The First Man on the Web The story of the creation of the World Wide Web is the newest update on the classic story of technological invention. Like the telegraph, the telephone, and countless other giant leaps forward that transformed our culture, the Web was the product of a lone genius (and his assistants) laboring away in relative obscurity on a project for which none but he saw the potential.
Like all the classic tales of brilliant invention, this simplified version of the story barely does justice to the years of work and breadth of vision that went into making the Web and, by extension, the whole Internet the fastest-growing communications system in all of human history. Thankfully, to fill in the holes left by the shorthand version, the inventor himself, Tim Berners-Lee, has put the story of his work into Weaving the Web.
To casual users and online neophytes, it might seem like the Web appeared overnight, that one day back in 1995, there was no Web and the next day, everyone was talking about it. And compared with earlier technological shifts such as radio, television, and personal computers, the speed of the Web's growth was lightning fast. But it wasn't overnight. Fifteen years before every ad began including a dot com address and every hot stock was an Internet IPO, Tim Berners-Lee, a computer programmer working at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, wrote the first computer program that vaguely resembled today's Web.TheWeb itself was still ten years away. The first web site and server went up in 1990. The first people who could see it got browsers in 1991, all of them working at the same physics lab and all of them using powerful but relatively uncommon NeXT computers. They spread the news to other physics labs around the world. By the middle of 1991, there were no more than 100 hits per day on any web page. A year later there were still only a handful of web servers and a few dozen users. Unix machines could now browse the Web, but there was still no software to let people running Macintosh, Windows, or DOS machines see the Web.
In telling this story, Weaving the Web serves several purposes. First, it sets the record straight. Mark Andreessen, who helped write the first popular Windows browser, Mosaic, and later founded Netscape, has become such a pop-culture figure that he now appears in beer commercials. But there could have been no Netscape without Berners-Lee. There would be no Internet billionaires without Berners-Lee and his team.
Second, and not inconsequential, Weaving the Web is a compendium of geek trivia. Did you know the first web site was http://info.cern.ch? That if not for a mix of absentminded and, occasionally, forward-thinking decisions on the part of CERN, there would be no Web? That the busiest site in the world was getting just 10,000 hits per day in 1993?
The third and perhaps most important purpose of Weaving the Web is to give Berners-Lee a forum to restate firmly his vision of the Web as an information-exchange medium rooted in open standards with the broadest participation possible. The idea of a few large media companies pushing information at millions of passive Web surfers is not his ideal. The notion that any company should control any aspect of the fundamental Web technologies is his worst nightmare.
It is refreshing to be reminded that the Web was not invented to be a virtual mall and that in Berners-Lee's original vision, publishing onto the Web was as simple as reading from it. Berners-Lee still works as a guardian of his invention as the director of the World Wide Web Consortium, a research and industry group that designs and issues recommended standards for new Web technologies. And it is clear from Weaving the Web that the future of this powerful medium has a smart and influential advocate in its inventor.