Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It Takes More Than A Genius

A lot of people people have never heard of Tim Berners-Lee; even fewer have heard of Mike Sendall. I saw a piece in the Journal a couple of days which mentioned Berners-Lee and it made me think of Sendall even though I did not know who he was at the time.

You see, Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web. (Without going off on too much of a tangent, although most people think of them synonomously, the internet and the Web are not the same thing. It was Berners-Lee that came up with the idea of developing a common document code (hypertext) so that people could navigate among computers hooked up the internet.) Here's teh part of the Journal story I found interesting:
As a young computer scientist in 1989, he sent his manager a memo outlining the idea of hypertext and how it could help researchers share information. His manager scribbled "vague but exciting" and gave him the time to develop the idea.
Everyone takes the Internet/Web for granted now. But, as much as we depend on it now, it's only a few years old. Heck, some of our kids were even born before the Web was around. And for us more "seasoned" folks, we spent most of our lives getting by without it.

So, obviously, Berners-Lee is a genius -- right? But what about this un-named manager? What if he had responded: "quit wasting time on this nonsense and do something productive"? It's an interesting "what if?". Think about it. Think about all the different ways we use the internet. If it's hard, try unplugging your connection for one day and doing without it. But as much as we owe to Berners-Lee for developing the Web, we also owe a lot of his manager for seeing the potential and responding "vague but exciting".

Oh, by the way, Berners-Lee's manager was a fellow named Mike Sendall. It seems that this was not a fluke, but he had his genius of encouraging the people who worked for him, like Tim Berners-Lee, to take the time to explore new ideas. Unfortunately, Sendall died just a few years later in 1999.

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