Note: Richard Frisbie alerted me the other day that Tim Berners-Lee has just been knighted by the Queen. Sir Tim...
This is an article about when I worked with Tim, inventor of the World Wide Web.
When I was at MIT, I worked with the group, the W3C. World Wide Web Consortium.
You can look me up on the website, www.w3c.org. under Alumni, by my maiden name, Kathryn Esplin.
I had come to MIT and the W3C via a book I had copyedited on HTML. It was written by several authors and the UK office of Addison -Wesley Longman wanted to make sure it had US spelling and usage.
So, I took to pen and edited. More like, I took to mouse and clicked.
It was wonderful working with the folks who invented the Web. MIT is a tough place to work, for anybody who's ever tried. But I learned a lot during my time there.
Here's what I learned:
Tim Berners-Lee, armed with a degree in Physics from Oxford University, was working at the Particle Physics Laboratory at CERN, in Geneva, Switzerland in 1992 and 1993, when he and a few others communicated over the Internet.
There were nine original members in this group. They used FTP publishing in those days, for those of you who've forayed into FTP.
Tim and a few others thought it would be a capital idea to have a visual interface to the Internet.
Dave Raggett wanted to have the Internet resemble a magazine.
Others also thought that increasing the sophistication of the user interface to the Internet would be wonderful, eventually adding such capabilities we know today such as style sheets, (CSS), streaming multimedia, voice activated web, and everything you've come to love about the Web.
Tim's parents were British and helped work on the world's first calculator, the Mach-3. Tim's mother apparently had a fondness for spiders and used to string threads from the ceiling so the spiders could climb down.
I thought spiders were clever enough to manage on their own, but Tim's mother I'm sure helped them along.
Tim invented the anchor in HTML.
You know: a=rel="nofollow" href.
This seems like a small contribution, but it was what allows HTML to be linked to the rest of the linguistic contraption on the Internet itself.
Others of the original nine inventors of the web invented the terms HTTP and HTML. HTTP, you may know, stands for hypertext transfer protocol, and is part of the computer language that allows for the HTML to be linked to the Internet.
HTML is an acronym for Hyper-Text Mark-Up Language.
Dave Raggett, also from Oxford and later at MIT, was the lead architect of the HTML language.
HTML itself grew out of an earlier mark-up language, SGML, standard generalized mark-up language.
Dave Raggett was a software engineer, a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Oxford, working for Hewlett-Packard in the UK at the time.
I want to stress that all nine originators of the Web were from the UK. They were located at various places in Europe at the time, but all were British.
The term "World Wide Web" was Tim's original invention, as was the formerly used term, " URL, which stood for "universal resource locator."
At the time I was working at MIT as a consultant (in 1998), many in the W3C thought the term "web address" was better since nobody liked URL and nobody could remember what it stood for.
Thus "web address" was born.
When the first web sites went up by the original nine members, who included Tim and Dave, the world stood still. Most did not notice anything amiss, as this was just 1992.
But by 1994, MIT called over the inventors to form a lab in Cambridge. This they did and called it "The World Wide Web Consortium" (W3C).
The Cambridge lab also has mirror sites in France and Keio University in Tokyo, as well as offices worldwide.
The W3C functions as a standards body, with members offering suggestions to make the technologies developed compatible with the work that all the other companies are doing.
Compatibility is essential. Maybe you remember the early Netscape browser. In 1998, most Americans thought that Microsoft and Netscape invented the World Wide Web.
Microsoft came out with Windows 95 (code-named 'Chicago') in 1995; Netscape came out with its 'Navigator' browser around the same time.
Marc Andreeson, lead engineer at Netscape was a student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign when he was 'discovered' by financiers from Silicon Graphics.
A company quickly formed.
Worldwide exclusive here: Andreeson wrote the code for the Netscape browser in 72 hours. 72 hours, folks!!
No wonder it never worked well. It was full of bugs!! It was not compatible with much and the results were much better with Microsoft's IE browser, back then.
Netscape nearly went under and IE has gone through at least 7 iterations now. Much water has passed under the bridge.
At that time, though, it was Andreeson's contention to put Microsoft out of business.
Hubris. Would that many other young companies also tried. And failed.
From 1994 to 1996 the web grew exponentially. From a few sites in 1992 to a few hundred to a few million to a few hundred million today.
The book I edited was "Raggett on HTML 4.0", published by Addison-Wesley Longman. Much to the book's credit, it was written in a very conversational tone, with whimsical drawings throughout.
The Raggetts' pet bunny, Shiver, and pet guinea pig, Stripey, are immortalized in both drawing and prose. Shiver and Stripey later became our pets, two unlikely, but delightful cage mates.
Dave Raggett, his wife, Jenny Lam (also from Oxford and a technical writer), Oxford colleague Ian Smith, and U.S. writer Michael Kmiec joined forces to create the book.
My job was to blend the four voices from my home office in Belmont, which is where the Raggetts also lived, not far from Cambridge and MIT itself.
Have you ever wondered how mothers of young children ever manage to work at home? Jenny has a photo of herself in the book with laundry in her hand.
We two worked at her house, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then the 9 p.m. to 2 am. For a year.
It was a wild ride, editing the book, and then, later working at MIT. The W3C lab is still mainly non-US, which gives it a wonderfully eclectic and cosmopolitan feel.
I still subscribe to W3C's weekly newsletter, though I rarely read it online. You can subscribe, too.
The W3C now includes hundreds of members worldwide, which include companies, universities and user organizations, all of which send their best software engineers to W3C member meetings to make sure the technologies you use will work well.
Enjoy the Web. It was designed to be easy-to-use and free.
Though the question of whether it is easy to use, remains open.
As does the question of whether or not the Web remains free, in more ways than one.