web so that all of the meeting participants -- generally spread out worldwide and using all manner of computer or other tools -- can read it.

CNN: How much will the Internet change over the next 10 years?

BERNERS-LEE: We can expect some exciting changes that will enhance the Web currently familiar to us, and also some significant advancements. Today, most people who use the Internet do so from their computer, but that will change: Internet-enabled devices will grow in number and diversity, and people will come to expect connectivity and services in more and more places.

Handheld devices and mobile phones will offer easier access to the Web; this is the goal of [the World Wide Web Consortium's] recently launched Mobile Web Initiative. [The consortium's] Web Services will enable organizations to communicate data more efficiently and securely to their customers and suppliers. The Semantic Web will enable computers to do more useful work automatically, using the existing Web as a foundation.

One way to think about the magnitude of the changes to come is to think about how you went about your business before powerful Web search engines. You probably wouldn't have imagined that a world of answers would be available to you in under a second. The next set of advances will have an different effect, but similar in magnitude.

CNN: What will surprise us about the future evolution of the Internet?

BERNERS-LEE: The creativity of our children. In many ways, people growing up with the Web and now the Semantic Web take the power at their fingertips for granted. The people who designed the tools that make the Net run had their own ideas for the future. I look forward to seeing what the next generation does with these tools that we could not have foreseen. ...

CNN: How is today's Web different from what you imagined it would be?

BERNERS-LEE: In 1980 (nine years before the first memo describing what would become the World Wide Web), I conducted my work in electronic isolation. The software I used (my "Enquire" program) had no Internet access, which meant that there was nothing like the information sharing of today.

My colleagues and fellow researchers at other laboratories could not easily learn from each other's work. Most computer terminals in those days had no graphics -- just 24 lines of text down the screen.

Already in 1980, however, I could create pages of information and link them together, a precursor to the hyperlinked global Web. However, we didn't have mice so you selected links by number rather than by clicking on them.

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