A message from the founder of the Web

Marach 30, 2018
by Mark Ollig

March 12 is recognized by many as the 29th birthday of the World Wide Web.

Tim Berners-Lee wrote the code we use to point-and-click our way through the myriad of website pages, text, videos, photos, and social media links.

Berners-Lee initially called the web a “global hypertext system.”

Many people assume the internet and the web are the same; they are not.

The onternet is a network of interconnected computers, routers, gateways, border controllers, and cables, sending and receiving binary-coded packets of data.

Think of these data packets as discrete messages written on postcards delivered to specific addresses.

The computing devices and software on the internet passes and routes the data packets through its network to their desired destinations.

The web, which I consider an overlay program on top of the internet, would not work without the underlying network topology of the internet; which operates using high-level computer programming languages, and assorted hardware and electronic components needed to send and receive data packets using internet transmission control protocols.

The internet delivers data packets using its transmission protocols to anywhere in the world with access to its network – and it does this very quickly.

Back in 1980, Tim Berners-Lee was managing software programs for storing computer information files.

In 1989, he was working at the European Particle Physics Laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, also known as CERN – which I learned is the French abbreviation for Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (European Council for Nuclear Research).

While working at CERN, he submitted his now famous document, “Information Management: A Proposal.”

The proposal described and had diagrams of his software program hierarchy using a hypertext transport protocol in which an information file stored within a computer server on a shared network could be uniquely referenced and quickly accessed from any other networked computer via a Universal Document Identifier (UDI).

UDI is known today as the Uniform Resource Locator (URL), which is the specific address of a webpage.

“We should work toward a universal linked-information system,” Berners-Lee wrote in his March 1989 proposal to CERN.

Berners-Lee’s original CERN proposal document and diagrams of what eventually became the World Wide Web are at https://bit.ly/1eBedal.

During 1990, Berners-Lee finished coding a client-browser and Graphical User Interface software he named the “WorldWideWeb Program,” using a late-1980s model NeXT workstation computer.

He also used the NeXT workstation as the web’s first Hypertext server, and for writing the code for the first web-browser.

A photo of the NeXT computer Berners-Lee used to create the web is at https://bit.ly/2I2stQf.

To see Berners-Lee’s screengrab of the world’s first hyperlinked website on his WorldWide Web, visit https://bit.ly/2I3u34g.

On this 29th anniversary, Berners-Lee mentioned concerns he has about the web: “How do we get the other half of the world connected?” and, “Are we sure the rest of the world wants to connect to the web we have today?”

“While the problems facing the web are complex and large, I think we should see them as bugs: problems with existing code and software systems that have been created by people and can be fixed by people,” Tim Berners-Lee said.

The threats to the web are “real and many . . . from misinformation and questionable political advertising to a loss of control over our data. But I remain committed to making sure the web is a free, open, and creative space – for everyone,” Berners-Lee added.

He also suggested a plan of action: “Let’s assemble the brightest minds from business, technology, government, civil society, the arts, and academia to tackle the threats to the web’s future.”

“The web, as I envisaged it, we have not seen it yet. The future is still so much bigger than the past,” Tim Berners-Lee said in 2009.

Follow Sir Tim Berners-Lee on Twitter at @timberners_lee.

While you’re surfing the World Wide Web, stop by Bits & Bytes at www.bitscolumn.blogspot.com.

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