Thursday, April 3, 2014


The WWW as first envisioned
Don’t you hate it when that happens? My wife certainly does. But she could not care less about this particular anniversary. You see, on March 12th,  I missed the silver anniversary if the birth of the World Wide Web. This is not to be confused with the invention of the Internet by Al Gore. That is a wholly separate thing.  (As a skeptical side note; Although we all love to bash Gore for claiming to invent the internet, he actually didn’t make that claim. He simply boasted that he championed legislation that ended up contributing to the commercial success of the Internet).

Although most of us use the terms interchangeably, there is actually a technical difference between “the Internet” and the World Wide Web. The Internet is the actual hardware infrastructure of the millions of interconnected networks. It’s a “network of networks.” Your home and office computers, your smart phone, your tablet, the defense department and your bank’s computers are all a contributing members of the Internet.

The World Wide Web is the software we use to extract information from the Internet. That software usually consists of a web browser such as Internet Explorer or Firefox. But we also use email programs, voice services such as Skype, some kinds of text messaging and “apps” to extract information from the Internet.

Another way to think about it is to say the Internet is composed of machines, gadgets, wires, and data. The World Wide Web is what brings this boring hardware to life.

Back in the early days of the Internet, it was really difficult to access information stored on other computers. From about 1958 to about 1993, you had to type text commands into a dumb text-based terminal. You had to know lots of programming commands and had to know exactly what you were looking for. In short, you had to be pretty smart to use it.

But all that started to change exactly 25 years ago when, on March 12th, 1989, a gentleman named Tim Berners-Lee wrote a paper that proposed a conceptual method of accessing data on the Internet using something called “hypertext.” Berners-Lee worked as a contractor for European Organization for Nuclear Research known as CERN. There was a vast amount of information regarding nuclear research at the time and Berner-Lee dreamed up a better way of accessing and disseminating that information.

Berners-Lee proposed “linking” the documents to each other so that your could “surf” (via something called “links”) from one related document to the next without typing the commands all over again. When documents were linked, information dissemination became much more efficient.

It took four more years for Berners-Lee to write the first program that utilized this new approach. He unleashed

the program on the Internet and just a couple of years later, the whole world became connected in ways that were unimaginable up to that point. That program eventually evolved into the web browsers we all use today. In 2004, the Queen of England “knighted” Mr. Berners-Lee so now he gets to go by “Sir.” So thank you, Sir Tim! I’m sorry I missed our anniversary!

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