Origin and History of World Wide Web

Information Technology Resources

The World Wide Web ("WWW" or simply the "Web") is a global information space which people 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 actually a service that operates over the Internet, just like e-mail. The History of the Internet dates back much earlier.

The origins of the World Wide Web can be traced back to 1980. Since then it has evolved beyond what its creators imagined would be a file-sharing tool for academic and U.S. government contract researchers.

1980-91: Development of the WWW

In 1980, Tim Berners-Lee, an independent contractor at CERN, 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.

Another major development occurred when Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf introduced Transfer Control Protocol (TCP) in 1977 for cross-network connections. Although it had used the older Network Control Protocol (NCP) since its establishment in 1969, ARPANET and its associated networks slowly began a transition to the new protocol during the 1970s. In 1978, Internet Protocol was added to TCP, responsible for the routing of messages. The TCP/IP combination was officially adopted by ARPANET and its partners in 1983, redefining the Internet as networks using the TCP/IP network. The standardisation of network protocols helped lay the foundations for the later growth of the World Wide Web.

In 1984 Berners-Lee returned to CERN, and considered its problems of information presentation: physicists from around the world needed to share data, 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 or Mine of Information, but settled on World Wide Web.

This NeXTcube used by Berners-Lee at CERN became the first Web server.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 first Web browser (which was a Web editor as well), the first Web server (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. To encourage use within CERN, they put the CERN telephone directory on the web— previously users had had to log onto the mainframe in order to look up phone numbers.

Paul Kunz from the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center visited CERN in May 1991, and was captivated by the Web. He brought the NeXT software back to SLAC, where librarian Louise Addis adapted it as a way to display SLAC’s catalog of online documents; this was the first web server outside CERN and the first in North America.

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.

“The WorldWideWeb (WWW) project aims to allow 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

1992-1995: Growth of the WWW

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.

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.

Early browsers

There was still no graphical browser available for computers besides the NeXT. This gap was filled in April 1992 with the release of Erwise, an application developed at 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. 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.

Mosaic 3.0 for windowsIn November 1992, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) established a website. In December 1992, Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina, students attending UIUC and working at the NCSA, began work on Mosaic, an early web browser. They released an X Windows 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.

After graduation, Andreessen and Jim Clark, former CEO of Silicon Graphics met and formed Mosaic Communications Corporation to develop the Mosaic browser commercially. The company and the browser changed name to Netscape in April 1994, and was developed further as Netscape Navigator.

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 most lawyers had access to Windows but not to Unix. Cello was released in June 1993.

Web organization

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 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 announcing that it would begin charging license fees for its implementation of the Gopher protocol.

In September 1994, the World Wide Web Consortium was founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an industry organization, with Tim Berners-Lee as director.

1996-1998: Commercialization of the WWW

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. These concepts in turn intrigued many bright, young, often underemployed people (many of Generation X), who realized that new business models would soon arise based on these possibilities, and wanted to be among the first to profit from these new models.

An annual event started in 1995, the Webby Awards, working to recognize the best websites on the Internet. The event was typically an extravaganza held annually in San Francisco, California, 45 miles north of the heart of Silicon Valley.

1999-2001: WWW "Dot-com" boom

The low interest rates in 1998–99 helped increase the start-up capital amounts. 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, radio in the 1920s, transistor electronics in the 1950s, computer time-sharing in the 1960s, and home computers and biotechnology in the early 1980s.

By 2001 the bubble's deflation was running full speed. A majority of the dot-coms ceased trading after burning through their venture capital, often without ever making a gross profit, thereby becoming dot-compost.

2002-Present: WWW becomes ubiquitous

The success of the Google search engine was mainly due to its PageRank algorithm.In the aftermath of the dot-com bubble, the World Wide Web continued to gain popularity even though many businesses trying to exploit it went bankrupt. Also during this time, however, a handful of companies discovered success developing business models that would not exist if not for the World Wide Web. These include Google's search engine and relevant advertising scheme, Apple Computer's iTunes web music store and Expedia's web-based travel service.

This era also brought social networking websites to light, that along with iTunes, are today an extensive part of youth culture, such as MySpace, Xanga, Friendster, Facebook, and Orkut.

Share This


Suggestions for Further Reading

Attribution: Some information for this article has been adapted from wikipedia under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.