Did I tell you about the time that Sir Tim Berners-Lee gave me his autograph and told me to “KUTGW”?

Fascinating story today from David Galbraith, trying to track down the precise geographical location where Tim Berners-Lee invented the Internet. Was it at his office, and if so, was his office in France or Switzerland (the CERN campus straddles the border)? Was it at his house in France, or a place he lived temporarily in Switzerland? Read all about it here.

The timing of the piece was great, as just last night I came across the autograph that Sir Tim Berners-Lee gave me near the beginning of my career. In 1999 – when XML was still shiny and new –  I wrote a paper about XML’s role in secure electronic documents. The W3C (web standards organization) published the paper and invited me to present it at the 8th Annual World Wide Web conference in Toronto (along with co-author John Boyer, a key player in the development of XML standards). It was a big moment in my career. After my session, I saw Sir Tim standing in the back of a session, and approached him for an autograph. I find asking for an autograph – something I have done only a few times (Johnny Bench as a kid, recently, Muhammed Ali) – an emotionally complex experience, with competing feelings of shame, vanity, timidity, and brashness; but with the genetic handicap of being a polite Canadian acting as white noise behind the whole damn emotional cacophony.

In any case, Sir Tim was great, and it was a real treat to meet him.

Here’s his autograph, on the inside cover of the conference proceedings book.

WW8 Conference Proceedings Cover

Tim Berners-Lee Autograph

Since I scanned the page, I have I had been puzzling over what the writing above his name reads. Did I get someone else’s autograph at the conference too? If so, who was it? I don’t remember any other encounters. What were the letters, and what did they mean?  Had Sir Tim not invented the Web, this may have become a lifelong mystery. However, a quick trip to Google (feeling a little silly typing the seemingly random letters, “KUTGW”) instantly revealed that it was – of course – an acronym for Keep Up The Good Work. The answer was so obvious in hindsight that my brain immediately forgot that I used Google to come up with the answer and decided to give itself all the credit.  A couple more searches for “Tim Berners-Lee autograph” (hint, hint, SEO gods) revealed that he has used this inscription elsewhere, so I’m pretty confident that’s what it reads.

So if Sir Tim Berners-Lee had not invented the Web, I would not have been able to use Google to decipher his inscription. But, if he hadn’t invented the Web, I would never asked for his autograph in the first place. Whoa, dude, that is excellent. Okay, okay I am going to stop right now before I cause an irreparable ripple in the fabric of time itself and create an alternate reality where litigation is primarily a battle over who has failed at information governance least horrifically, and is no longer about fact-finding, truth-discovering and justice-doing. Hey, wait a minute . . .


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