Creator Spinning the Web of Future

Article excerpt

Like many people who achieve something spectacular, Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, has seen a myth grow up around him.

He's not a physicist. He's just a software engineer who wanted to make his work easier.

But he's often portrayed as a physicist because he developed the Web while working at the European Particle Physics Laboratory, known as CERN, and the physics community was the first to embrace it.

But now, more than a decade after he came up with the idea, the Web is used by millions of people with computers connected to the Internet, the global computer network. Entertainment and information - not science - is the aim of many users who "browse" a colorful collection of Web "sites" every day.

Companies of all sizes display products and public information on their sites. And thousands of individuals have their own Web sites, where they show favorite photos, poetry, opinions on entertainment, news or sports, or demonstrate some type of expertise.

Berners-Lee believes the technology that is now a novelty to many people will be taken for granted in a few years. And he is working toward that end.

British-born and educated, the soft-spoken programmer left CERN a year ago to join the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which helped form a consortium of more than 90 companies and institutions to fund development of Web technical standards.

The consortium's members also deal with many issues that reflect the public's anxiety about on-line communication - like security, intellectual property protection, free speech, anonymity and authenticity.

The group is expected to come up with innovations to help rate Web content the way that movies are rated, and to allow users to do more things on a Web page besides reading it and jumping to another.

Many members of the World Wide Web Consortium, especially companies like software and computer makers, see the coming changes as a way to make money quickly.

"We have short-term pressures from companies that need to get products out to market very rapidly, in a ridiculously short time scale when compared historically," Berners-Lee said. "And at the same time . . . we have to be aware that we're doing something that has got a lot of long-term implications."

One sign of the Web's growing importance is that more than 3,000 people are expected at the fourth conference for standards development next month in Cambridge, Mass. That's compared to 300 at the first such gathering, held early last year.

The Web represents a major step toward getting information anytime and anywhere, the oft-discussed promise of computers and communications. But for all of its sophisticated technology, the Web is still in its youth, "the medieval part of this dream," said Michael Dertouzos, director of the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science, where Berners-Lee now works. …