Tim Berners-Lee to Head Up Institute of Web Science in U.K. as Britain Goes for Broke on the Web

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The U.K. is to get a new Institute of Web Science—and it's to be headed by Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the World Wide Web. Announced this morning in London by Gordon Brown, as part of the Government's Internet strategy (although, given that we're just six weeks away from a General Election in Britain, take that as part of Labour's official manifesto) it will be hosted jointly by Oxford and Southampton Universities.

At $45 million, the Institute, which will serve as an academic base for research into the semantic web and other emerging Web and Internet technologies, is part of a bigger plan which the Government hopes will propel the U.K. into the top league of tech-savvy nations. Rather like the FCC's Broadband Plan, which was given to Congress last week, the British state is hoping to get everyone on the superfast broadband train as soon as it possibly can.

As well as the copper wire tax—around $10 a year from every single landline user—the Government is expected to use part of the BBC's license fee—around $180 per year—to fill the gap. Rolling out the obligatory "Internet is the water/electricity/gas of the 21st Century" argument (Well, yes—and no.) much of the plans are exciting and forward-thinking—not least the simple idea of a single website that brings all public sector services together.

However, there is a long history of overspend on Government Web sites in Britain. It's rumored that the decade-in-the-making plan to get the nation's health records online, under a program called The Spine, is about to be killed off quietly, although Brown rubbished that this morning. Cost? $19 billion and rising, 12 times over budget, nine years late. The latest idea, MyGov, will allow Britizens to manage pensions, benefits, apply for school places, jobs, pay local taxes, and even book medical appointments online.

But, as with many of the British Government I.T. initiatives, there is a vast gulf between concept and execution—last week, a Government-sponsored consulting group claimed that not enough people had heard of Apple's iTunes and Amazon—which begs the question: was the survey done in an old folks' home?

If anyone is to help the state's transition from its clunky, red tape-ified current status, Berners-Lee can—after all, it was he who suggested to the PM that government data should go online, followed by government services. In the long run, it can only be good for the country's bottom line. Whether, however, the state can afford the investment in these straitened times remains to be seen.

[Image Via Flickr]

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