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The History of the World Wide Web

As you read this potted history of the web, you will gain an understanding of its development up to the current day and learn how the purpose of the web has changed over time:
An illustration of data being sent all around the world using the Internet

Have you thought about how the World Wide Web (the web) works? You may use the web every day for browsing news pages, or for research. In this step you’ll look at how the web started and how it is used today. Following this, you’ll look at the web’s original ethos and consider whether this still holds today.

The Web and the Internet

The general public may have the misconception that the web and the internet are the same thing. The internet is a worldwide collection of computers, servers, and networks not owned or managed by any one group of people; all of these inter-connected networks are connected together, so anyone can get access at any time.

The web is one service that is made available via the internet. You use the web to view webpages; these are documents that contain text or other media, linked together using hyperlinks. A collection of webpages is known as a website and is stored on web servers.

An illustration of webpages - a collection of webpages becoming a website, and websites being stored on a webserver

There are different elements of the internet that you use in everyday life, such as email, instant messaging, video calling, and money transfers. These all use the internet, but are not the same as the web.

The History of the World Wide Web

As you read this potted history of the web, you will gain an understanding of its development up to the current day and learn how the purpose of the web has changed over time:

  • Sir Tim Berners-Lee is generally credited as the inventor of the World Wide Web. He created a program for himself that could store documents containing links between them.

A photograph of Sir Tim Berners-Lee

  • In 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee proposed a global system that would use the internet. This would provide scientists from around the world with a means of sharing their findings without the need to send emails.
  • From 1991 onwards, Sir Tim Berners-Lee developed the World Wide Web and established the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The objective of the consortium is to develop guidelines that ensure long-term growth for the web.

What is W3C?

The W3C is an international community that includes industry experts and member organisations. Key participants in web development from different industry sectors, including commercial, educational, and governmental entities, work together to achieve the W3C’s objective.

One example of this is that the W3C provides guidelines and support for people with disabilities, through the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). The WAI’s aim is to develop standards and support materials for web developers to use, to ensure the web is accessible to all. For example, this resource gives support for making audio and video media accessible.

The Ethos of the Web

The main ethos of the web is to share information, and to have the freedom to share this information without asking permission from anyone.

The architecture of the web was built with open-source (free) software with no central control, allowing an ethos of shared values to grow. The web has so many assets and they are so widely spread that no one person or organisation can control it.

You may have knowledge and engage in discussions about countries trying to censor the web or the dark web (the part of the internet that cannot be accessed using search engines). The dark web is generally used for illegal activities such as selling counterfeit money and organising terrorism. However, in countries where the internet is censored, the dark web offers opportunities for people to form communities where they can share personal stories with a reduced risk of being discovered.

Discuss

  • Does the original ethos of the web still apply today?
  • Do big internet companies control too much of the web?
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