30 Years On, What Can We Learn from the Creator of the World Wide Web?

Sir Tim Berners-Lee by Paul Clarke via creativecommons.org

At the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, was given his moment in the spotlight, celebrating the impact he’s had on not just British culture but the wider world.

Sat working at a NeXT Computer, like the one on which he invented the World Wide Web, Sir Tim tweeted ‘This is for Everyone’ – a message which was then instantly spelled out in LED lights around the stadium.

This message of openness has been a guiding principle for Berners-Lee since he created the World Wide Web, and 30 years on it remains a valuable credo for other aspiring inventors, entrepreneurs and businesspeople to consider.

Here are some other useful things we’ve learned from the man who put the world at our fingertips.

Caring for the masses

Despite inventing one of modern life’s most essential tools, Berners-Lee isn’t anywhere near as wealthy as his technologically savvy peers.

Even with a reported net worth of around US$50, (£37.7m), he didn’t become a billionaire for his creation, despite its huge impact on society. This is because he gave it to the world for free, with no patent and no royalties due, ensuring the World Wide Web was available to all (hence the tweet).

It’s worth remembering that it’s not all about how much money you can make – some things are too important.

Adapting to a changing society

Three decades of the World Wide Web have come and gone but the online world is still changing rapidly and affecting society in unexpected ways. New platforms and systems appear constantly as businesses compete to find the next big thing, and this rapid pace of innovation can be both a blessing and a curse.

But Berners-Lee has a solution: a ‘Contract for the Web’ which will create fresh legal and technical rules, create global unity for users, and ensure any mistakes from the last 30 years aren’t repeated.

He first suggested his Contract for the Web last November at the Web Summit in Lisbon, which he says would help establish clear norms, laws and standards, much like principles such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

However, Berners-Lee argues that implementing it will need the cooperation of governments, companies and citizens. If we can follow his model, it should ensure we tackle the problems affecting the web today, while ensuring the web fosters opportunity, creativity, and equality for all.

Being able to take a step back and continually find improvements for your inventions or business ideas is vital if you hope to avoid obsolescence.

Know when there’s still more to do

Every year, on the anniversary of his creation, Berners-Lee publishes an open letter on his vision for the future of the web. Given the importance of the 30th birthday milestone, this year saw Berners-Lee reflect on how the web has changed our world, expressing concern about the direction the web is moving, and what we must do to build a better web that serves all of humanity. 

Sir Tim Berners-Lee writes, “Today, 30 years on from my original proposal for an information management system, half the world is online. It’s a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come, but also an opportunity to reflect on how far we have yet to go.

“While the web has created opportunity, given marginalized groups a voice, and made our daily lives easier, it has also created opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred, and made all kinds of crime easier to commit.”

Berners-Lee understands why people can feel afraid and unsure if the web is a force for good, especially with the barrage of news stories detailing how the web is misused. He adds, “But given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better in the next 30.

“If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web.”

It would be easy for Berners-Lee to rest on his laurels and be satisfied with the work he has done, but his determination to ensure the World Wide Web works better for marginalized identities and ceases to be a tool for criminal activity shows the importance of ethics and morality in business.

Sure, it’s not as baller as relaxing on a mega-yacht burning $100 bills for fun, but it’s inarguable the world would be a better place if our businesses were run by more people like Berners-Lee.

Written by Niamh Ollerton

Niamh is Assistant Editor of TopMBA.com, creating and editing content for an international MBA student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of the business world.  

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