This extends to his wife as well. They met in an amateur drama society in Geneva. She now runs her own consulting company and coordinates plays. Berners-Lee doesn't act in her productions, because the spotlight might turn to him. "It's much more helpful if I babysit," he says.
Cailliau says Berners-Lee wants everyone around him to be happy. "When he moved to Switzerland he built cardboard boxes to keep the cat warm. But I wonder how long he can keep this up. It causes stress. He has more and more people looking to him for decisions. Sometimes a director has to wield the knife."
Ironically, the few industry people who are critical of W3C claim that Berners-Lee is a king who holds an iron hand over his puppet regime. But his subjects disagree. At lunch one day at W3C, sans Berners-Lee, Charles McCathie-Neville, a tall, red-bearded Aussie; Hugo Haas, a slight Frenchman; and Hidetaka Ohto, a visiting researcher from Panasonic in Japan, all say there's no feeling that their director uses his authority arbitrarily. "Most times he doesn't use it at all," McCathie-Neville says. "Even when there is a strong disagreement, he makes sure every view has been considered, like a good CEO."
"The question is," Berners-Lee acknowledges that afternoon, "could I by whim pervert the course of justice? No, because there would be an outcry. I have to put my ideas into the process like anyone else. I write hypertext pages on our site called 'design issues' where I express my thoughts. If one succeeds, fine, otherwise members will tell me it's stupid."
Most often, the community embraces his ideas. LaLiberte, the French-Canadian, says, "There is an aura about him, because what he writes about technical matters is potent. He can dig down to a level most others can't reach."
Perhaps Berners-Lee plays more of a King Arthur role, sitting at the Round Table with the best technicians who also hold the right social ideals. An appropriate analogy? "Hmm," he ponders. "The Knights were all male, weren't they?" His comic leap is his way of saying all this conjecture is a bit silly.
When the book comes out in September, Berners-Lee is back to his evangelizing role. Commercial forces are stronger than ever, and a two-week book publicity tour offers an opportunity to remind everyone that the principles of the Web must be upheld, or it will cease to exist.
The tour will make him more of a public figure, however, a dubious honor. By the first week the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and others have written articles. Mostly, the media is fascinated that Berners-Lee has not become rich from his creation. They seize on the same quote from the book that conveys his testy attitude about a world obsessed with money: "What is maddening," Berners-Lee writes, "is the terrible notion that a person's value depends on how important and financially successful they are, and that that is measured in the form of money. This suggests disrespect for the researchers across the globe developing ideas for the next leaps in science and technology. To use net worth as a criterion by which to judge people is to set our children's sights on cash rather than on things that will actually make them happy."
Children are never far from his mind. One of the tour stops is a summit meeting of 75 CEOs at Harvard Business School. There are a few idle minutes before the speakers' panel is to begin, so Berners-Lee dutifully engages in small talk with business leaders. But he lights up when he and sociotechnology author Sherry Turkle stumble onto the popular Harry Potter book series for children. The two parents launch into a lively discussion of how their kids are interpreting the books. The moderator, growing impatient, interrupts to say the panel really must begin. Berners-Lee would happily have continued, even if it ate into his own presentation time. "Important" business issues didn't strike him as more important than novel ways to spark childrens' imaginations. But further delay would be disrespectful of the other panelists, so he acquiesces.
In level tones, Berners-Lee tells the high-powered business audience that it is in their interest to help make sure a rival Web never arises, because then the world's information will no longer exist in one place. Also, all people should have access to the Web, or we will miss brilliant ideas (and potential markets). And no company or government should control information on the Web in any way, because the true potential for improving society stems from people's freedom to interact.