I met Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, in the fall of 1999.
He had, somewhat reluctantly, granted a few interviews in connection with the publication of his book, "Weaving the Web."
And so we chatted for a while in his office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, where he works as head of the World Wide Web Consortium, a group that helps direct the development of the Web as a communications medium.
During that interview, Berners-Lee good-naturedly fielded some questions about the book, about his career and about his thoughts on the future direction of the Web.
It became obvious as we talked that, far from seeking the spotlight, Berners-Lee was comfortable in the academic and research settings where he has spent most of his life. He was particularly emphatic about not wanting the fame and fortune then being heaped on those who were commercializing the Web.
But there was one thing that brightened Berners-Lee's interest and that was the subject of Web publishing.
Berners-Lee said he had always envisioned the Web as a place where people could as easily publish their ideas as they could read the ideas of others.
The explosive growth of the Internet and the World Wide Web had certainly made it easier for people to find information online. But the other half of the dream, the idea that ordinary folks could easily publish on the Internet, remained unrealized.
Today, 2 years later, not much has changed.
Millions use the Web to find everything from TV listings to stock quotes to ball scores to news items. Comparatively few, however, add their own insights to the Web's vast storehouse of knowledge and opinion.
True, many people have created personal home pages or registered domain names to create Web sites. But such sites represent only a fraction of what the Web could deliver if more people became directly involved in building it, not just using it.
The underlying problem is that today's software and Web infrastructure makes it too difficult for average users to publish online.
The ideal situation would be one in which every Web browser were capable of not only viewing Web pages, but editing and publishing them as well. This wouldn't give users the right to edit someone else's Web sites, of course, but it would allow people to put information online just as easily as they might create a word-processing document or an e-mail.
Some modest steps have been made in this direction. Microsoft Word, for example, allows users to save documents in the html file format used by Web pages. Netscape's browser allows users to both view and edit html documents.
But creating those documents is one thing; getting them online is another. The process of publishing documents on the Web remains far more complicated than hitting "save."
Under Berners-Lee's direction, the World Wide Web Consortium is developing a browser, called Amaya, that demonstrates what an integrated Web browser/editor might do.
The latest version of Amaya (www.w3c.org/Amaya) is a far cry from the state-of-the-art browser available from companies such as Microsoft and Netscape.
But it's an intriguing project that helps keep alive the dream of a Web that is accessible to those who want to contribute as well as those who are just browsing.
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service
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