Some of my colleagues, excited about a free upcoming NESTA talk by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, asked me for a recommendation. My involvement with the W3C probably makes me the worst person to set expectations, so I aimed for the opposite of “damming with faint praise”:
I’ve heard Timbl talk a number of times, and on each occasion been been shocked to the core how someone so powerful and authoritative, can apparently be presenting so badly. He speaks rapidly. There are a million thoughts which fight to come out of his head, and all at the same time. Sometimes, seemingly random thoughts usurp planned ones, and excite him more than the scripted ones. It can be a little like watching Emo Phillips impersonating John Moschitta
Then there is the feeling he’s selling something, yes, it’s that difficult second album “The Semantic Web“, which, empirically, we’re not buying. Well not yet, anyway. Once, having queued to the mic to ask an impassioned, personalised question on privacy to a Web 2.0 panel with Tim O’Reilly, I was startled, but unsurprised for it to be discarded by Timbl and the previous technical question on RDF revisited. In excruciating detail. That particular panel left me with the strong feeling that O’Reilly knows exactly where we are now, and Berners-Lee knows exactly where we should be, but nobody really knew how to join the two together.
That scorn sounds bad, so here is the salvation. After you leave Timbl’s company, you find yourself digesting, thinking and talking about and then reusing what he said. You realise he was relevant and very challenging. And you recall that this really was the guy who was instrumental in making the Web happen, and not entirely by luck or accident, and who created and leads a great organisation tasked with leading The Web to its full potential.
In short: hearing Timbl speak is always well worth the rapid, but never vapid, immersion, and I remain an unashamed fan!