History of the World Wide Web
The web's logo designed by Robert Cailliau
|Invented by||Tim Berners-Lee|
The World Wide Web ("WWW" or simply the "Web") is a global information medium which users can read and write via computers connected to the Internet. The term is often mistakenly used as a synonym for the Internet itself, but the Web is a service that operates over the Internet, just as e-mail also does. The history of the Internet dates back significantly further than that of the World Wide Web.
The hypertext portion of the Web in particular has an intricate intellectual history; notable influences and precursors include Vannevar Bush's Memex, IBM's Generalized Markup Language, and Ted Nelson's Project Xanadu.
The concept of a home-based global information system goes at least as far back as "A Logic Named Joe", a 1946 short story by Murray Leinster, in which computer terminals, called "logics," were in every home. Although the computer system in the story is centralized, the story captures some of the feeling of the ubiquitous information explosion driven by the Web.
1980–1991: Invention of the Web
"In August, 1984 I wrote a proposal to the SW Group Leader, Les Robertson, for the establishment of a pilot project to install and evaluate TCP/IP protocols on some key non-Unix machines at CERN ... By 1990 CERN had become the largest Internet site in Europe and this fact... positively influenced the acceptance and spread of Internet techniques both in Europe and elsewhere... A key result of all these happenings was that by 1989 CERN's Internet facility was ready to become the medium within which Tim Berners-Lee would create the World Wide Web with a truly visionary idea..."
–Ben Segal, 1995
In 1980, Tim Berners-Lee, an independent contractor at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Switzerland, built ENQUIRE, as a personal database of people and software models, but also as a way to play with hypertext; each new page of information in ENQUIRE had to be linked to an existing page.
In 1984 Berners-Lee returned to CERN, and considered its problems of information presentation: physicists from around the world needed to share data, and with no common machines and no common presentation software. He wrote a proposal in March 1989 for "a large hypertext database with typed links", but it generated little interest. His boss, Mike Sendall, encouraged Berners-Lee to begin implementing his system on a newly acquired NeXT workstation. He considered several names, including Information Mesh, The Information Mine (turned down as it abbreviates to TIM, the WWW's creator's name) or Mine of Information (turned down because it abbreviates to MOI which is "Me" in French), but settled on World Wide Web. He has since stated "None had quite the right ring. I liked WWW partly because I could start global variable names with a W and not have them clash with other peoples' (in a C world) ...in fact I used HT for them)".
He found an enthusiastic collaborator in Robert Cailliau, who rewrote the proposal (published on November 12, 1990) and sought resources within CERN. Berners-Lee and Cailliau pitched their ideas to the European Conference on Hypertext Technology in September 1990, but found no vendors who could appreciate their vision of marrying hypertext with the Internet.
By Christmas 1990, Berners-Lee had built all the tools necessary for a working Web: the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) 0.9, the HyperText Markup Language (HTML), the first Web browser (named WorldWideWeb, which was also a Web editor), the first HTTP server software (later known as CERN httpd), the first web server (http://info.cern.ch), and the first Web pages that described the project itself. The browser could access Usenet newsgroups and FTP files as well. However, it could run only on the NeXT; Nicola Pellow therefore created a simple text browser that could run on almost any computer called the Line Mode Browser. To encourage use within CERN, Bernd Pollermann put the CERN telephone directory on the web — previously users had to log onto the mainframe in order to look up phone numbers.
The first web page may be lost, but Paul Jones of UNC-Chapel Hill in North Carolina revealed in May 2013 that he has a copy of a page sent to him in 1991 by Berners-Lee which is the oldest known web page. Jones stored the plain-text page, with hyperlinks, on a floppy disk and on his NeXT computer. CERN put the oldest known web page back online in 2014, complete with hyperlinks that helped users get started and helped them navigate what was then a very small internet.
On August 6, 1991, Berners-Lee posted a short summary of the World Wide Web project on the alt.hypertext newsgroup. This date also marked the debut of the Web as a publicly available service on the Internet, although new users could only access it after August 23. For this reason this is considered the internaut's day.
"The WorldWideWeb (WWW) project aims to allow all links to be made to any information anywhere. [...] The WWW project was started to allow high energy physicists to share data, news, and documentation. We are very interested in spreading the web to other areas, and having gateway servers for other data. Collaborators welcome!" —from Tim Berners-Lee's first message
Paul Kunz from the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center visited CERN in September 1991, and was captivated by the Web. He brought the NeXT software back to SLAC, where librarian Louise Addis adapted it for the VM/CMS operating system on the IBM mainframe as a way to display SLAC’s catalog of online documents; this was the first web server outside of Europe and the first in North America. The www-talk mailing list was started in the same month.
1992–1995: Growth of the Web
In keeping with its birth at CERN, early adopters of the World Wide Web were primarily university-based scientific departments or physics laboratories such as Fermilab and SLAC. By January 1993 there were fifty Web servers across the world; by October 1993 there were over five hundred.
Early websites intermingled links for both the HTTP web protocol and the then-popular Gopher protocol, which provided access to content through hypertext menus presented as a file system rather than through HTML files. Early Web users would navigate either by bookmarking popular directory pages, such as Berners-Lee's first site at http://info.cern.ch/, or by consulting updated lists such as the NCSA "What's New" page. Some sites were also indexed by WAIS, enabling users to submit full-text searches similar to the capability later provided by search engines.
There was still no graphical browser available for computers besides the NeXT. This gap was discussed in January 1992, and filled in April 1992 with the release of Erwise, an application developed at the Helsinki University of Technology, and in May by ViolaWWW, created by Pei-Yuan Wei, which included advanced features such as embedded graphics, scripting, and animation. ViolaWWW was originally an application for HyperCard. Both programs ran on the X Window System for Unix.
Students at the University of Kansas adapted an existing text-only hypertext browser, Lynx, to access the web. Lynx was available on Unix and DOS, and some web designers, unimpressed with glossy graphical websites, held that a website not accessible through Lynx wasn’t worth visiting.
The turning point for the World Wide Web was the introduction of the Mosaic web browser in 1993, a graphical browser developed by a team at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), led by Marc Andreessen. Funding for Mosaic came from the High-Performance Computing and Communications Initiative, a funding program initiated by then-Senator Al Gore's High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991 also known as the Gore Bill.
Remarkably the first Mosaic Browser lacked a "back button", a feature proposed in 1992-3 by the same individual who invented the concept of clickable text documents. The request was emailed from the University of Texas computing facility. The browser was intended to be an editor and not simply a viewer, but was to work with computer generated hypertext lists called "search engines".
The origins of Mosaic date to 1992. In November 1992, the NCSA at the University of Illinois (UIUC) established a website. In December 1992, Andreessen and Eric Bina, students attending UIUC and working at the NCSA, began work on Mosaic. They released an X Window browser in February 1993. It gained popularity due to its strong support of integrated multimedia, and the authors’ rapid response to user bug reports and recommendations for new features.
The first Microsoft Windows browser was Cello, written by Thomas R. Bruce for the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School to provide legal information, since more lawyers had more access to Windows than to Unix. Cello was released in June 1993. The NCSA released Mac Mosaic and WinMosaic in August 1993.
After graduation from UIUC, Andreessen and James H. Clark, former CEO of Silicon Graphics, met and formed Mosaic Communications Corporation to develop the Mosaic browser commercially. The company changed its name to Netscape in April 1994, and the browser was developed further as Netscape Navigator.
In May 1994, the first International WWW Conference, organized by Robert Cailliau, was held at CERN; the conference has been held every year since. In April 1993, CERN had agreed that anyone could use the Web protocol and code royalty-free; this was in part a reaction to the perturbation caused by the University of Minnesota's announcement that it would begin charging license fees for its implementation of the Gopher protocol.
In September 1994, Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with support from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the European Commission. It comprised various companies that were willing to create standards and recommendations to improve the quality of the Web. Berners-Lee made the Web available freely, with no patent and no royalties due. The W3C decided that its standards must be based on royalty-free technology, so they can be easily adopted by anyone.
By the end of 1994, while the total number of websites was still minute compared to present standards, quite a number of notable websites were already active, many of which are the precursors or inspiring examples of today's most popular services.
1996–1998: Commercialization of the Web
By 1996 it became obvious to most publicly traded companies that a public Web presence was no longer optional. Though at first people saw mainly the possibilities of free publishing and instant worldwide information, increasing familiarity with two-way communication over the "Web" led to the possibility of direct Web-based commerce (e-commerce) and instantaneous group communications worldwide. More dotcoms, displaying products on hypertext webpages, were added into the Web.
1999–2001: "Dot-com" boom and bust
Low interest rates in 1998–99 facilitated an increase in start-up companies. Although a number of these new entrepreneurs had realistic plans and administrative ability, most of them lacked these characteristics but were able to sell their ideas to investors because of the novelty of the dot-com concept.
Historically, the dot-com boom can be seen as similar to a number of other technology-inspired booms of the past including railroads in the 1840s, automobiles in the early 20th century, radio in the 1920s, television in the 1940s, transistor electronics in the 1950s, computer time-sharing in the 1960s, and home computers and biotechnology in the early 1980s.
In 2001 the bubble burst, and many dot-com startups went out of business after burning through their venture capital and failing to become profitable. Many others, however, did survive and thrive in the early 21st century. Many companies which began as online retailers blossomed and became highly profitable. More conventional retailers found online merchandising to be a profitable additional source of revenue. While some online entertainment and news outlets failed when their seed capital ran out, others persisted and eventually became economically self-sufficient. Traditional media outlets (newspaper publishers, broadcasters and cablecasters in particular) also found the Web to be a useful and profitable additional channel for content distribution, and an additional means to generate advertising revenue. The sites that survived and eventually prospered after the bubble burst had two things in common; a sound business plan, and a niche in the marketplace that was, if not unique, particularly well-defined and well-served.
2002–present: The Web becomes ubiquitous
In the aftermath of the dot-com bubble, telecommunications companies had a great deal of overcapacity as many Internet business clients went bust. That, plus ongoing investment in local cell infrastructure kept connectivity charges low, and helping to make high-speed Internet connectivity more affordable. During this time, a handful of companies found success developing business models that helped make the World Wide Web a more compelling experience. These include airline booking sites, Google's search engine and its profitable approach to simplified, keyword-based advertising, as well as ebay's do-it-yourself auction site and Amazon.com's online department store.
Beginning in 2002, new ideas for sharing and exchanging content ad hoc, such as Weblogs and RSS, rapidly gained acceptance on the Web. This new model for information exchange, primarily featuring DIY user-edited and generated websites, was coined Web 2.0. The Web 2.0 boom saw many new service-oriented startups catering to a new, democratized Web. Tim Berners-Lee hoped it would be followed by the full realization of a Semantic Web:
I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent agents’ people have touted for ages will finally materialize.
— Tim Berners-Lee, 1999
Predictably, as the World Wide Web became easier to query, attained a higher degree of usability, and shed its esoteric reputation, it gained a sense of organization and unsophistication which opened the floodgates and ushered in a rapid period of popularization. New sites such as Wikipedia and its sister projects proved revolutionary in executing the User edited content concept. In 2005, 3 ex-PayPal employees formed a video viewing website called YouTube. Only a year later, YouTube was proven the most quickly popularized website in history, and even started a new concept of user-submitted content in major events, as in the CNN-YouTube Presidential Debates.
The popularity of YouTube, Facebook, etc., combined with the increasing availability and affordability of high-speed connections has made video content far more common on all kinds of websites. Many video-content hosting and creation sites provide an easy means for their videos to be embedded on third party websites without payment or permission.
This combination of more user-created or edited content, and easy means of sharing content, such as via RSS widgets and video embedding, has led to many sites with a typical "Web 2.0" feel. They have articles with embedded video, user-submitted comments below the article, and RSS boxes to the side, listing some of the latest articles from other sites.
Continued extension of the World Wide Web has focused on connecting devices to the Internet, coined Intelligent Device Management. As Internet connectivity becomes ubiquitous, manufacturers have started to leverage the expanded computing power of their devices to enhance their usability and capability. Through Internet connectivity, manufacturers are now able to interact with the devices they have sold and shipped to their customers, and customers are able to interact with the manufacturer (and other providers) to access new content.
Lending credence to the idea of the ubiquity of the web, Web 2.0 has found a place in the global English lexicon. On June 10, 2009 the Global Language Monitor declared it to be the one-millionth English word.
- Linked Data
- Computer Lib / Dream Machines
- History of hypertext
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|Wikinews has related news: Wikinews interviews World Wide Web co-inventor Robert Cailliau|
- First World Web site
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