Saturday, December 13, 2008

Choice Blog 1 - WWW

Recently in my Creating Web Documents Class with Prof. Robert Spahr, I learned about the Beginning of the World Wide Web and with my interest in history, I decided to do a report on the man that actually started it, the task to do the report was never assigned. Here is the report on the man that changed our world forever.

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, was born in June of 1955 in London, England. He was born to parents who were mathematicians and involved in the programming of the world’s first computer sold commercially. Berners-Lee attended Emanuel School before college. He was taught and encouraged to use the skills of mathematics taught by his parents everywhere. Berners-Lee’s childhood hobby was electronics therefore he enrolled and majored in Physics at Queen’s College at Oxford University in 1972, wanting to use the talents he already had a grip on.

At Oxford, Berners-Lee built his first computer with a soldering iron out of spare parts that included a television set. Also he was banned from the university’s computer after being caught hacking into it with a friend.

In 1976, Berners-Lee graduated with a degree in Physics and a future first wife named Jane, whom he met at school. After graduation and marrying Jane, Berners-Lee, worked on various programming projects. At this time as a programmer, he wrote typesetting software and wrote an operating system in Poole with his wife.

In 1980, a few years after graduation and working on his various projects, Berners-Lee became a consultant/software engineer at Conseil Europeen pour la Recherche Nucleaire, better known as CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory. CERN consists of many facilities located in a beautiful area in Geneva, Switzerland. WWW started, of all places, in the Swiss Alps, at the Jura Mountains, which are on the border between France and Switzerland.

While an independent contractor at CERN in 1980, Berners-Lee wrote his first program while off-duty for his private use. It was planned on the concept of hypertext and used for storing, sharing and updating information. He was trying to find a way to organize his many notes, which were certainly all over. He wanted a program that dealt with information like a brain. The computer code he came up with let scientists easily share research findings across a computer network. CERN was so large and complex, with thousands of researchers and hundreds of systems, which Berners-Lee needed a way to keep track of who worked on which project, what software was associated with which program, and which software ran on which computers.
He named it “Enquire” after the Victorian-era encyclopedia he remembered discovering in his parents’ house as a child called Enquire Within Upon Everything. The encyclopedia gave tips and advice on an assortment of household questions. It captivated the young Berners-Lee as it seemed to magically have the answer to any problem in the world. He says his program, Enquire, kept “track of all the random associations one comes across in real life and brains are supposed to be so good at remembering but sometimes mine wouldn’t.” The program would help keep track of the web of projects and researchers. Berners-Lee called Enquire a “memory substitute,” for his personal use of remembering various people and projects he was connected to at the lab.

Enquire helped connect the very large CERN locally and world-wide to the very many researchers around the world. It included links between general items and was very useful. Enquire “formed the conceptual basis for the future development of the World Wide Web.”

For a few years, Berners-Lee left CERN to be a Technical Designer on graphics and communications software. Away from CERN he gained experience to help him in the future. When he returned to CERN with more experience in 1984, he worked full-time, and almost immediately proposed a global hypertext database where “every package of data would have a distinct “Universal Document Identifier” (UDI), which any network user could use to retrieve that data.” He began to “envision a global information space where computers around the world would be linked together, allowing researchers to surf from one body of data to another, gathering information related to their own work, while effortlessly sharing their insights and suggestions with other researchers.” This system would allow the review and discussion of all types of research by researchers all over the world. He would name the project the “World Wide Web”.

Then in 1989 he completed his project proposal for a system to communicate information among researchers in the CERN High Energy Physics department. He would allow “various computer platforms, in various languages, without all the bureaucratic restrictions and delays. Therefore it could “help those having problems sharing information across a wide range of different networks, computers, and countries”. The projects main goals were open design and network distribution.

In open design, the “hypertext system should have an open architecture, and be able to run on any computer being used at CERN.” With network distribution goal is for the system to be “distributed over a communications network.” Berners-Lee vision was to “create a comprehensive collection of information in word, sound and image, each discretely identified by UDI’s and interconnected by hypertext links, and to use the Internet to provide universal access to that collection of information.”

To help Berners-Lee get the web off the ground, Robert Cailliau helped out by rewriting “the project proposal and lobbied management for funding and rounded up programmers, collaborated with Berners-Lee on papers and presentations. Berners-Lee and Cailliau used “similar ideas to those underlying the Enquire system to create the World Wide Web.” His system would have “no central manager, no central database, and no scaling problems.” Berners-Lee also designed and built the first web browser, editor and Web server called httpd (HyperText Transfer Protocol daemon).

At this time he took the chance to join hypertext with the internet. He says, “I just had to take the hypertext idea and connect it to the TCP and DNS ideas and – ta da! – the World Wide Web.” And in 1991 the World Wide Web debuted, “instantly bringing order and clarity to the chaos that was cyberspace.”

Berners- Lee and his WWW did not lead to riches because of the way he “stayed committed to making the web universally accessible, without patents…”. In 1994 he formed the World Wide Web Consortium and helps “mediate the aims and conflicts of companies involved in the development of the Web”. Also the 3WC helps “establish and promote standards and protocols that work for both web designers and for web browsers.”


1. "Creation of the Web." LivingInternet.

2. "Tim Berners-Lee - Internet Pioneers." Ibiblio.

3. Quittner, Joshua. "Time 100 - Tim Berners- Lee." Time.

No comments: