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The World Wide Web Turns 10!! 

 

 By: Constance Harness

An Associated Press article by Anick Jesdanun published by the Spartanburg Herald-Journal on December 27, 2000, reports on the tenth anniversary of the World Wide Web (WWW) and its inventor Tim Berners-Lee. The WWW now spans approximately 7 million sites; but at the beginning Berners-Lee could hardly get his colleagues interested in it. Ten years later, the worries are different as the web grows by quantum leaps as commercial developers pile layer after layer of software on top of its foundation.

 

In the first three years of the infancy of the WWW, Berners-Lee was not sure it would take off. He was not seeking to get rich off the web and thought each day that a competitor would knock it out of existence. An information retrieval system named Gopher appeared but was abandoned by many in 1993 when the University of Minnesota tried to charge for the software. Later that same year, Mosaic was released by a team at the University of Illinois National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) which combined graphics and text on a single page; Tim knew then that his invention would survive. The NCSA soon formed Netscape Communications which developed the first commercial web browser arousing interest in none other than Microsoft Corp. (and others) who developed the web’s commerce potential.

Jesdanun reported: " Berners-Lee first proposed the web in 1989 while developing ways to control computers remotely at CERN, the Geneva-based European Organization for Nuclear Research."

Two concepts, the Internet and hypertext, which date from the 1960s, were well known to engineers; and Berners-Lee saw the benefit of combining the two. In October 1990, he began writing the software. His browser was working by mid-November; and by December, he had added editing features. On Christmas Day, the program was available at CERN. At that time, Berners-Lee and colleague Robert Cailliau were the Web’s only users (compare with 7-million sites currently).

Tim reports that development of the browser was very exciting but he was stumped as to what to do next. After all, browsing was great; but having only one web site to browse put a slight damper on the enthusiasm. Another stickler to this new invention was the fact that he was spending quite a bit of time on something he had not been hired to do. This necessitated finding interns and research fellows through backdoor channels to work on adapting the browser to other computer systems as well as convincing CERN colleagues to put up a phone book and other resources on the Web.

The first public browser was introduced in 1991 and users typed in commands rather than clicking links. Eventually, Marc Andreessen and the Mosaic team added graphics and made the software simple to install thus opening the Web to the world.

Some of his concerns: "The Web is not designed to be restricted to any one domain at all," Tim said. Commercial and noncommercial sites coexist peacefully. He is, however, troubled by features that track users and collect personal data; and his consortium is developing software that will limit information gathering. He also questions search engines that favor marketing partners producing biased search results.

A lack of standards is also a concern. Programs which expand the Web’s usefulness such as Java could make sites unavailable or useless to older computers when languages change. Adding more complicated or fancy features in a Web sit also makes the Web less universal. His consortium is in the process of developing standards to meet these challenges. The foundation of the Web will remain the same; but the standards will include extensible markup language, or XML, which tags Web information with hidden codes so businesses can exchange data without having to reformat them.

Berners-Lee has no regrets about turning down commercial opportunities because he feels that the growth experienced by the Web would not have happened if it had not been for openness among the early developers. He stated, "No other businesses would have been prepared to bet their entire company on the Web, as a huge number of businesses do. All the volunteers, all the nonprofit groups would not have done it. Having a neutral was essential."

Michael Dertouzos, director of the Laboratory of Computer Science at Massachusetts Institue of Technology, says: "While everybody wanted to make the web theirs, he wanted to make the Web belong to everybody."

Berners-Lee says that the only thing he would do differently would be the crafting of the URLs (uniform resource locators). He would not have put in double slashes (//). He stated that he did not realize how much time it takes for someone to say slash, slash.

 

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