Tim Berners-Lee is a name that almost no one in America recognizes. He invented the World Wide Web almost single-handedly and that’s not even the most amazing aspect of his life. Inventing the World Wide Web would conservatively make anyone with even some business sense a billionaire, and someone who truly maintained ownership of it and rented access, domain names and the ability to traffic information through it could have theoretically become a trillionaire. Tim Berners-Lee chose instead to give the innovation of Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and the World Wide Web to society with no strings attached.
Here are three ways Tim Berners-Lee could have become the wealthiest person in the World by a factor of more than 10.
Retain ownership of all domain names.
Imagine what the domain name Drugs.com, Insurance.com, or TV.com is worth. Now suppose instead of it being sold at one time for roughly $8 per year and then resold by various entities if Tim Berners-Lee had merely held onto the domains and leased them to corporations for their actual market value. Assuming there are at least 10,000 extremely valuable domain names (there are) and they were leased to companies for an average of a few thousand dollars per month. Now imagine that every major corporation’s name was leased to them as well. The ownership and subsequent leasing of domain names could make an individual billions alone.
Charge ISP’s for Wholesale Access to the World Wide Web, or Better Yet be the Only Access
Currently, Internet service providers do not have to pay any monopolistic entity for access to the World Wide Web. Tim Berners-Lee, if he had retained ownership of the World Wide Web, could have charged the providers a simple fee of say $20-$30 per month for each subscriber. Based on their being 100 million subscriptions to the Internet in America, this would equal $3,000,000,000 per month in America alone and easily $10,000,000,000 per month in global revenue. In total annual revenue this would generate roughly the total net worth of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates combined within one year.
Integrate Advertisements into the Protocol
Why not require that users have to be subjected to advertisements as part of the subscription? Cable networks do it, and they can because they control delivery of the content. The ability to place advertisements into HTTP wouldn’t be difficult if it were owned and controlled by one entity. This could easily generate as much and probably more revenue that Google (who currently generates somewhere near 98% of their revenue from advertising).
Tim Berners-Lee is worth an estimated $50,000,000 according to celebrity net worth. He made the conscious choice to give one of the most significant inventions in history to society for no cost at all. There are numerous examples of selfish behaviour benefiting society by making certain advancements and systems available that wouldn’t have been if the profit motive had not existed, but this is probably the most significant example of someone altruistically doing what is best for society in lieu of becoming the wealthiest and possibly most powerful person in the World.
There is almost no question that Tim Berners-Lee would be a multi-billionaire had he followed the obvious path of self-interest. There is a reasonable chance that he would have become a trillionaire and it is almost undeniable that we as a society have benefited from altruistic decision to give the World Wide Web and Hyper Text Transfer Protocol to society for free.