If you can read this review (and voice your opinion about his book on Amazon.com), you have Tim Berners-Lee to thank. When you've read his no-nonsense account of how he invented the World Wide Web, you'll want to thank him again, for the sheer coolness of his ideas. One day in 1980, Berners-Lee, an Oxford-trained computer consultant, got a random thought: "Suppose all the information stored on computers everywhere were linked?" So he created a system to give every "page" on a computer a standard address (now called a URL, or Universal Resource Locator), accessible via the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP), formatted with the HyperText Markup Language (HTML), and visible with the first browser, which did the trick of linking us all up.
He may be the most self-effacing genius of the computer age, and his egalitarian mind is evident in the names he rejected for his invention: "I thought of Mine of Information, or MOI, but moi in French means 'me,' and that was too egocentric.... The Information Mine (TIM) was even more egocentric!" Also, a mine is a passive repository; the Web is something that grows inexorably from everyone's contributions. Berners-Lee fully credits the colorful characters who helped him get the bobsled of progress going--one colleague times his haircuts to match the solstices--but he's stubbornly independent-minded. His quest is to make the Web "a place where the whim of a human being and the reasoning of a machine coexist in an ideal, powerful mixture."
Hard-core tech types may wish Berners-Lee had gone into deeper detail about the road ahead: the "boon and threat" of XML, free vs. commercial software, VRML 3-D imaging, and such. But he wants everyone in on the debate, so he wrote a brisk book that virtually anyone can understand. --Tim Appelo
From Publishers Weekly
This lucid but impersonal memoir conveys some vital history and intriguing philosophy concerning the Internet, written by the man who invented such ubiquitous terms as URL, HTML and World Wide Web. British-born physicist Berners-Lee is now the director of the World Wide Web Consortium, which is based at MIT and sets software standards for the Web. In the late 1980s, he wrote the first programs that set up the Web, thus revolutionizing the Internet by allowing users to hyperlink among the world's computers. It was a quantum conceptual leap, and not everyone instantly understood it (some researchers had to be convinced that posting information was better than writing custom programs to transfer it). The release of graphical browsers such as Netscape Navigator made the Web much easier for home users to navigate and led to the commercialization of the Net. Although Berners-Lee calmly eschewed opportunities to get rich, he doesn't subscribe to the notion, common among pre-Web denizens of the Internet, that commercialization is a pox upon cyberspace. After short takes on current issues like privacy and pornography, Berners-Lee moves into prediction and prescription: the Web needs more intuitive interfaces and integration of tools, "annotation servers" that allow comments to be posted on documents and "social machines" that enable national plebiscites. And while he's no digital utopian, he thinks an Internet that balances decentralization and centralization can contribute to a more harmonious society. Berners-Lee's tone is more lofty than quotidian. He'd rather muse about the benefits of decentralization that his revolutionary technology makes possible than respond to Internet skeptics and critics. But he was very, very right a decade ago, and he's well worth reading now. First serial to Vanity Fair; 7-city author tour; 25-city radio campaign.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.