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THE WORLD WIDE WEB

By now most Americans are well aware of the World Wide Web, and for many it has become an integral part of their business and recreational lives. It is creating new business processes and models, from book sales to airline tickets to banking to vacation planning to stock trades to home and automobile purchases. Few of its users, however, are aware of how it came to be.

The Web was born in a high-energy physics laboratory in Switzerland. It came about as a solution to CERN's communications and documentation problems, characteristic of large, complex experiments involving collaborators from around the world. Three key technologies—computer networking, document/information management, and software user interface design—were brought to bear on these problems, and the outcome became the Web.

The Internet, initiated by DARPA in the late 1960s, was well entrenched at CERN by the late 1980s. At that time it was expanding explosively worldwide, due in large part to the wide acceptance of e-mail as an effective means of communication. The Internet became the medium in which the Web was created.

In the fall of 1990 the proposal for the World Wide Web, including its name, was advanced and acted favorably upon at CERN. Its eight key goals, defining features of the Web, were as follows:

  • To provi\de a common (simple) protocol for requesting human-readable information stored at a remote system using networks;

  • To provide a protocol within which information can automatically be exchanged in a format common to the supplier and the consumer;

  • To provide some method of reading at least text (if not graphics) using a large portion of the computer screens in use at CERN;

  • To provide and maintain at least one collection of documents, into which users may (but are not bound to) put their documents. This collection will include much existing data;

  • To provide a keyword search option, in addition to navigation by following references, using any new or existing indexes. The result of a keyword search is simply a hypertext document consisting of references to nodes that match the keywords;

  • To allow private, individually managed collections of documents to be linked to documents in other collections;

  • To use public domain software wherever possible, or interface to proprietary systems that already exist; and

  • To provide software for the above free of charge to anyone.

In a little over a year, a complete version of this proposal had become a reality and announced to the high-energy physics community. In the process, HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), which allows the client and server to communicate, was invented, along with HTML (Hypertext Markup Language, based on SGML), which allows content to be displayed on a client.

The initial acceptance of the Web by the high-energy physics community was far from



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