Tim Berners-Lee: You Can’t Quantify Potential Influence

Me and Tim Berners-Lee 2

The highlight of my SxSW experience this weekend was meeting Tim Berners-Lee, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web. I took the opportunity to ask Sir Berners-Lee what he thought of social influence metrics like Klout, Kred and PeerIndex.

His response was remarkable, but before I share it with you let me frame the scene.

Sir Berners-Lee is clearly a savant. He is so brilliant he struggled with the bloggy attention he received at the IEEE SxSW reception. When he talk, he gestured somewhat wildly, and was clearly aware of the surrounding cameras. It was exactly how I imagine Einstein would function in this 21st century world of cameras, tweets, and instant access… Like a brilliant wild person forced to live in a zoo.

I immediately recognized time would be short with this man, that he would move on quickly. So I listened intently.

Sir Berners-Lee responded (I am paraphrasing), “Of course, you can look online and quantify everyone in this room by what’s said, and then line them up in a numerical order of magnitude. But how can this number possibly predict all of the things that these people will do, and which ones will have the most impact? You can’t!

“I am very much against these metrics. I don’t see how they make a difference for us.”

He was clearly a bit annoyed by the idea, and his facial expression turned from intense and serious to a bit sour, and even a tad angry.

The statement was brilliantly concise and spot on. Potential is an empty bucket, and past successes — successes that are currently defined and measured by attention online according to these metrics — cannot predict the future.

In fact, we see many people enjoy a singular moment of public success, and then slowly fade to black. Consistent successes over a period of time distinguish true masters in any field. Replicating excellence remains one of the hardest things for any person to achieve.

So that was my minute with Sir Tim Berners-Lee. And just like that he was off to chat with the next adoring geek.

What do you think about Tim Berners-Lee’s view of social scoring metrics?