Is Tim Berners-Lee our time's Gutenberg?

I posted a topic a few months ago about whether the Web is somewhat overemphasized when it comes to the Digital Revolution. Many say the Web is equal to the printing press, but I argued that the Internet itself was the bigger revolution and even without the Web some other Web-like interface would have been created to increase the Internet’s appeal to the masses.

web=internet for most of us.

True, though it’s only been that way since about 1997 or so. Even in the 2000s the Internet wasn’t as Web-exclusive as now, with IM software and FTP file sharing clients being replaced by Web-based chat and torrents.

Why do people play these stupid games with polls? You ask one question in the title and then don’t even reference that question in the content, the poll question or the poll choices.

No, Tim Berners-Lee is not the equivalent of Gutenberg. Not to downplay his importance, but I don’t think any single person should get credit for “the web” because there are too many components that were necessary to work together to make it usable for the average person. If we were still typing away in Lynx and visiting hand-made directories like the original Yahoo, it would hardly be a revolution.

Yes, the Internet is equivalent to the printing press in terms of changing how people distribute, store and access information, however I would argue that has more to do with search engines than with hypertext or Internet protocols.

I don’t know enough about Gutenberg to know if the analogy holds - was he a far-sighted genius that moved society forwards by 100 years? Or was movable type inevitable in that time and he just happened to do it first?

I agree with your post that Sir Tim seems to fit the latter category, that a web interface was inevitable and he got their first - very much a layman’s opinion though, don’t really grasp the technical challenge of what was involved in setting up his incipient WWW.

Puts me in mind of that WAR stat that baseball fans use - whether one can distinguish between those who were first amongst equals, the names who claimed developments that were happening anyway with or without them, versus those singular minds who jolted the timeline of history off the tracks.

If you want to make an analogy, consider the internet to be paper and the web to be the printing press. You can use paper for lots of things, like letters (email) and printing (the web) is only one of those uses.

That makes sense, though there was some “printing” on the Internet before the Web got popular, such as Gopher and Archie.

I dunno, but he could have been the richest person in the world. That is for sure.

If he had tried, it probably wouldn’t have caught on. There were plenty of alternative hypertext plans around at the time. His succeeded because it was simple and free. The people who benefit most substantially from the web are the visually impaired. As long as web developers aren’t idiots, everything on the web is automatically accessible to everyone. That is a Gutenberg size change for a sizable number of people.

If you start at the internet browser - as in the invention of - and work forwards, you can chose points he could have chosen to say ‘I want a piece of that’.

It’s technically inaccurate that he didn’t make any money off the Web. He didn’t make any money selling it, but he’s made plenty through talking about it and working with the Internet and Web community. He’s not a billionaire or nearly as rich as some other Internet people, but he is a multi-millionaire.

The reason the Web took off isn’t so much because it was easy to use. A more user-friendly GUI to the Internet was inevitable by 1990 as they’d been planning to commercialize it for a couple years at that point. It’s like you said because he insisted on making it free and open source. That’s why it overtook Gopher, the University of Minnesota started charging money to use Gopher so everyone switched to the Web and Marc Andriessen decided to make Mosaic/Netscape, and Windows copied him with Internet Explorer and included it in Windows 95.

There were also the intangibles, like being the centerpiece of the Olympics closing ceremony.

I’m surprised he isn’t really a “household name” considering people use his invention every day. I do know he’s a very humble man, but still you’d think people would think he was a great hero.

Gutenberg wasn’t any more famous in his own time. He was given something like a knighthood by the local archbishop a few years before his death, but was obscure enough that nobody bothered to preserve his grave when the church was torn down. He seems to have lost money on his Bible and didn’t print his own name in it. So maybe Berners-Lee will be more famous as someone future history students read about, just as Gutenberg is today.

Having said that, I agree with the consensus: Berners-Lee is not as important to the development of the Internet as Gutenberg was to the development of printing. It was much more than a one-man job.

Except there’s no real reason to think Gutenberg single-handedly invented movable type. He know he was a guy who owned a printing press and printed early bibles using movable type, but we don’t know who came up with the idea of movable type. And monoprint presses had been around for a long time. So he made–or is given the credit for–an incremental improvement that very likely would have been made by someone else.

It turns out that most inventions are like this. The guy who gets the credit is often just a guy who made use of the invention first, not the guy who came up with the idea. And when you look at who came up with the idea it’s usually lots of people who came up with similar ideas at around the same time. Or sometimes one guy who had the idea way before anyone else, but all he ever did was write down the idea in a notebook and file it away.

So who is the inventor? The guy who scribbled some ideas on a napkin and then forgot about it? The guys who thought about the idea but failed to make it work? The guy who built the first working prototype? Or the guy who made the first profitable business out of the idea?

Yes. It feels like “invented the printing press” and the “innovation of movable type” are shorthand nicknames for a 100-150 year period where books /printed materials moved from a pricey, rare item to a more commonly-available item. The cheaper printing tech enabled more things to be published = new bandwidth, in the form of cheap-to-make pamphlets. Those expanded the ways groups could get their voices heard and mobilized for action in ways that have changed history. And Gutenberg is the shorthand go-to based on his important, but not exclusive contribution.

If we look at the Computing Age as starting around WW2, and the Consumer Computing Age around 2000 or so, then we are 50 years into a similar transition period.

Now, what will the pivotal technology that becomes the shorthand this new Age we are in? Will it be the WWW and TBL be the Poster Child?

I doubt it. A lot more likely to be the PC and Bill Gates, the smartphone and Steve Jobs, FB and Zuckerberg, Search/Google and Page/Brin, or maybe Amazon and Bezos. One or two of them are much more likely to be the Gutenberg Poster Child for this Age. My $.02.