The Web

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The Character of the Web

Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote THE book on the history, development and philosophy of the web. Literally...[1]


It's right and proper that he should have done this, because he invented the Web itself, after all.

In the original terrestrial version of this course, MOST of the content was available for free online, but students were required to buy this book (as well as one other we'll see later). Publication and compensation being what they are, there is no free (or pay, for that matter) on-line way to view the content of this book. (That's a shame really, because it's a critical read for anyone who wants to know more about how and why the web really works.)

So, the reader of this wiki-course has a decision to make; buy a physical copy of the book, or not. My advice is to buy; it's a favourite book of mine.

If you have the book, I hereby reward you with an "assignment" to read Chapters 1-3.

While it's impossible to do a better job introducing the material in those chapters via summary than Berners-Lee has done in the book itself; I will endeavour to highlight what I think are a few key points.

  • There are two prevalent polar opposite notions about the web and BOTH are wrong. The web is neither strictly a business tool, nor is it some sort of "digital shangri-la" where no rules exist and all things are free.
    • On the very first page Berners-Lee summarizes the web as follows; "a vision encompassing the decentralized, organic growth of ideas, technology and society"
  • There was no "Eureka!" moment. The very idea of such a moment is nothing more than a simplifying myth. The Web was influenced by ideas that came before it, just like anything else
  • The web was originally developed at CERN [2] and was intended to make sharing information simpler
  • Structure is Everything
    • "In an extreme view, the world can be seen as only connections, nothing else. We think of a dictionary as the repository of meaning, but it defines words only in terms of other words. I like the idea that a piece of information is really defined only by what it's related to, and how it's related. There really is little else to meaning. The structure is everything. There are billions of neurons in our brains, but what are neurons? Just cells. The brain has no knowledge until connections are made between neurons. All that we know, all that we are, comes from the way our neurons are connected."
  • Berners-Lee's system was going to be successful for the very reason that the rules could be as few and as lax as possible.
  • The vision -
    • a web with external links where any browser could immediately add new data
    • decentralized -- no gate keepers or permission granters
    • each hypertext link could point to anything because all things (node, data, whatever) are on the same level, in the same “information space”

A Packet's Tale

Berners-Lee Honoured at the 2012 Olympics

The Nature of Success

We've mentioned it before, and it almost goes without saying, but the Web has been HUGELY successful. To see how successful, let's see what could be instead of what is.

The Prospect of the World Without an Internet as We Know It

The Internet in N. Korea

Early Detractors

It's also worthwhile to note, that there was no small amount of scepticism and confusion about the Internet before it was the Internet we know today.

The Internet? Bah!

What is "Internet", Anyway?




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