What's the best analogy for explaining how the Web works?
Tim likens it to a market economy: anyone can trade with anyone else without having to go to a physical market square to do it. The traders just need to know the rules. The hardest thing for people to grasp about the Web is that it has no center; any computer (or node, in mathematical terms) can link to any other computer directly, without having to go through a central connection point. They just need to know the rules for communicating.
Berners-Lee accessed the first Web page, on the first Web server, using the first Web browser on Christmas Day 1990. Why did it take until 1993 before the public became aware of the creation?
Once Tim and Robert Cailliau established that the Web worked, they wanted to spread the word. After getting CERN to buy in, Tim spent 1991 flying around the world meeting with people who were interested in hypertext and the Internet and linking to create Web browsers to access what was a growing repository of information on Tim's CERN computer. He also encouraged enthusiasts to start their own servers. From there, listservs helped spread the word; so did university computer science programs, which saw the coding of browsers and servers as a great way to get students to experiment. (One of the best known of these projects was headed by the University of Illinois's Marc Andreessen, who would later transform his creation into the Netscape Web browser.) Tim began to get concerned, though, about universities and companies like Microsoft creating their own networks that might compete with the Web, or charging for content, which would violate his core principle: that everyone should be able to communicate freely with everyone else. To stop this from happening, he got management at CERN to release all of his source code under a general license so that any programmer anywhere could use it for free. He thought that if the whole world was building the Web together, no one company could take control of it.
What caused the Web to finally take off?
Tim designed the Web to be a social medium, first, rather than a technical one—a system that would connect people through their computers, and the grassroots building [of the Web] took off because of that. However, the general public didn't really enter that picture until the mid-1990s, when companies like Netscape and AOL [America Online] commercialized browsers. These companies would snail mail free CDs with their browser software so people would get on the Web, hoping that once they got there, they would discover services the companies offered for a fee, such as e-mail.
Why did Berners-Lee abruptly leave CERN to begin the World Wide Web Consortium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994, just as the Web began to rapidly expand?
At that point, the Web was clearly becoming a juggernaut, and commercial forces did indeed threaten those core principles. CERN was not in the business of overseeing Internet systems or applications—it existed to do high-energy physics experiments. Tim couldn't be the caretaker and stay there, so he moved on to M.I.T.'s Laboratory for Computer Science, which became the host for a new World Wide Web Consortium, where Tim has been ever since.
What has most surprised him about the Web's evolution?
What surprised Tim most is that for years people were so much more interested in simply browsing for and reading content rather than in creating it. His very first browser—WorldWideWeb—was actually both a browser and an editor. It let you write your own pages, post them online, and edit pages posted by others. But the commercial browsers didn't offer editing capabilities. This frustrated him for a number of years. The whole point of the Web, to him, was not to just see information but to publish it, too. This didn't really happen until blogs emerged, followed by sites like Facebook, where people can easily post content.
What does the future hold for the Web, given that the openness that Berners-Lee built into it is continually exploited by miscreants?
It's hard to implement controls on the Web—because it was created in the ethos of the Internet—in that it's totally open. But for Tim, confronting issues like privacy and protection of intellectual property is not a matter of a technical fix. First, you need a social fix. If the Web is open to good people, it's open to bad people, too. The way you deal with security and other problems on the Web is the same way you deal with it in society: You need laws and social conventions that guide people's behavior. Once those are developed, then the technical ways to implement them can be created.