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History of the World Wide Web

The fundamental idea of the World Wide Web is the presentation of hypertext. The origins of hypertext can be traced back to 1945. Then, Vannevar Bush, a science advisor to president Roosevelt, proposed a system called ``Memex''. It should store vast amounts of information, links of related texts and illustrations, which could be saved and used for future reference. Twenty years later Theodor Holm Nelson coined the word ``hypertext'' and in 1981 he conceptualized ``Xanadu '', a central, pay-per-document hypertext database containing ``all'' written information. In 1988 Autodesk bought the Xanadu project, ``finished'' it, and dropped the project in 1992. In 1994 Nelson was invited to Japan and founded the Sapporo HyperLab with the support of Hitachi and Fujitsu . More recently he was given a research appointment by Keio University , where he plans to continue building Xanadu. In contrast to Xanadu's failure, the World Wide Web encompassed the globe and has proliferated across all computer platforms within few years. The remarkable success of the Web is a result of its intuitive, platform independent, yet simple design.

Figure 2: Exponential growth of the nascent Web
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In 1990 Tim Berners-Lee, a researcher at the distributed computing group at CERN, proposed a ``Hypertext Project'' to provide an intuitive single user-interface to large classes of information (reports, notes, data-bases, computer documentation and on-line help). As a management tool it should facilitate cooperation in large organizations by giving an accurate representation of the state of people's thoughts, interactions, and work patterns.

That was the vision, however, the real world was scattered with incompatible networks, disk formats, data formats, and character encoding schemes, which made any attempt to transfer information between dislike systems a daunting and generally impractical task. Consequently the key points for success of the project were flexibility, interoperability, scalability, ease of use and the ability to provide a path of evolution which allowed the inclusion of existing material as well as the migration to new standards in the future.

Flexibility had to ensure that implementations of all necessary software would become available on a wide variety of computer platforms.

Interoperability, based on the HTTP and HTML standards, was necessary for a broad acceptance in a world of proprietary hardware and operating systems.

Scalability should allow the Web to grow boundlessly. Typically hypertext systems were built around a database of links which limited their size. However, it did guarantee that links would be consistent, and links to documents would be removed when documents were removed. The renunciation of this feature was the principle compromise made in the architecture of the Web, which then, by allowing references to be made without consultation with the destination, gave rise to the scalability and exponential growth of the Web.

Though, ``Hyperwave '', a Web server developed at the Technical University Graz and now distributed by ``Hyperwave Information Management GmbH.'' is able to guarantee link consistency. This is achieved by storing documents, links and document attributes in an object oriented database. All Web pages are generated on the fly, i.e. their contents and links are assembled on demand and sent to the client. In addition it includes an integrated search engine and sophisticated user management. Another feature is worth mentioning: Hyperwave lets publishers attach a price to individual documents on commercial sites. This is also supported by HTTP/1.1, which defines a client error with status code 402 as ``Payment Required''. The future of the Web seems to become more expensive. However, it is not only companies which want to make money on the Web, there are also plans considered by the European Union to raise taxes on the amount of data transmitted over the Internet. The president of the United States, Bill Clinton, holds the opinion that the cyberspace should be a free trade zone.

Ease of use was the key to the adoption of the World Wide Web as a new global information system by the whole online community, not only a small group of freaks.

In December 1990 the initial prototype consisting of a line mode Web browser and a simple Web server was written in NeXTStep . However, it was impossible to convince anyone to use the system since it had a small audience and contained information only about itself. The first useful application was an interface to a phone book database at CERN. This made a few people, the first Web surfers, use their browsers to access the phone book. As there were no more resources available at CERN, the Internet community at large was encouraged to port the World Wide Web program to other platforms. As a result various browsers were developed: ``Erwise '', ``Midas '', ``Viola-WWW '' for X windows and ``Cello '' for Windows. A research team at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois improved the interface of the Web browser and incorporated several different protocols in use on the Internet (e.g. Ftp, Wais, Gopher; the latter was seen for a long time as a preferable information system). In 1993 they released the first Web browser which was capable of displaying text and inline images, ``Mosaic ''. It suddenly made the Web an interesting place to explore and encouraged businesses to market themselves and their products on the Web. However, industry needed reliable technology for long term strategies and investments as it feared that a fragmentation of the Web's standards could destroy this promising ``universe of information''. This lead to the formation of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in 1994. It provides a vendor-neutral forum where competing companies can meet to agree on common specifications for the common good and a fruitful future of the Web. Just one example of the W3C's effectivity is its reaction to the worries of parents, schools, and governments that children could gain access to indecent, violent or in some other way harmful material on the web. Under threat of government restrictions of Internet use, or even government censorship, the consortium reacted rapidly on behalf of the Internet community in the form of W3C's Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS) initiative. PICS allows parents to set up filters for the information their children can get access to, where the filters can refer to the parent's choice of independent rating services. As commerce and money become increasingly important on the Web, the W3 Consortium is also working on protocols to negotiate the security and payment protocols which will ensure safe business transactions. In the middle of 1994 Marc Andreessen and several other members of the group at NCSA founded Netscape Communications Corporation to commercially develop and improve the Mosaic Web browser. Today Netscape's Communicator still has the upper hand with regard to numbers of users and market share as compared to Microsoft 's Internet Explorer but they are fighting for the lead.

next up previous contents
Next: Networking Up: Presentation on the World Previous: History of the Internet
Werner Scholz