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Web inventor sees his baby as a 'play space'

October 21, 1999
Web posted at: 3:10 p.m. EDT (1910 GMT)

by Carolyn Duffy Marsan

Network World Fusion

(IDG) -- In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee first proposed a global hypertext system dubbed the World Wide Web. Ten years later, the Web is hailed by some as one of the most significant inventions of all time - on par with Gutenberg's printing press, Bell's telephone and Marconi's radio.

Berners-Lee recently published a book called Weaving the Web about how he created this free-flowing communications medium and his vision for its future. Berners-Lee took time from his six-city book tour to talk with Network World Senior Editor Carolyn Duffy Marsan about how the Web is changing enterprise network environments.

How will the Web of the future that you describe in your book manifest itself in enterprise environments?

If you look at the typical corporate Web site, it's very much information dissemination. The Web site is something that is created for the management by the Webmaster. The Webmaster should enable [people in] other parts of the company to use the Web as effectively as they can.

The Web site should be a mirror of your organization. When you actually do things on the Web, it becomes your organization. Architecting this is a lot more than systems management. It asks fundamental questions about what the company is and what the company's ethos should be. It needs to be driven by the CEO. It's not something that can be delegated to a minion.

How do you see the Web changing the way large companies do business?

The Web will give you great freedom to redesign the company. Typically in engineering companies, the classic problem is how do you keep the salesmen in touch with engineering. The engineers design what they think is really cool, the marketing department has no idea why it's so cool, and the sales department is desperately trying to find a completely different product than what the customer has just ordered. So you try to connect the departments.

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With the Web, you don't have to worry about what building they're in. If you're smart about the Web, you can have documents linked in the sales Web site and the engineering Web site. A salesman who is interested in a product can find out why the engineers made a particular design decision and annotate it. That is what I would like to see in an organization that runs well.

In your book, you make a case for the need to develop collaborative tools for the Web. How would these tools be put to use in the workplace?

The Web as a creative medium is really lacking at the moment. When you're in hypertext, being creative means being able to browse and make links at the same time.

When you have to switch to edit mode and wait half an hour to edit something and then switch back to browsing mode to see what it looks like, that's not an intuitive way of capturing an idea. The ultimate goal is that you can take any HTML page and change a spelling mistake and hit save as long as you have the authentication.

In your book you say that: "The job of computers and networks is to get out of the way, to not be seen." What role do you see for network managers in the Web-based computing environments of the future?

Network managers need to get out of the way and not be seen. The user's job is not to use the network, it is to do whatever they do. Network managers need to create systems where they are not needed for users to create new files, new workgroups or new directories. They should not get in the way of people's creativity. You might want to filter what goes out to a public Web site. But within a company, you need to let people use the Web as a play space.

How has being a celebrity changed your life?

It's gotten in the way, mostly. The good side is that I've been introduced to all kinds of interesting people. The bad side is that people are interested in you for being "the inventor of the Web" rather than being interested in you as an actual human being.

You first proposed the Web 10 years ago. Where do you see yourself in another 10 years?

Ten years ago, I thought that was a question that every interviewee should have an answer for. Now I would be very suspicious of anybody who thinks they can answer that question. Life is much too interesting for you to be able to plan what you'll be doing 10 years from now.

Web inventor stumps for new standard
March 29, 1999
"Original" hypertext project delivers -- 30 years later
September 2, 1999
WebGov still suffers delays
August 20, 1999
Help: What is the World Wide Web?
February 4,1999
CNN: Web Kit
February 2,1998

Web inventor stumps for new standard
(PC World Online)
Web father Berners-Lee shares next-generation vision of The Semantic Web
Berners-Lee pushes intelligent data tagging
(Network World Fusion)
Berners-Lee traces Web's course at MIT event, receives chair
W3C's Berners-Lee urges agent-readable Web sites
The creation of the World Wide Web
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Transcript of chat session with Berners-Lee about his book
Tim Berners-Lee biography
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