The 2014 Internet Awards

OII Deputy Director Vicki Nash writes:

Earlier in November 2014 we held our fourth OII Awards evening, in order to honour some of the individuals who have played a pivotal role in shaping the extraordinary ecosystem that is today’s Internet. Over the course of a gala dinner held at Balliol College, awards were presented to Dame Stephanie Shirley, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Barry Wellman, Beth Noveck, Martha Lane-Fox, and Laura Bates. Established in 2011 for our 10th anniversary the awards aim to give something back to those extraordinary individuals and organisations whose achievements have so shaped the digital space we study every day. These awards also embody everything the OII stands for — a belief in the great public good of a free and open Internet, in the vital importance of innovation, research and exploration, in the moral significance of hard work and aspiration tempered by a strong social conscience.


2014 Internet Award winners Stephanie Shirley, Tim Berners-Lee, Laura Bates, Barry Wellman and Beth Noveck.
2014 Internet Award winners Stephanie Shirley, Tim Berners-Lee, Laura Bates, Barry Wellman and Beth Noveck. View photos from the evening.


The first of our Internet & Society awards was presented to Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, a website that has so far collected over 60,000 women’s daily experiences of gender inequality. It was awarded in recognition of her innovative use of the Internet as a platform to raise awareness of the persistent problem of sexism faced by many women in their everyday lives. (You can watch Laura discuss the origins of the project.) The Internet’s openness and accessibility mean that it’s too often used as a platform for trolling and harassing women or members of minority groups. Laura has harnessed exactly these same qualities to ‘shout back’ and fire up a really important public debate.

The second award was presented to Prof. Beth Noveck — one of those rare individuals who manages to combine a flare for both outstanding academic research and sophisticated policy engagement. Equally at home in the White House as in a university lecture hall, Beth is a world-renowned expert on technology and institutional innovation, leading to her appointment as the first US Deputy Chief Technology Officer, and also Director of the White House Open Government Initiative.

She now directs NYU’s Governance Lab, a dynamic centre whose action-research philosophy aims to make a real difference in the ways we govern. This perfectly seals her reputation as an intellectual whose work is genuinely a force for the public good. (She discusses the importance of being academically rigorous and evidence-based, while also engaging with the real world in a webcast conversation before the Awards; she also wrote some lovely things about the evening on her blog.)


OII Internet and Society Award winner Beth Noveck (at right) with OII Director Helen Margetts.
OII Internet and Society Award winner Beth Noveck (at right) with OII Director Helen Margetts. Watch Beth in conversation with Vicki before the Awards.

The final Internet & Society Award was presented to Martha Lane Fox, in recognition of her outstanding contributions towards reducing digital exclusion. While still in her twenties, she co-founded Last Minute.com. In her thirties, she was appointed the UK Government’s Digital Inclusion Champion, and later led the Race Online 2012 campaign. She also founded a charity, Go On Uk, that seeks to “empower everyone in the UK to reach their digital potential”. To cap it all, in 2013 she was appointed a CBE for services to the digital economy and charity. The award was presented in recognition of the unerring belief that is evident in so many of Martha’s extraordinary achievements: that access to the Internet can materially and significantly expand people’s life chances.

In the final section of the awards evening, we presented Lifetime Achievement Awards to three truly outstanding individuals whose long-lasting vision, determination and commitment to furthering the public good have done so much to mould our experience of life online, and the ways we understand our digital world. These extraordinary people were selected for contributions that will have lasting and extensive significance — it may yet be early days for the Internet, but the efforts of these marvellous individuals have already left their mark on its history.


Lifetime Achievement Award winners, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Dame Stephanie Shirley, and Prof. Barry Wellman.
LIfetime Achievement Award winners, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Dame Stephanie Shirley, and Prof. Barry Wellman.

While it might not always be easy to make the case for giving your major donor an award, in the case of Dame Stephanie (“Steve”) Shirley we had no such concerns: she is a remarkable individual whose use of IT for the public good was enough to justify the award of an OBE as long ago as 1980. Having arrived in Britain as an unaccompanied Kindertransport child in 1939, she started what became Xansa plc on her dining room table with just £6 in 1962. In 25 years as its Chief Executive she developed it into a leading business technology group, pioneering new work practices and advancing the position of professional women along the way through her employment of many as computer programmers (she discusses some of this in our webcast conversation before the awards).

As well as being an important figure in the IT world, she is also a significant philanthropist: the charitable foundation she established is now one of the top grant-giving foundations in the UK. But we wanted to celebrate the life of Dame Stephanie, not because she helped to found the OII, but because she is a truly inspirational person who we’ve been lucky enough to know and work with over the years. She really demonstates what it’s possible to achieve when fierce business acumen is combined with a strong sense of social justice.


Dame Stephanie "Steve" Shirley, recipient of an OII Lifetime Achievement Award.
Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley, recipient of an OII Lifetime Achievement Award.


Our second Lifetime Award went to Barry Wellman, Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, and director of NetLab. For some he’s an eminent community theorist, for others a founder of the professional association for social network analysis. As Barry asserts, to network is not merely to ask what you can get out of people; it is to forge and sustain meaningful relationships with discrete others. When we break down human relationships to these person-to-person connections and then watch what builds up around them, Barry sees stability where others might see chaos — his work enables us step back and focus on the ties that bind, not the apps that blind. So we are especially pleased to present him with this award in recognition of his extraordinary record of scholarship, which has contributed so much to our understanding of life online. (In a webcast conversation Barry discusses his early work on urban sociology and the influences that have shaped his scholarship.)


Berry Wellman receives his Lifetime Achievement Award from OII Research Fellow Bernie Hogan (left).
Berry Wellman receives his Lifetime Achievement Award from OII Research Fellow Bernie Hogan (left). Watch Barry in conversation with Vicki before the Awards.


Our final award winner was (as Charlie Rose has put it) “the man with the greatest CV line item in the history of the universe”. It reads, “I invented the world wide web”. This man is Prof. Sir Tim Berners-Lee. In 1989 Sir Tim was working at CERN and proposed a project that would allow users of the Internet to share documents and information in a globally standardized and open fashion. In 1994 he founded the World Wide Web Consortium, which keeps the web we know running in a standardized way.

Over the next two decades he articulated a vision of a World Wide Web that is open and free: he has directed the World Wide Web Foundation, been deeply engaged in open government data initiatives, advocated for a semantic web, has taught, researched, and written countless books and articles. He has explained to us what it means to be connected. He has equipped us with the tools we need to share information and communicate freely. And he has also shown us that sharing information can be more valuable than controlling it. And so, we were delighted to be able to honour Sir Tim Berners-Lee with his award — and to thank him for his service to humanity as one of the most transformative figures in the realm of ICT.


Sir Tim Berners-Lee, recipient of an OII Lifetime Achievement Award; OII Director Helen Margetts at left.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, recipient of an OII Lifetime Achievement Award; OII Director Helen Margetts at left.

As a department we work to understand “life online” — to understand the myriad ways in which the Internet is changing our social, economic and political lives. We also aim to make the Internet a better place, to think about how it can be used to tackle social problems, engender economic prosperity, make government better, and create public goods. Our Awards evenings aim to celebrate the remarkable individuals who have done both those things — who have understood life on the Internet, and who have made it a better place. We hope in this way to recognise their long-lasting vision, determination and commitment to mould our experience of life online, and the ways that we understand our digital world.

In closing, we would like to say (again) what an honour and pleasure it was to share this special evening with such extraordinary people, to be able to publicly celebrate their achievements, to welcome awardees and guests to our home in Oxford, and also, importantly — to have a great deal of fun. It was really wonderful to see so many friends in the audience — and we were especially touched to see such great representation from our alumni.

Victoria Nash, OII Deputy Director