The Twentieth Century Gutenberg

Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Its Inventor

The seeds for the World Wide Web were planted in 1984 when a quiet computer programmer in Switzerland made a directory for his company. Tim Berners–Lee was a contract programmer at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, working on documentation systems. The place was a creative and chaotic hotbed of scientific activity, always in flux with scientists and students coming and going from countries all over the globe.

Berners-Lee wanted to develop an easily accessible, decentralized information storage system that new arrivals could use to retrieve material on all the projects, people and machines at CERN, regardless of what language they spoke or what computer they used. Berners–Lee began organizing information in nets instead of hierarchical matrices or trees. His invention changed the world.

In Weaving the Web, Berners-Lee shares with clarity and honesty his progress and pitfalls as his concept for an easy-to-use, universal information system came into being. He began with the computer programs Tangle and Enquire to create a web of information “nodes” that could be reached through many different connections. He then incorporated hypyertext into his project in 1989 and set it free on the fledgling Internet.

People started really paying attention when Berners-Lee wrote the first browser/editor and launched it at Hypertext ’91 in San Antonio, Texas. By 1992, his server — info.cern.ch — received up to 1,000 hits a day; by 1993 that number reached 10,000. Servers and browsers proliferated and the World Wide Web was up and humming.

Before these innovations, Hypertext existed, as did the Internet. But only Berners-Lee saw how their use could be greatly expanded by combining bits and pieces of programs already available. He created a few protocols – the universal resource identifiers (URIs), the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), and the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) – and brought them together to create a whole new world – cyberspace. Universality, Berners-Lee stresses, is the key to the system.

Berners-Lee ultimately sees the Web as a thinking expanse of computers that will do the grunt work of research and relay, giving us the energy and access to an extended community to become more innovative in our collective approach to problems

Since 1994, the Web’s ever nurturing parent has chosen to spend his time and energy organizing and directing the Word Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an open forum of companies and organizations hoping to expand the Web to its full potential. Berners-Lee fears the Web will fragment if addresses don’t continue to be universally formed, its limitation if legal controls are introduced, and its domination by commercial interests if private companies become too powerful. W3C is addressing such perils and it becomes clear that not only is Berners-Lee a man who clearly understands the big picture of connectivity as few do, but he has the diplomatic skills to bring it to fruition on a global scale.

Weaving the Web reminds us great men do exist and that we all benefit from their presence. Berners-Lee lets us revel in the Web’s creation, never bragging about what he’s done, complaining about the money he hasn’t made or speaking against those who have reaped tremendous gains from his invention. If you think the Internet has sold out, this book will change your mind.

Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Its Inventor by Tim Berners-Lee with Mark Fischetti (HarperSanFrancisco)

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