Once again, the universe has conspired to teach me a lesson...
Last week I had a great chat with Peter Gloor of MIT's Center for Coordination Science. We talked about his upcoming book, "Social Patterns of Innovation," which includes stories about some of the greatest collaborative innovation networks (COINs) in history. Peter mentioned Tim Berners-Lee as a notable leader of a COIN, and seemed surprised when I said "who is that?" Peter then very politely explained that Berners-Lee invented the fundamental technology of the World Wide Web.
The very next day I learned the scope of Berners-Lee's accomplishments in the last place I would have expected to read about them -- the latest issue of UU World, the magazine of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
In the September/October 2004 issue, UU World notes "Inventor of World Wide Web is knighted by queen." The half-page article applauds "Sir Tim" (who is also a Unitarian Universalist, it turns out) for developing key Internet communication protocols while at CERN, despite never winning formal approval for the research. (Note: Visit CERN now and see its homepage proclaim, "Where the Web was born!")
The article closes with a great quote by Berners-Lee: "As [Internet] technology becomes even more powerful and available, using more kinds of devices, I hope we learn how to use it as a medium for working together, and resolving misunderstandings on every scale."
The above quote is not just a noble sentiment, but is actually the foundation of Berners-Lee's success. As Peter explained to me last week, Berners-Lee wasn't just a creative visionary, he also built and led a team as dedicated to the potential of the Internet as he was. He brought out the best from his colleagues by organizing in a transparent, meritocratic, and egalitarian way, without much thought of personal reward (financial or otherwise).
Congratulations, Sir Tim!
[For more about Berners-Lee's current interests, see this Scientific American article on the semantic web.]