The Grand Design of the Web
In this video we talk about the World Wide Web. We discuss what led to the creation of the web by examining the initial problem that needed solving and the idea behind its solution.
Hi! My name is Yulia. I'm a curriculum engineer at Inrupt.
In this video we'll talk about the World Wide Web. We'll discuss what led to the creation of the web through examining the initial problem that needed solving and the idea behind its solution. The reason for this brief history tour is two-fold. One is that to build better solutions for the web it is important to know where we started and how the web evolved to be what it is today. Two, is to align on terminology. As the web evolved, so did our language around it, and reviewing the brief history of the web will help us identify common terms on this topic.
The initial design of the World Wide Web was aimed at solving a very specific problem: information distribution.
In the 1980s, scientists and engineers at CERN, which stands for the European Organization for Nuclear Research, were conducting research on a variety of different topics and were struggling to collaborate efficiently due to the lack of standardization around computational technology.
At every lab, each scientist was free to choose whichever technology they wanted to create, document, share, and communicate about their research digitally.
As a result, everyone had their own software, system, and communication method of choice, which were often incompatible with others in the org. Switching everyone to a uniform system would require consensus in a large organization, expensive and timely upgrades, and a steep learning curve for many.
A staff member named Tim Berners-Lee set out to create a system that would be easy to use, compatible with all of the machines at CERN, and maintainable and controllable by individuals instead of some central department or function.
Fast forward a number of years and a lot of work inventing, promoting, standardizing, and maintaining this creation, and the result is the World Wide Web, specifically, as we now refer to it Web 1.0.
Let's review how this "easy to use, compatible with devices connected to the Internet" system worked then, and how it works now. Did it live up to its goals?
At the foundation of the World Wide Web are three key things: HTML, HTTP, and URLs. Let’s review all three acronyms.
HTML is an abbreviation for HyperText Markup Language. HyperText refers to text with links to other text in it. Markup is a way of adding structural notation to text, also known as marking up the text. When it is opened by the right program, that information looks formatted the way the creator intended it to be. An HTML page can contain title text, or an image, or some links to other data on the web. And Language means a system of rules that are required for a message in a given language to be correctly interpreted. To summarize: HTML is one way to write hypertext. It's a way to tell programs how to display or interact with data.
HTTP stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol. A protocol is a set of rules, and in this case it's a set of rules for transferring or moving data.
Now let’s review this data that we're moving using HTTP, and interacting with and displaying using HTML. You can encounter lots of different types of data and information on the web. We can find text, image, code, video files to name a few. Some of these data files are located on some sort of computational device connected to the web. Some others are generated from querying a database, using a search engine, or making a computation so they don't really live on any one particular device. We'll refer to all these different types of data on the web as resources.
There are many ways for a machine to find and display resources, but in the context of the web, the most successful and commonly accepted way is by using the resource address to locate it within this network. What we colloquially refer to as a web address, is also known as the URL, which stands for Uniform Resource Locator.
With this acronym, Uniform means unchanging in form and function. The uniformity allows us to uniquely identify resources, and Locator implies the function of this tool: its job is to locate resources, which is why the URL is also referred to as a web address. It helps us find specific resources.
Now let's put our review of the basics of the web together. Web 1.0 is a system that uses HTTP to retrieve a resource from its location using its URL that is then displayed according to the HTML standard that indicates how to display the resource contents in a specialized application like a web browser.
Did this system achieve the goals that it set out for itself?
The goal was to create an information distribution system that was:
- Easy to use. Check. HTML, HTTP, and URL have seen enormous adoption, are free to use, and HTML specifically is easy to learn.
- Compatible with all of the machines at CERN. Also check. Not only at CERN anymore, HTTP was built on existing protocols for transferring data that are now the international standards for moving information over a network. All modern devices are compatible with it.
- Maintainable and controllable by individuals. Also check! Since it's easy to use, anyone could maintain and control their web presence.
Web 1.0 helped to connect individuals at CERN and beyond. Organizations and people all around the world used it to distribute information about themselves to anyone who is interested in it. This was made possible by the open specifications and standards that underpin the world wide web we know to this day.
Web 1.0 gave us the blogosphere where static HTML documents were linked together with URLs, and all of those documents were accessible through the HTTP protocol.
In the next video we'll talk about the evolution of the web to recent times, Web 2.0, and the challenges that Web 3.0 – the web of today – is trying to solve.