The Internet is a network of networks of connected systems across the globe. And though there are many ways to use it, no tool nor platform has never been more popular or groundbreaking as the World Wide Web. What started out as an idea, grew into a something which changed the way we as human beings interacted on a global level. So how did this all came to be in the first place?
This is a short story about the world wide web.
Many great inventions came from an idea. And as early as the 1940s, a concept was being formulated that spoke of a link connecting ordinary text to other materials. Fast-forward about 20 years and the term “HYPERTEXT” was coined by Ted Nelson, an information technologist. This idea became a fundamental building block for the World Wide Web. But before this concept could truly materialize, we first needed to broaden our understanding of what is electronic communications.
For some time, communication technologies, for example, the telephone, used a process called circuit switching when creating a link: It was a direct connection between two points and information was sent over analog signals. This approach was quite limited, especially for computers — because once created, the link could only be used by the two connected members.
A few scientist looked into an alternative approach for sending information: A new process called Packet Switching was created. Instead of managing the information as a whole, what Packet Switching did was to break it down into smaller chunks and then placed those chunks into containers, called packets. These packets no longer bounded to a single link and they can share a link with packets from a different connection. This concept led to the development of a global network, known as ARPANET.
The late 1980s brought us the modern Internet. It incorporated many of the ideas of its predecessor [Arpanet]. But the Internet also took the concept further by linking together commercial and enterprise networks. This joining is called the “backbone” of the modern Internet. But hardware by itself does not only make great technology, the software also plays an important role. And as for the internet, it was about to come face-to-face with the most important tool ever written for its utilization.
In 1989, an English scientist, Tim Berners-Lee, issued a proposal to CERN about a new platform which centered around a system [he had prior built in 1980] that used embedded links within readable-text, aka HYPERTEXT. This system he simply referred to as “WEB”. Not long after, Berners-Lee will go on to write the software for his newly proposed platform.
This platform was divided into two parts: the web browser and the web server. The web browser, which ran on the client’s machine, was used for accessing web pages from the web server. Both were written in a language called HTML and used a hypertext protocol called HTTP when creating their connections. A resource identifier was also implemented for locating the web pages — today this identifier is known as a URL.
On April 30, 1993, the World Wide Web became free for everyone. From here on, things rapidly started to change. Every organization you could think of bought domain names and set up their sites online. And services, like AOL, provided so-called “portals” to this new emerging world of websites. The globe was now a much more accessible, and once out-of-reached information could now be remedied by just a few clicks of the mouse. It goes without saying that great things were being envisioned for this new technology. And the growth of the World Wide Web exploded.
But when it seemed like the World Wide Web will be unstoppable, it faced with one of its greatest setbacks. The dot-com bubble, which rode mostly on the hype of a future of ever growing prosperity, burst and dashed into pieces the hopes and dreams of many. Companies failed and optimism took a dive, leaving certain experts to as far as to say that the web will never be financially profitable.
But, despite the fall and doubts, the World Wide Web limped on. There were a few which still showed interest in this fairly new technology; and those, the likes of Amazon and Ebay, who held on, are now counted among the largest companies in the world today. In July of 2008, Google, another large player in the online economy, did a search and discovered over one trillion unique URLs. Almost a decade since, that number has grown much larger. So through the years the World Wide Web eventually reclaimed its once lost glory.
Today, the Web is everywhere. Almost half of the world’s population uses it: From those who believe they have something important to say, to the largest corporations, all own a website or two. And as globalization continues to spread, most assume that the World Wide Web will only become larger. But, not all hold to this view of eternal growth: More and more people are going online, but [as of today] the Web is not the only means to do so. With the advent of smart devices and the ever growing app market, how the internet is being accessed, is changing. More and more we are connecting through software whose code may not bear much resemblance to the Web — Just try and think back to the last time you ran Netflix within a web browser. So a time may come where the growth of the World Wide Web has peaked, and this great technology that once reshaped the globe will begin a new journey of becoming dated.
So I hope you enjoyed this short story. The World Wide Web has impacted the world in so many ways. And if the time comes where it is replaced by something new (one or many), it will always be remembered as the tool/platform that brought us into the era of a globally connected society.