Web creator wows Sydney

On Tuesday night more than 1,800 people packed Sydney Town Hall and hundreds logged into our online live stream to hear from Sir Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the web, at our first City Talks event for 2013.

Tickets for the event booked out within two hours of being made available.

Those who managed to joined us were treated to a fast-paced, big-thinking discussion about the history of innovation; the power of the web to connect and transform societies; and the dangers of censorship and centralised control of information.

Hundreds of people joined the discussion through twitter, facebook and SMS. If you were unable to join us, we hope to make a podcast of the event available, and below is a summary of my opening address:


It's a great pleasure to welcome Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the web, to Sydney.


For many of you, the web is now just a normal part of daily life. As I speak, some of you will be tweeting or posting to Facebook or maybe Google Plus. You might have checked in on Yelp or Foursquare.


I'd like to think that it was not that long ago when I was first elected to local government in the 80's, that we hand delivered our press releases to people called commissioners at the major newspaper offices.


And we thought it was a breakthrough when we got the afterhours use of a fax machine owned by a designer in Cleveland Street.


And indeed when I was elected to the NSW Parliament in 1998 I inherited an Electorate Office which had one computer and one typewriter while MP's got their speeches typed by a typing pool when the House was sitting.


However I'm pleased to say that by 1999, I had started a weekly e-newsletter - the first by a Member of the NSW Parliament - and it's still running.


We didn't realise at the time, but each one of those tech developments changed, and continues to change, the shape of our city.


If you've seen a bus full of people perusing their phones, you know that the web's changed the experience of travelling. We're now seeing a rise in the numbers of people choosing public transport because it equates to free time to use the mobile web.


This digital layer is radically reshaping our physical experience of living in Sydney - as much as new roads or infrastructure or the many small bars that now occupy our laneways.


The web is changing the way we think, and it's changing the way we connect with friends, family and people we don't even know.


I wonder if Sir Tim would have guessed 20 or 30 years ago that his invention would be so profound?


Who would have thought that a network of inter-connected computers could become, not just a new platform, but a new place?


In just our small local government area, almost 25,000 people now work in the information, communications and telecommunications industry - half work in computer system design and related services.


After that, in terms of numbers employed, come internet publishing and broadcasting, internet service providers and web-search portals, data processing and web hosting, and software publishing.


The 2011 Census shows that, across the board, digital jobs are highly concentrated in inner-city Sydney, with the City's share increasing a massive 23 per cent in five years.


We've also seen a 20 per cent jump in people working in universities and research institutions. That's to say nothing of advertising, film production, TV, creative artists, musicians, writers and performers.


Since 2006, employment has surged in these three important areas - the creative industries, Information Communication Technology, and in higher education and research. In each case, increasing at double the growth rate of the workforce as a whole.


These clusters appear to attract similar businesses, which suggests they benefit from proximity to each other. And in turn, our economy benefits as a whole. This digital revolution is changing just about every aspect of our society.


Some of the most promising developments on the web are those that allow us to connect with each other. Facebook, Twitter and the huge number of micro events happening every week organised on sites like Meet Up or Event Brite.


That's what cities have traditionally done - they're places where people meet, share knowledge, find like-minded people, and start new projects.


So how do we, as a city government respond? What does this mean for how we plan, design and run our city?


At the City, we've made sure to build a responsive digital presence - you can pay your bills and report issues online, we're as likely to be canvassing opinions on new projects online as well as off, and our mobile apps - for example, for food trucks - have been very successful.


Sydney's making a significant contribution - a recent study said we lead the world for data driven startups, from the global impact of Google Maps to finding out about a development application on your street via Planning Alerts. And even though retail faces serious challenges online, we're seeing encouraging partnerships.


The digital world needs flexibility and a willingness to experiment; adaptability and being responsive to new demands; innovation and a willingness to move beyond the tried and true.


We're doing some of this. We need to do more. But we recognise this is the way forward.

One of the things we do well at the City is developing strategies and then delivering on them - and I've asked our CEO to start that process for our digital strategy.


This digital revolution is turning entire industries upside-down and creating whole new industries. It's changing the way our communities - and even we - work.


Major disruptions are a chance to rework our systems - a chance to waste less and use what we have more sustainably, to engage people in the decisions that affect them, and to create a society where powerful vested interests have less sway.


We need to grab hold of this opportunity.


And we are excited to have with us tonight the man who started this revolution - the inventor of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners Lee.

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