Toward the end of 1990 in a lab in Switzerland, British physicist Tim Berners-Lee brought to life his creation—the World Wide Web. At the time, his colleagues admired his ingenuity, but most people simply could not envision practical uses for his invention. So Berners-Lee used his creation to speed up access to the lab’s telephone directory.
Some of his colleagues resisted even that use, arguing that what they had was just fine. Who knew that the tools Berners-Lee had created to define the basic structure of the web— tools he gave away for free, by the way—would spawn a revolution in how we all work and live?
Ten years later, at the end of 2000, Berners-Lee’s lone web site had a lot of company: over 25 million web sites around the world. There are now more than 876 million sites, and that number continues to grow. Time magazine named Berners-Lee one of the top thinkers of the 20th century. Berners-Lee told the BBC that his invention was “just another program.”
Queen Elizabeth II knighted Berners-Lee for his pioneering work. He also received Finland’s Millennium Technology Prize.
Berners-Lee is a modest guy, but he clearly sees beyond what most of us see, and he thinks BIG. In an interview in Technology Review, Sir Tim pointed out that, “Early on, people really didn’t understand why the web was interesting. They saw it in the smaller scale, and it’s not interesting in the smaller scale.”
The story of the web’s creation points out the need to challenge ourselves to stretch our thinking to learn to recognize big ideas. The next time you hear what sounds like a crazy or useless notion, remind yourself of Tim Berners-Lee