Web Of Information: History

Academic History

Published in the July 1945 issue of Atlantic Monthly was an article by Vannevar Bush titled “As We May Think“. In this article, Bush describes a system that would help organize and make accessible large amounts of information. This system was called Memex. It was the start of an idea where information could cross-reference other material which could be pulled up in a moment’s notice. It was the start of an idea that would breed what we now know as the World Wide Web.

In the 1960s a Harvard graduate student named Ted Nelson began to develop his own ideas about the organization and flow of information. His work had a lot to do with engaging information that was not stored in sequential order and the ability of users to take their own path through information rather than in a linear fashion. This concept was readily demonstrated by his two books Computer Lib and Dream Machines which reference each other and are not written in any particular order. (You can get a feel for the books and what they looked like here.) By the end of the 1960s he had named his information system Project Xanadu. During his early work on Xanadu, Nelson coined the terms hypertext and hyperlink.

Hypertext refers to information (text) that contains references (called hyperlinks) to other pieces of information that may be brought up quickly by accessing the hyperlink.

In the early 1980s Tim Berners-Lee, an independent contractor at CERN, began to develop an information system based on the concept of hypertext. By 1989, a functioning prototype of this system was up and running, named ENQUIRE. Building upon his ENQUIRE experience, Berners-Lee proposed the creation of a new hypertext system, which would operate over the global “Internet” network, called the WorldWideWeb. The development of the web included the creation of the Hyper Text Transport Protocol, the Hyper Text Markup Language, and the Uniform Resource Locator. HTTP handled communications between server and client, HTML detailed the structure of the native document format for the web, and the URL was the mechanism used to reference documents contained within the web. Berners-Lee’s work for the web was made free for all to use and in 1994 he co-founded the world wide web consortium. The W3C would handle the development and management of various standards used in the web.

In April of 1993 Marc Andreessen created a web browser named Mosaic. It had a clean, graphical interface that made it unique among the few existing browsers. It was also released under a unique license that allowed the program to be used for free in non-commercial use. These factors helped make it the most popular browser of its day. Andreessen would go on to co-found Netscape Communications Corporation. NCC produced the Netscape Navigator web browser which was the product of Andreessen’s work on Mosaic.

The Growing Web

Up until this point that Internet had become an area mostly used in academia and scientific arenas. Mosaic offered a new and visual way to access information on the Internet. It was also free for non-commercial use. Access to the web’s vast resources, even at it’s young age, was now made easy and cheap for anyone who wanted it.

Within a couple of years the web had grown to tens of thousands of websites and Mosaic (now Netscape) had made the web experience an easy and enjoyable one. People began to see the commercial possibilities and public access to the Internet became wide-spread.

Microsoft finally caught up with it’s Internet Explorer web browser, making it part of it’s Windows operating system and, more importantly, free for Windows users. By 1995 the web was becoming more easily accessible. The public was catching on and the web began to explode. Everything was bright and shiny and covered in that new-car smell.


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