Newsletter #161 WWW Turns 25 - You Weren't Online in '89

Posted on Oct 15, 2019, 8:29 PM

Lock On March 12, 1989 Tim Berners-Lee produced a paper that outlined the concept and architecture of the World Wide Web. He eventually released the code for free on Christmas Day 1990 but it wasn't until Web browsers were introduced in the early 1990s that graphical viewing of the Web was possible.

The terms Web (or WWW) and Internet are often used synonymously, however strictly speaking the Web is just one layer of the Internet. Other services such as email, instant messaging and peer-to-peer networks also use the Internet's architecture.

According to PewResearch the takeup of the technology has been astonishing such that 87% of American adults use the Internet and 99% of those in households earning more than $75k do so.

One of the more interesting notes from PewResearch was that in 1983 Louis Harris & Associates polled computer users - just 10% had a home computer so they were a very select bunch. They were asked "Would your being able to send and receive messages from other people…on your own home computer be very useful to you personally?". 23% of the computer owners said it would be very useful, 31% said it would be somewhat useful, and 45% of those early computer users said it would not be very useful. 

It just proves the old adage espoused by Henry Ford: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

In the 25 years since 1989 the Web has transformed the way we communicate, socialise, access information and conduct business. So what makes WWW more pervading and far-reaching than any other media?

  1. In the beginning it was determined that the Web would be permissionless - its function is purely to deliver data packets from one location to another. This means that the ability to publish, create and innovate is almost cost-free and you don't have to ask anyone's permission. One of my favourite quotes from earlier this century from Watts Wacker: "The Internet is the Gutenberg press on steroids. Gutenberg wasn’t about how many Bibles were printed, but the fact that you no longer had to listen to the clerics."
  2. The ability to hyperlink from one page to any other page, document or file in the world.
  3. There is no one person or corporation controlling the Web, although the domain name system is in the hands of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a private entity. It is a media that has no physical borders, an issue that troubles governments around the world.

The Internet and WWW is like a brilliantly precocious child, now in its twenties but barely under control. As it matures, who knows how it will develop? Futurists and technologists have been poor predictors so far.

Alex Garden