Fifteen years ago this week, the world received what has turned out to be a most wonderful Christmas present: WorldWideWeb, the very first Web browser.
Actually, the program was a combined browser-editor, devised by Tim Berners-Lee, a Briton working in Switzerland at the time.
WorldWideWeb was, in 1990, the only way to view the Web, which was fine because back then only Berners-Lee and a few colleagues were creating pages.
Later, the program would be renamed Nexus and the virtual space would become the World Wide Web (with spaces). The rest, as they say, is history.
Since the introduction of Microsoft Windows, no technology has so dominated personal computing as the Web browser.
What most people call the “dot-com” era was really more about the Web browser, a technology that has found its way onto virtually all the worlds personal computers and with which hundreds of millions of users interact many times each day.
But, Berners-Lee, who received a Knighthood for his invention, recently described his work as merely putting two existing technologies—the Internet and hypertext—together, as though it were no big deal.
“I just played my part,” Sir Tim said in his second-ever blog posting, responding to the hundreds of “thank you” messages that followed his first post.
“I built on the work of others—the Internet, invented 20 years before the Web, by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn and colleagues, for example, and hypertext, a word coined by Ted Nelson for an idea of links which was already implemented in many non-networked systems.”
“I just put these technologies together. And then, it all took off because of this amazing community of enthusiasts, who have done such incredible things with the technology, and are still advancing it in so many ways.”
Berners-Lee wrote that the Web turned out a bit differently than he expected. Instead of communal editing of pages online, most content was created offline and then loaded onto a Web server.
The Web became more of a publishing than a collaboration medium. Only recently has the Web become the shared creative space that Berners-Lee envisioned back in 1990.
“Now in 2005, we have blogs and wikis, and the fact that they are so popular makes me feel I wasnt crazy to think people needed a creative space,” Berners-Lee wrote.
As for blogging, the Webs inventor said he appreciates having a system that automatically handles navigation and comment buttons and “its nice to edit in a mode in which you can do limited damage to the site.”
An academic, who now works at MIT and chairs the World Wide Web Consortium, Berners-Lee is not nearly as well-known as the inventors of other world-changing communications technologies.
You will not find him speaking at conferences very often, nor is there a large Internet company with his name on it.
My bet is that if you asked people on the street who invented the Web browser, most would guess it was Bill Gates. People whod been around longer might guess Netscape founder Marc Andreessen.
Few have ever heard of Dr. Berners-Lee, who continues to work on improving his Web invention, most recently on the creation of a “semantic web” that some see as the next generation of intelligent agent-based applications.
Working mostly outside the spotlight is how Dr. Berners-Lee likes it. But, as we mark the 15th anniversary of his invention of the Web browser, I hope all those who love the Web will join me in lifting a glass in honor of the man who invented it.
So, from all of us. Thank you, Sir Tim, for the most excellent present.
Contributing editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers. He can be reached at [email protected]