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A Brief History Of The World Wide Web

Tomorrow's Research

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The posting below is just about the best brief description I have seen

about the development of the World Wide Web. It is from: The Wired

Professor : A Guide to Incorporating the World Wide Web in College

Instruction, by Anne B. Keating with Joseph Hargitai. The excerpt is

taken from Chapter 1 A History of Information Highways and Byways, pp.

65-59. The publisher is New York University Press, copyright 1999,

reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: A Juggling Act

Tomorrow's Research


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By 1980, students, computer science professors and other academics were the

main users of the Internet. Ten years later, this state of affairs changed

dramatically with the introduction of the World Wide Web. Within four years

of its introduction, the World Wide Web eclipsed the Internet. Ben Segal

notes that, "in the computer networking arena, a period of 10- 15 years

represents several generations of technology evolution." It is therefore

surprising "that in a period of only three years there can be developments

that radically change the whole way that people think about computer

communications. This has just happened with the Web (prototyped in 1990-1,

fully accepted over 1993-4) .

Describing the critical difference between the Internet and the Web, one

observer wrote: "the Web differs from the Internet, though it uses the Net as a

highway. Explore the Internet and you find computers, routers and cables.

Explore the Web and you find information. "" The critical differences

between the Internet and the World Wide Web are the use of "links" and the

presence of graphics and text together. Web browsers in the 1990s hid the

UNIX-based structure of the Internet under a layer of intuitive,

graphically rich user interface. This is what permitted many people

finally to use the Internet, much in the same way that the Windows

operating system revolutionized personal computing for the noncomputer


In 1979, Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist working as a

consultant at the Swiss particle physics laboratory (CERN) became

frustrated with the inability of his computerized schedule planner to link

between databases. His phone numbers were saved in one database, while his

documents were

stored in different databases. As a solution, he created a hypertext

computer program called Enquire-Within -Upon - Everything," which allowed

"links to be made between

arbitrary nodes. "' Although never published, "Enquire" became the

foundation for the

development of the Web. In 1984, Berners-Lee accepted a fellowship at CERN

to work on distributed real-time systems for the collecting and sorting of

scientific data. During this period he began to expand on the ideas in

Enquire and in 1989 proposed "a global hypertext project, to be known as

the World Wide Web."' His main motivation for the project came from the

fact that at CERN there was no easy way for his colleagues to access each

other's notes and documents. Software and hardware incompatibilities made

electronic collaboration almost impossible. He wanted to create a "global

information space" that would be an electronic version of the coffee area

where people at CERN gathered to exchange information and collaborate on

projects." In his proposal, he argued:


The hope would be to allow a pool of information to develop which could

grow and evolve with the organization and the projects it describes. For

this to be possible, the method of storage must not place its own

restraints on the information. This is why a "Web" of notes with links

(like references) between them is far more useful than a fixed hierarchical

system. When describing a complex system, many people resort to diagrams

with circles and arrows. Circles and arrows leave one free to describe the

interrelationships between things in a way that tables, for example, do

not. The system we need is like a diagram of circles and arrows, where

circles and arrows can stand for anything. We can call the circles nodes,

and the arrows links."


We now call the circles "Web pages," while the

arrows remain "links." Berners-Lee went on to explain that


several programs have been made exploring these ideas, both commercially

and academically. Most of them use "hot spots' in documents, like icons, or

highlighted phrases, as sensitive areas. Touching a hot spot with a mouse

brings up the relevant information, or expands the text on the screen to

include it. Imagine, then, the references in this document, all being

associated with the network address of the thing to which they referred, so

that while reading this document you could skip to them with 86 a click of

the mouse.


In his personal notebook, Berners-Lee explored this idea further,

articulating an indexing system as follows:

Here are some of the many areas in which hypertext is used. Each area has

its specific requirements in the way of features required.

General reference data-encyclopaedia, etc.

Completely centralized publishing--online help, documentation,

tutorial, etc.

More or less centralized dissemination of news which has a limited life

Collaborative authoring

Collaborative design of something other

than the hypertext

He started work on this project in October 1990, and the program

"WorldWideWeb" was first made available within CERN in December 1990 and on

the Internet at large in the summer of 1991."

Berners-Lee recalls that "there were three communities of users-the alt.

hypertext Usenet newsgroup, Next [computer] users, and high-energy

physicists. People started putting up servers, often writing their own

software. This led to the development of various browsers."' Among the

althypertext users was a group of students at the University of Illinois.

Led by Marc Andreessen, they took Berners-Lee's program and added graphics

capability. Out of their experiments, they developed Mosaic in 1993. Mosaic

turned Berners-Lee's text-based browser into the fully graphical Web

browsers we are familiar with today. Andreessen went on to develop Netscape

Navigator, one of the leading Web browsers today.

Mosaic was developed at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications

(NCSA) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. It was the first

public domain graphical Internet browser and turned the Internet into a

place where a user could just point and click to retrieve information. This

launched the

rapid growth of Internet. For Andreessen, the lack of an easy-to-use

graphically oriented interface for the Web was a critical omission. "There

was this huge hole in the world ... because a network existed with all

these people hooked up to it, and the software was 10 years behind the

hardware. This is typical of the personal computer industry today ...

perhaps because of people like me, "' Andreessen argued that this was

primarily due to the fact that programmers were daunted at the prospect of

designing and building hardware. "Therefore the machines outstrip our

capacity to use them.""

In the early 1990s, when Andreessen worked at the supercomputer center, he

observed that


Everyone at the center was hooked on the Internet, but there was this big

disconnect between the 'Net and the rest of the world. You basically needed

a Ph.D. in Unix to do anything. The Web existed then, but there were only

40 or 50 sites, and they were extremely hard to navigate. One of the other

students, Eric Bina, and I were talking about this over lunch one day. We

thought, wouldn't it be great if someone would sit down and write an

interface that would make the Internet really easy to use?


>From the very beginning, Andreessen and Bina disagreed with Berners-Lee

about the design for the Web interface:


We thought making this interface graphical was the key... Tim was looking

for a way to connect a bunch of high-energy physicists, and he thought

graphics were frivolous, unnecessary, and destructive. We didn't see it

that way-we thought the information you see should be the interface. We

wanted users to take over as much of the screen as possible and just put a

navigational framework around that."


They released the first beta version of Mosaic in March 1993. Andreessen

recalls that, though initially there were only twelve users, "Within a few

months we had 40,000 or 50,000. It was incredible. I graduated in December

1993 and ... we started Netscape in April.""

The release of Mosaic marked the beginning of the widespread use of the

Web. Within a few years, the Internet was transformed from a small,

informal gathering place for technically oriented users to a sprawling

global gathering place for individuals who daily added to the wealth of

information on the Web.


1. In order to explore Telnet, you will need to get the Telnet program or

"client.' TeInet clients are available for free or as shareware from

Tucowsat and Sharewarecom at

2. To find libraries (and other resources) available via Telnet, look

through the Hytelnet database, available online at http:llwww. cam. ac.


3. For available resources on Internet Relay Chat (IRC), see IRC Central at


4. For general information on Internet chat, see David Barbieri's Meta

Chats: The Internet Chat Resource Guide at http:11www.2meta.com1chats1.

Barbieri has a listing of historic IRC logs at


5. Directory of Scholarly and Professional E-Conferences at

httP:11n2h2.com1KOVACS1 is a database of academic listservs which can be

searched by keyword, by subject or alphabetically by listserv name.

6. Usenet can be searched using any of the top search engines or by going

to Deja News at http:11www.dejanews.com1.

7. To search Usenet postings, use Where is the archive for newsgroup X? at


8. Liszt, the Mailing List Directory at http:11wwwlisztcom1, another

listing of newsgroups, "is basically a mailing-list spider; it queries

servers from around the world and compiles the results into a single

directory. This method ensures that the data Liszt provides is always

up-to-date, since it comes direct from the list servers each week .

Includes an education category.

9. World Wide Web Consortium at, directed by Tim

Berners-Lee, is an open forum of companies and organizations with the

mission of realizing the full potential of the Web. "Services provided by

the Consortium include: a repository of information about the World Wide

Web for developers and users; reference code implementations to embody and

promote standards; and various prototype and sample applications to

demonstrate use of new technology.""

10. An Atlas of Cyberspaces at http:llwwwcybergeographyorglatiaslatias.htmI

is an online atlas to the Internet and the Web. This collection of maps is

a good way to visualize the "new digital landscapes on our computer screen

and in the wires of the global communications networks.'