Web – definition and meaning

The Web, the popular short form for the World Wide Web, also known as WWW, is an online information system that allows documents to be connected to other documents through hypertext links, thus enabling the online user to search for data by shifting from one document to another.

In this article, the terms ‘Web’, ‘World Wide Web’, and ‘WWW’ have the same meaning. When its meaning refers to the WWW, the word ‘Web’ is a proper noun, i.e. it should always begin with a capital ‘W’

Emerging technologies, such as blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT), are rapidly becoming integrated into the fabric of the Web, enhancing security and interconnectivity.

According to Techopedia:

“The World Wide Web (WWW) is a network of online content that is formatted in HTML and accessed via HTTP. The term refers to all the interlinked HTML pages that can be accessed over the Internet.”

World Wide Web - Tim Berners-Lee
Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee (TimBL), a British engineer and computer scientist, invented the web. His parents worked on the first commercially-built computer – the Ferranti Mark 1. He is one of the pioneer voices promoting net neutrality. He believes that ISPs should supply “connectivity with no strings attached”, and that customers’ activities should not be monitored without their expressed consent. (Image: adapted from webfoundation.org)

Web vs. Internet

Many people think that WWW is synonymous with the Internet. While the two are closely linked, they are completely different systems.

The Internet is a vast network of computers that are all connected together. It acts as the backbone for the transfer of data across continents, facilitating global connectivity and communication. When you connect your device to the Internet via your ISP (Internet Service Provider), you become part of that ISPs network, which is connected to thousands and thousands of networks that make up the Internet.

WWW is a collection of documents (webpages) found on the Internet. It consists of a huge number of servers that host websites (sites).

Each site has a number of webpages. A webpage may contain images, videos, animations, sounds, text, or a combination.

When we go on the Internet, our computers, smartphone, and tablets use Web browsers to access the Web.

Web idea started here
The idea of a world wide web started here, in a proposal put forward by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who noticed that scientists were finding it difficult to exchange information regarding CERN’s accelerators. His boss’ comment “Vague but exciting” can be seen at the top of the proposal. (Image: adapted from info.cern.ch)

A Web browser (browser) is a software application for retrieving, presenting and traversing data routes on the WWW. Examples of Web browsers include Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Edge, and Safari.

Who invented the Web?

According to the World Wide Web Foundation, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist, invented the Web in 1989.

Sir Tim was born and brought up in London – his parents were early computer scientists. After graduation in physics from Oxford University, he became a software engineer at CERN, the large particle physics laboratory in Switzerland.

Scientists from across the globe were using CERN’s accelerators. However, Sir Tim noticed that they were finding it hard to share the information.

Sir Tim said:

“In those days, there was different information on different computers, but you had to log on to different computers to get at it. Also, sometimes you had to learn a different program on each computer. Often it was just easier to go and ask people when they were having coffee.”

He thought up a way to solve this problem – one that he believed might also have much broader applications.

Web vs Internet
According to ComputerHistory.org: “The Internet, linking your computer to other computers around the world, is a way of transporting content. The Web is software that lets you use that content…or contribute your own. The Web, running on the mostly invisible Internet, is what you see and click on in your computer’s browser.”

Millions of computers worldwide were being connected together through the rapidly-developing Internet. Sir Tim realized that they could share data by exploiting that emerging technology, known as hypertext.

In 1989, in a document called Information Management: A Proposal, Sir Tim laid out his vision for what later would become the WWW. At first, his proposal was turned down. His boss, Mike Sendall, wrote the following comment: “Vague, but exciting.”

While WWW was never an official project in CERN, Sendall gave Sir Tim time to work on it in September 1990. He began using one of Steve Jobs’ early products – a NeXT computer.

Web connects people - Internet connects computers
The Internet (the Net) links your computer to other computers across the globe – it is a means for transporting content; sending and receiving information. WWW is the software that allows us to use that content, as well as contributing our own. The WWW, running on an ‘invisible’ Net, is what we see thanks to a browser (Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, etc.).
  • Three technologies

By October of the same year, he had written three fundamental technologies that the online world still uses today:

  • HyperText Markup Language: known more commonly as HTML. The formatting (markup) language for the WWW.
  • Uniform Resource Identifier: or URI. A type of ‘address’ that is unique and used to identify each Web resource. It is also called URL. Put simply, it means ‘the Web address’.
  • Hypertext Transfer Protocol: or HTTP. It allows for the retrieval of linked resources from across the WWW.

Sir Tim wrote the first WorldWideWeb.app – the first webpage editor/browser) and the first Web server (httpd).

The end of 1990 saw the first Web page to be served on an open internet. In 1991, the new Web community included people outside of CERN.

World Wide Web - a tiny fraction
A graphic representation of a tiny fraction of the World Wide Web, demonstrating hyperlinks (links from one document to another). (Image: Adapted from Wikipedia)

Sir Tim saw WWW’s potential

He realized that its true potential could only be fully unleashed if any individual anywhere in the world could use it without having to pay a fee or needing to ask for permission.

Sir Tim explained:

“Had the technology been proprietary, and in my total control, it would probably not have taken off. You can’t propose that something be a universal space and at the same time keep control of it.”

Sir Tim and colleagues advocated to ensure that CERN would be willing to make the underlying code available free of charge – on a royalty-free basis – forever.

This decision was announced formally in April 1993, and was followed by a global wave of collaboration, creativity, and innovation that had never been seen before.

In 1994, Sir Tim moved from CERN to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in the United States, where he founded W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), a global community devoted to developing open WWW standards. He is still the Director of W3C.

Derivatives of “Web”

There are many derivatives of the word “Web.” Let’s have a look at them, their meanings, and how we can use them in a sentence:

  • Web (noun)

A complex system of interconnected elements, especially in the context of the World Wide Web.
Example: “She navigated the web to gather information for her research paper.”

  • Webbing (noun)

Material made of woven fibers, used metaphorically to describe the interconnected nature of the World Wide Web.
Example: “The digital marketing strategy focused on strengthening the company’s webbing across various online platforms.”

  • Webmaster (noun)

A person responsible for maintaining one or more websites.
Example: “The webmaster updated the website to improve its navigation and design.”

  • Webpage (noun)

A document on the World Wide Web that can be accessed by using a web browser.
Example: “They designed an engaging webpage that effectively communicated their brand’s message.”

  • Webcast (noun)

A media presentation distributed over the Internet using streaming media technology.
Example: “Thousands tuned in for the live webcast of the conference.”

  • Webcam (noun)

A video camera that streams or feeds live images in real time through the web.
Example: “During the remote learning phase, students and teachers relied heavily on webcams for daily lessons.”

  • Websurfing (verb)

Browsing various websites on the internet.
Example: “I spent the afternoon websurfing to find a good vacation deal.”

  • Webisode (noun)

An episode of a series that is available only online.
Example: “The show gained popularity through its webisodes, which attracted a large internet audience.”

  • Webinar (noun)

A seminar conducted over the internet.
Example: “They registered for a webinar on digital marketing strategies for small businesses.”

  • Web-friendly (adjective)

Designed or suitable for the internet or for websites.
Example: “To reach a wider audience, they made sure their content was web-friendly and easily accessible on all devices.”

  • Webwise (adjective)

Knowledgeable about how to use the internet effectively.
Example: “Being webwise is essential in the digital age for both personal and professional development.”

  • Web-to-print (adjective)

Referring to the practice of doing print business using web portals.
Example: “The publishing company expanded its services to include web-to-print solutions.”

  • Webify (verb)

To adapt or convert for use on the internet.
Example: “The team worked to webify the government forms, allowing for online submissions.”

  • Webless (adjective)

Not connected to, involved with, or available on the World Wide Web.
Example: “In a surprisingly webless part of the city, they found a cafe without Wi-Fi.”

  • Webzine (noun)

An electronic magazine that is published on the web.
Example: “She loves reading articles on fashion and culture in her favorite webzine.”

  • Weblog (noun)

Another term for a blog or online journal.
Example: “He documented his travels through Asia on his weblog for friends and family to follow.”

  • Webfoot (noun)

Used metaphorically to describe someone adept at or accustomed to using the internet.
Example: “The new intern is a real webfoot, handling all our online tasks with ease.”

  • Webbed (adjective)

Having skin between the toes, which aids in swimming; used metaphorically to describe something that is interconnected in a network-like fashion.
Example: “The organization’s multiple departments are webbed together through a centralized communication system.”

It is amazing to think that not that many decades ago, most of these “web” derivatives did not exist.

Two Educational Videos

These two interesting video presentations, from our sister YouTube channel – Marketing Business Network, explain what ‘World Wide Web (WWW)’ and ‘Internet’ are using simple, straightforward, and easy-to-understand language and examples.

  • What is the World Wide Web (WWW)?

  • What is the Internet?