The University of Southampton

The Web at 20 - it's come a long way

Published: 5 August 2011

Twenty years on from the day that Tim Berners-Lee made the first web page available, it is now 'the single most important thing breaking down barriers around the world', according to Professor Dame Wendy Hall, who will be speaking about the anniversary on BBC Breakfast News tomorrow (Saturday 6 August).

Twenty years on from that day, Professor Sir Tim Berners-Lee is now Director of the World Wide Web Consortium and the World Wide Web Foundation, Professor of Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, and Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton, but in 1991 he was working at CERN in Geneva when he unveiled the world's first web page. Sir Tim made the Web publicly available - a novel way of sharing documents in a global information space, free of charge for anyone to use.

"I don't think any of us realized the significance at the time,' says Dame Wendy. 'When I saw Tim Berners-Lee demonstrate it in 1991 I saw an interesting system, but not what it was going to do."

Computer Science at Southampton has been closely involved in the development of the Web from the earliest days of its existence, and the Web has formed a major part of its research efforts. ECS-Electronics and Computer Science has been a world-leader in Open Access - the global initiative to have all the world's research freely available on the Web - as the first academic institution in the world to adopt an Open Access mandate (2001). ECS also has been at the forefront of the development of the Semantic Web and more recently of the movement towards linked open data.

In 2004 Sir Tim Berners-Lee was appointed Professor of Computer Science at ECS and in 2006 ECS organized the World Wide Web conference. Later that year the discipline of Web Science was launched as a joint initiative between the University of Southampton and MIT. In 2008 the University of Southampton was awarded the first Doctoral Training Centre in Web Science, an initiative which is training Web scientists of the future, and the Web Science Trust was formed in 2009. It now manages a global network of Web Science Laboratories, WSTNet.

In 2010 Professor Nigel Shadbolt and Sir Tim were advisors to 'The Virtual Revolution', a four-part series made by the BBC, about how the Web is shaping almost every aspect of our lives. The programme won a BAFTA and Digital Emmy Award.

Since 2009 Sir Tim, Professor James Hendler (Rensselaer Polytechnic University) and Professor Shadbolt (all founder Directors of the Web Science Trust) have been central to the development of open data technology and policy for the UK and US governments. Their work has provided a wealth of public data which, in particular, is being used by the community of entrepreneurial developers to create apps that can empower citizens, helping them understand and negotiate their environment.

Nigel Shadbolt will be appearing on BBC Click tomorrow to talk about the Web and his involvement in open data.

Assessing the impact of the Web over the last 20 years, Dame Wendy tells the BBC: “I had no idea when I saw my first website that this was something that was going to be so big. But retrospectively it was obvious – people love to communicate, but the Web, and all the technologies that have grown up alongside it, have enabled so much more than that. The Web has changed the shape of nations, and enabled the silent majority to have a voice. It’s now the single most important thing breaking down barriers around the world. In the future when the whole world will be able to join us online, the Web will become the world’s database, a customized information system that will store our knowledge and answer our questions.”

For further information contact Joyce Lewis; tel.+44(0)23 8059 5453. _____________________________________________________________________________________

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