English-Video.net comment policy

The comment field is common to all languages

Let's write in your language and use "Google Translate" together

Please refer to informative community guidelines on TED.com

TEDGlobal 2011

Ian Ritchie: The day I turned down Tim Berners-Lee

Filmed
Views 579,965

Imagine it's late 1990, and you've just met a nice young man named Tim Berners-Lee, who starts telling you about his proposed system called the World Wide Web. Ian Ritchie was there. And ... he didn't buy it. A short story about information, connectivity and learning from mistakes.

- Software entrepreneur
Ian Ritchie Full bio

Well we all know the World Wide Web
00:15
has absolutely transformed publishing, broadcasting,
00:17
commerce and social connectivity,
00:21
but where did it all come from?
00:23
And I'll quote three people:
00:25
Vannevar Bush, Doug Engelbart and Tim Berners-Lee.
00:27
So let's just run through these guys.
00:30
This is Vannevar Bush.
00:32
Vannevar Bush was the U.S. government's chief scientific adviser during the war.
00:34
And in 1945,
00:37
he published an article in a magazine called Atlantic Monthly.
00:39
And the article was called "As We May Think."
00:42
And what Vannevar Bush was saying
00:45
was the way we use information is broken.
00:47
We don't work in terms of libraries
00:50
and catalog systems and so forth.
00:53
The brain works by association.
00:55
With one item in its thought, it snaps instantly to the next item.
00:57
And the way information is structured
01:00
is totally incapable of keeping up with this process.
01:02
And so he suggested a machine,
01:05
and he called it the memex.
01:07
And the memex would link information,
01:09
one piece of information to a related piece of information and so forth.
01:11
Now this was in 1945.
01:14
A computer in those days
01:16
was something the secret services used to use for code breaking.
01:18
And nobody knew anything about it.
01:21
So this was before the computer was invented.
01:23
And he proposed this machine called the memex.
01:25
And he had a platform where you linked information to other information,
01:27
and then you could call it up at will.
01:30
So spinning forward,
01:32
one of the guys who read this article was a guy called Doug Engelbart,
01:34
and he was a U.S. Air Force officer.
01:36
And he was reading it in their library in the Far East.
01:38
And he was so inspired by this article,
01:41
it kind of directed the rest of his life.
01:43
And by the mid-60s, he was able to put this into action
01:45
when he worked at the Stanford Research Lab in California.
01:48
He built a system.
01:52
The system was designed to augment human intelligence, it was called.
01:54
And in a premonition of today's world
01:57
of cloud computing and softwares of service,
02:00
his system was called NLS
02:02
for oN-Line System.
02:04
And this is Doug Engelbart.
02:06
He was giving a presentation at the Fall Joint Computer Conference
02:08
in 1968.
02:11
What he showed --
02:14
he sat on a stage like this, and he demonstrated this system.
02:16
He had his head mic like I've got.
02:19
And he works this system.
02:21
And you can see, he's working between documents
02:23
and graphics and so forth.
02:25
And he's driving it all
02:27
with this platform here,
02:29
with a five-finger keyboard
02:31
and the world's first computer mouse,
02:33
which he specially designed in order to do this system.
02:35
So this is where the mouse came from as well.
02:37
So this is Doug Engelbart.
02:39
The trouble with Doug Engelbart's system
02:41
was that the computers in those days cost several million pounds.
02:43
So for a personal computer,
02:46
a few million pounds was like having a personal jet plane;
02:48
it wasn't really very practical.
02:50
But spin on to the 80s
02:52
when personal computers did arrive,
02:54
then there was room for this kind of system on personal computers.
02:56
And my company, OWL
02:58
built a system called Guide for the Apple Macintosh.
03:00
And we delivered the world's first hypertext system.
03:03
And this began to get a head of steam.
03:07
Apple introduced a thing called HyperCard,
03:09
and they made a bit of a fuss about it.
03:11
They had a 12-page supplement in the Wall Street Journal the day it launched.
03:13
The magazines started to cover it.
03:16
Byte magazine and Communications at the ACM
03:18
had special issues covering hypertext.
03:20
We developed a PC version of this product
03:22
as well as the Macintosh version.
03:24
And our PC version became quite mature.
03:26
These are some examples of this system in action in the late 80s.
03:29
You were able to deliver documents, were able to do it over networks.
03:33
We developed a system such
03:36
that it had a markup language based on html.
03:38
We called it hml: hypertext markup language.
03:40
And the system was capable of doing
03:43
very, very large documentation systems over computer networks.
03:45
So I took this system to a trade show in Versailles near Paris
03:49
in late November 1990.
03:52
And I was approached by a nice young man called Tim Berners-Lee
03:55
who said, "Are you Ian Ritchie?" and I said, "Yeah."
03:57
And he said, "I need to talk to you."
03:59
And he told me about his proposed system called the World Wide Web.
04:01
And I thought, well, that's got a pretentious name,
04:04
especially since the whole system ran on his computer in his office.
04:07
But he was completely convinced that his World Wide Web
04:10
would take over the world one day.
04:13
And he tried to persuade me to write the browser for it,
04:15
because his system didn't have any graphics or fonts or layout or anything;
04:17
it was just plain text.
04:20
I thought, well, you know, interesting,
04:22
but a guy from CERN, he's not going to do this.
04:25
So we didn't do it.
04:27
In the next couple of years,
04:29
the hypertext community didn't recognize him either.
04:31
In 1992, his paper was rejected for the Hypertext Conference.
04:33
In 1993,
04:36
there was a table at the conference in Seattle,
04:39
and a guy called Marc Andreessen
04:41
was demonstrating his little browser for the World Wide Web.
04:43
And I saw it, and I thought, yep, that's it.
04:46
And the very next year, in 1994, we had the conference here in Edinburgh,
04:48
and I had no opposition in having Tim Berners-Lee as the keynote speaker.
04:51
So that puts me in pretty illustrious company.
04:55
There was a guy called Dick Rowe
04:57
who was at Decca Records and turned down The Beatles.
04:59
There was a guy called Gary Kildall
05:01
who went flying his plane
05:03
when IBM came looking for an operating system
05:05
for the IBM PC,
05:07
and he wasn't there, so they went back to see Bill Gates.
05:09
And the 12 publishers
05:11
who turned down J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, I guess.
05:13
On the other hand, there's Marc Andreessen
05:16
who wrote the world's first browser for the World Wide Web.
05:18
And according to Fortune magazine,
05:20
he's worth 700 million dollars.
05:22
But is he happy?
05:24
(Laughter)
05:26
(Applause)
05:28

▲Back to top

About the speaker:

Ian Ritchie - Software entrepreneur
Ian Ritchie

Why you should listen

Ian Ritchie is chair of iomart plc. and several other computer and learning businesses, including Computer Application Services Ltd., the Interactive Design Institute and Caspian Learning Ltd. He is co-chair of the Scottish Science Advisory Council, a board member of the Edinburgh International Science Festival and the chair of Our Dynamic Earth, the Edinburgh Science Centre.

Ritchie founded and managed Office Workstations Limited (OWL) in Edinburgh in 1984 and its subsidiary OWL International Inc. in Seattle from 1985. OWL became the first and largest supplier of Hypertext/Hypermedia authoring tools (a forerunner to the World Wide Web) for personal computers based on its Guide product. OWL's customers used its systems to implement large interactive multimedia documentation systems in industry sectors such as automobile, defence, publishing, finance, and education. OWL was sold to Matsushita Electrical Industrial (Panasonic) of Japan in December 1989. He is the author of New Media Publishing: Opportunities from the digital revolution (1996).

He was awarded a CBE in the 2003 New Years Honours list for services to enterprise and education; he is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering; a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh; and a Fellow and a past-President of the British Computer Society (1998-99). 

More profile about the speaker
Ian Ritchie | Speaker | TED.com