Sir Tim Berners-Lee is credited with inventing the World Wide Web; he wrote the first web browser, aptly named WorldWideWeb, and the first web server (software used to transmit webpages from a server to a user’s computer). However, the idea of an inter-connected system of information, or Hypertext, existed long before Tim Berners-Lee created the Web.
Hypertext is simply the idea of a system in which information is inter-connected; a user can instantly find material on a subject while learning about a related topic. In the web, this is accomplished with Hyperlinks: a word or phrase in a document is “linked” to another document containing more information about that subject. The concept of Hypertext dates back to the dawn of the computing era in the early twentieth century. Vannevar Bush, as early as 1945, described a electromechanical device called a “Memex,” which allowed the user to instantly view and cross-reference the entire contents of libraries. His concept used microfilm and levers, and never came to fruition, but by the 1980s computing and the internet were sufficiantly developed such that Tim Berners-Lee was able to create a complete Hypertext system.
The Web in its Infancy While at CERN, TimBL experemented with the idea of Hypertext and linked documents in the form of a program called Enquire, which he used to keep track of the many people and projects there. Though the software proved useful for him, it was never adopted by more than a few users, and eventually the program was lost altogether. Yet Enquire proved Tim with a testing ground for Hypertext: he learned which methods worked and which didn’t, both technically and in regard to user interaction. Eventually, when CERN asked him to develop a documentation system so scientists could share their research with one another, Tim siezed the chance to develop a multi-purpose hyperlinked system. He called the program WorldWideWeb.
WorldWideWeb was unique in that anyone could publish, view, and edit documents, from any system, anywhere on the Internet. Previously, it was difficult for two computers to talk to each other over the Internet, because documents were kept in different formats, and computers all spoke differnet languages. The Web provided a single language and a simple, easy to use interface; all that was necessary would be to generate enough interest so people would post their documents to the Web, and for programmers to write applications for different types of computers to use the Web. In order to achieve this goal, Tim gave his software out for free, setting a standard which many Web software companies follow to this day.
The Web goes World-Wide With the help of Robert Cailliau, the WorldWideWeb program, and other software developed at CERN for the web, became mature enough to convince other developers to start working on their own web software. While the Internet hadn’t completely taken hold in Europe, companies and universities in the United States were leveraging the new technology to communicate cross-country. It was here that Tim found the most acceptance for his invention; this is partially the reason why the W3C was founded at MIT.
In America, the NCSA developed the Mosaic web browser, which later became Netscape, and a student at the University of California developed the ViolaWWW browser; by building Web browsers for various platforms, the number of users on the Web began to grow expenentially. At the same time, more and more universities and researchers were putting their documents on the web; while other hypertext technologies were built, the Web was so accessable to anyone, for free, that it eventually grew to dominate the world of cyberspace. As the number of users and webpages grew, the amount of development from companies like Microsoft increased, ensuring the success of this new technology.