Tim Berners-Lee Reddit AMA: Top 10 answers

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Sir Tim Berners-Lee participated in a Reddit AMA to celebrate 25 years since he submitted his proposal for the World Wide Web.

During his Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) session, Berners-Lee fielded some interesting questions including whether he considered other names other than WWW, which browser he uses and whether he feels like the creator of the atomic bomb. Here are the highlights.

Q1: What was your first computer?

TBL: "I got a M6800 evaluation kit in 1976, and built a bunch of 3U high cards, put them in a rack with a car battery in the bottom of the crate as UPS. All hand-soldered on veroboard, and programmed in hex.

"7E XX XX was a long jump, and 20 XX a relative jump IIRC. The display was an old TV and some logic and a bunch of discarded calculator buttons lovingly relabeled with transfer letters. Those were the days"

Q2: What other names did you consider other than the World Wide Web?

TBL: "Mine of Information, The Information Mine, The Mesh. None had quite the right ring. I liked WWW partly because I could start global variable names with a W and not have them clash with other peoples' (in a C world) ...in fact I used HT for them)."

Q3: Is it true that error 404 came to be as a result of there not being a room 404 in the office you were working at?

TBL: "No. Nonsense."

Q4: What was one of the things you never thought the internet would be used for, but has actually become one of the main reasons people use the internet?

TBL: "Kittens"

In reponse to another question Berners-Lee confirmed that he's never posted any pictures of cats online, but he has put up a picture of his dog.

Q5: How do you feel about the supposed dark side of the internet, such as the black markets? (Silk Road etc.)

TBL: "Complicated question. I am not a great expert on them. Simple answers include of course that illegal things are crimes on or off the web.

"But anonymity is tricky. We have a right to be anonymous as a whistle-blower or under an oppressive regime but not when we are bullying someone? How can we build technical/social/judicial systems for determining which right is more important in any given case? Relates to tor"

Q6: What web browser do you use?

TBL: "My default browser at the moment is Firefox. I also use Safari, Opera and Chrome each a reasonable amount. Firefox has the Tabulator plugin which does neat things with linked data. If I am running a latest version of that (I check it straight out of github) which can be unstable, I'll use one of the others for things which need to be stable. Joe Presbrey ported the plugin to Chrome too BTW."

Q7: What are your thoughts on the increased surveillance on internet-based mediums like GCHQ's monitoring of all the Yahoo video chats. Do you personally think it should be controlled, non existent or fine the way it is now?

TBL: "I think that some monitoring of the net by government agencies is going to be needed to fight crime. We need to invent a new system of checks and balances with unprecedented power to be able to investigate and hold the agencies which do it accountable to the public."

Q8. Edward Snowden- Hero or Villain?

TBL: "Because he had no other alternative [he] engaged as a journalist / with a journalist to be careful of how what was released, and provided an important net overall benefit to the world, I think he should be protected, and we should have ways of protecting people like him. Because we can try to design perfect systems of government, and they will never be perfect, and when they fail, then the whistleblower may be all that saves society."

Q9: Do you ever look at the stuff on the web now and feel like Robert Oppenheimer (father of the atomic bomb)?

TBL: "No, not really. The web is a -- primarily neutral -- tool for humanity. When you look at humanity you see the good and the bad, the wonderful and the awful. A powerful tool can be used for good or ill. Things which are really bad are illegal on the web as they are off it. On balance, communication is good think I think: much of the badness comes from misunderstanding."

Q10: Where do you think the web will end up in the next 25 years?

TBL: "It is up to us. It is an artificial creation, as are our laws, and our constitutions ... we can chose how they work. We can make new ones. Our choice."

Khidr Suleman is the Technical Editor at IT Pro, a role he has fulfilled since March 2012. He is responsible for the reviews section on the site  - so get in touch if you have a product you think might be of interest to the business world. He also covers the hardware and operating systems beats. Prior to joining IT Pro, Khidr worked as a reporter at Incisive Media. He studied law at the University of Reading and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism and Online Writing at PMA Training.