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A Brief History of the Internet

Question: What most surprises your students about the rise of the Web?

Jay Rosen: The most surprising thing for my students is to learn what Timothy Berners-Lee was doing when he invented the web and what problem he was trying to solve, along with his motivations for doing that. Timothy Berners-Lee was a scientist who noticed the problem with the internet, and the problem was that all this knowledge that other scientists had put on the internet, because they’ve been using it for some time, was in a sense there, but in another sense completely inaccessible to him because it was stored in a different format or it require permissions to get on to this machine or it was on some network that he didn’t have access to. It was there, but in another sense completely unavailable. And so he imagine the World Wide Web as the common space where everything on the internet could be in one publishing zone, right? In one language, so that everybody could share in it, collaborate with one another, as we do in science, and publish back. And so the roots of the World Wide Web… I’m not in broadcasting or media at all, but in the whole idea of collaboration. When they learn that, they kind of lean forward a little bit. And then when I tell them that Timothy Berners-Lee declined to patent the World Wide Web, didn’t want to turn it into a business, didn’t see its future in commercial terms at all, and hasn’t, in fact, profited directly at all from his invention since he gave it to the world, that blows their minds.

Recorded on: 08/17/2008

Jay Rosen gives a preview of his class, "The Rise of the Web."

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