Thursday, February 14, 2008

World Wide Web: The Boostrap Age

Back in 1990, Tim Berners-Lee started the Web with the first web server. At this time internet wasn't mainstream and I was lucky enough to work in a research institute, probably the only one in France to be connected.

At this time internet was used to send email (no spam at all), download files through ftp and read news on newsgroups.

I met several times TBL. He's a pure geek. No surprise it's major invention, the URL, has such an ugly syntax. Ugly, but functional. At least the advantage is that today everybody recognizes an URL and knows what it means, and even basic text editors turn it into an hyperlink connected to a web browser.

This URL is for me what made the WWW possible. It contains all: the protocol, the server, the server port, the document path, anchor, and query. Mixing all this in one "word" is a masterpiece. For example, when the Web is made of one server (actually the one you see in the picture), you should have a good intuition to put the IP of the server as a mandatory item of the URL. And it happens that the URL scaled up to today structure, with billions of servers and web pages...

Next major breakthrough was "mosaic", in 1993. Mosaic is yet another proof that the UI is essential. The Web as we know it today started with mosaic (which became netscape, then firefox), because it attracted people to the Web technology and started the snow ball effect of always more servers, more documents, and then more reasons to join the Web community.

Next one was alta vista search engine (1995), because Web is anarchy and it became very hard to find out something without the URL. Other search engines existed already, but Alta Vista used Scooter, a web crawler to index all reachable web pages. 10 years ago, Google swept away alta vista with the added value of Page Rank that sorts the result of a search in popular order.

No doubt that these three software milestones marked the history of the Web.

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