25 years of the World Wide Web
Whatever date you choose for the actual birthday of the world wide web, it’s an invention which has changed humanity forever, and created a new virtual world within a generation.
The brilliance of what Berners-Lee did was to come up with an extensible mark-up language known as Hypertext Mark-up Language, or HTML. This allowed us all to write pages that could be universally accessed. Crucially, HTML was made freely available so people started writing browsers that would enable you to read HTML based web pages. And once this was achieve who was to know the impact it would have on the world and probably a greater influence than the industrial revolution!
It does only feel like yesterday when I bought my first Computer and trying to connect to Compuserve using my 14.4Kpbs Modem and the noise that came out of it was truly exciting. No images or complex websites in those days but still you felt like you had the world at your feet!
The NeXT cube is the machine on which the World Wide Web was created by British computer scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee. The only hint of its importance a tattered white sticker with the warning: “This machine is a server: DO NOT POWER IT DOWN!!” It may be hard to believe now, but the worldwide web did not exist 25 years ago – until Sir Tim invented a way of using networks of computers to talk to each other.
Yet there was no initial grand ambition to emancipate the world through freedom of information for all. The beginnings were much more mundane: an attempt to improve communication between the thousands of scientists involved with Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, in Switzerland.
Sir Tim was a 34-year-old physics graduate working as a software engineer at Cern in 1989, when he wrote a paper simply titled “Information Management: A Proposal”. It stated: “the hope would be to allow a pool of information to develop which could grow and evolve with the organisation and the projects it describes”. Ironically, the aim was envisaged as “a universal linked information system” where “generality and portability are more important than fancy graphics techniques and complex extra facilities”.
It was initially damned with faint praise, his boss Mike Sendall writing “vague but exciting” on the cover.
The Web is currently going through a profound change, and the next 25 years are likely to be very different from the last.
With over 1 trillion public pages (in 2008) and 1.7 billion people on the Web (in 2009), we do not really understand how these pieces work together and how to best improve the Web into the future. In 2005, Tim and colleagues started the Web Science Trust (WST).
WST is building an international, multidisciplinary research community to examine the World Wide Web as “humanity connected by technology”. WST brings together computer scientists, sociologists, mathematicians, policy experts, entrepreneurs, decision makers and many others from around the world to better understand today’s Web and to develop solutions to guide the use and design of tomorrow’s Web. The Web Foundation believes the discipline of Web Science is critically important to advancing the Web, and supports WST‘s efforts to build and coordinate this new field of study.