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 exactly 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’
“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.”
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.).
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.
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.