Friday, March 13, 2009

The World Wide Web Is 20 Years Old Today

Sir Tim Berners-Lee: The man who invented the world wide web.
It's 20 years since Sir Tim Berners-Lee published a proposal that has revolutionised the way we live. And it's just the start.
In March 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, then a scientist at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, wrote a paper detailing the means by which the particle physics research community could easily share and search electronic documents.
At the time, the “internet” was used almost exclusively by defence organisations and academic institutions, and communication was entirely text-based, relying on basic newsgroups and remote Telnet chat sessions to send messages between users. Sir Tim realised that the experience needed to be richer than that if the internet was to be truly useful.
His paper, entitled Information Management: A Proposal, extolled the virtues of a simplified form of Standard Generalised Markup Language, and the proposal is now considered to be the foundations upon which the world wide web was built.
Sir Tim’s paper led to the creation of HTML – Hypertext Markup Language – a coding language used to describe how to present text and images in an electronic format. When combined with a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) and HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), a framework was built that would enable users to access electronic documents in a standard way.
Crucially, Sir Tim found a way to build links into documents themselves, so that they could be connected together, rather than existing as separate and distinct pieces of data.
Two decades on, the impact of Sir Tim’s work is clear to see.
The web has revolutionised the way we live, work and communicate. And now the internet is on the brink of a second transformation, as technology experts search for new ways to make the web more “intelligent”.
The so-called “semantic web” will be a reality within the next 10 years, according to the National Computing Centre, enabling people to make natural language searches and receive accurate, nuanced responses, rather than simply a list of websites where they might be able to find the answer to a question or request, as is currently the case.
“It is essentially the web as a system of intelligent, connected devices, rather than the web as point-to-point links,” said Ted Schadler, an analyst with Forrester Research.
Several early semantic web-style services already exist, such as Twine and Freebase, and a British-born physicist is planning to launch his natural search engine, Wolfram Alpha, next month.
Sir Tim believes the web is still in its infancy, and that in future, the internet will put “all the data in the world” within the reach of every user.
“What’s exciting is that people are building new social systems, new systems of review, new systems of governance.
“My hope is that those will produce new ways of working together effectively and fairly which we can use globally to manage ourselves as a planet.”


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