HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

December 4, 2006, Herald Journal

The real inventor of the World Wide Web

By MARK OLLIG

Tim Berners-Lee is the person who wrote the programming code that we use when we “point and click” our way through the hyper-links of documents, sounds, videos and information that we access via the World Wide Web portion of the Internet.

Berners-Lee called his creation a “global hypertext system.”

Some people think that the Internet and the Web are the same, but this is not true.

The Internet is basically a network made from computers, routers, gateways and cables used to send around little “packets” of information. A packet is a bit (no pun intended) like a postcard with a simple address on it.

If you put the right address on a packet and gave it to any computer which is connected as part of the Internet, each computer would figure out which cable or path to send it down next so that it would get to its destination. That’s what the Internet does. It delivers packets anywhere in the world using various protocols and it can do this very quickly.

Berners-Lee connects the Internet to the Web by saying “The Web exists because of programs which communicate between computers on the ‘Net. The Web connections are hypertext links. The Web could not be without the Net. The Web made the Net useful because people are really interested in information (not to mention knowledge and wisdom!) and don’t really want to have know about computers and cables.”

In May of 1998, Tim Berners-Lee wrote a short piece on the history of the World Wide Web in which he says “. . .The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information.”

Back in 1980, Berners-Lee was working with computer software programs to store information with random links. Nine years later, while he was working at the European Particle Physics Laboratory near Geneva Switzerland, also known as “CERN” which I found out is the French abbreviation for “Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire.”

Since the only French I remember was from a record album that comedian Steve Martin did back in late 1970s in which he says that when he was in France the only French he knew was how to order a ham and cheese omelet in the restaurant. Yep, the ol’ “omelette de jambon et de fromage.”

I went to the language translation link on Google at: http://www.google.com/language_tools and found out that the translation to English of “Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire” is: The Council European for the Nuclear Research.

Tim Berners-Lee goes on to say that this is where in 1989, he first proposed that a global hypertext space be created in which any network-accessible information could be referred to by what he had called a UDI or “Universal Document Identifier.” This would become known today as the “Uniform Resource Locator” or “URL” that we are typing when going to a particular website.

He finished the actual client-browser and the point and click hypertext editor he called the “WorldWideWeb Program” in 1990. Some of the very early web browsers had names like Erwise, Viola, Cello and Mosaic. Today we use browsers like Netscape, Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer.

Berners-Lee said he was under pressure to define the future evolution of the ‘Web, so he decided to form the World Wide Web Consortium or W3C in September 1994 with a base at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA, and offices in France and in Japan.

The W3C is a neutral, open forum where companies and organizations can discuss and come to agreement upon new computer protocols that will help see the Web develop to its full potential.

It has been a center for education, issue raising and design. The website says their decisions are made by consensus. If you want to find out what the latest advancements being planned for the continued evolution of the World Wide Web are, I highly recommend you visit http://www.w3.org which states their mission is “To lead the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing protocols and guidelines that ensure long-term growth for the Web.” I noted that under the photo of Tim Berners-Lee it says he is the Director of the W3C and also “The Inventor of the World Wide Web” which in this humble columnist’s opinion adds a bit of respectability to this website!

For those of you out there that would like to see the original 1989 proposal (including a circles and arrows diagram) that Tim Berners-Lee first submitted and in which he coined the term: “WorldWideWeb” link over to: http://www.w3.org/History/1989/proposal.html and you will see what I call probably the ‘Webs most historical document when it comes to how we are able to navigate the Internet as we have come to use it today.

The computer that Berners-Lee used to write the code for the first web-browser and also what became the first “web-server” was called the “NeXtcube.” You can see and read about it at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NeXTcube

And if you go to this link: http://www.w3.org/History/1994/WWW/Journals/CACM/screensnap2_24c.gif you will see the “snapshot” of Tim Berners-Lee’s (and the world’s) very first website that he created and released to the High Energy Physics community.