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The internet and the Web

Three big ideas at the heart of the Web allowed Tim Berners-Lee to create an information service on top of the internet. Watch Les Carr explain more.
PROFESSOR LES CARR: Vint Cerf, father– as he’s known– of the internet, putting together the protocols and the technical specifications that made the internet. What’s the internet? The internet is just a network of computers and cables that allows the computers to send messages to each other. Well, it’s not just a network. You have hundreds, thousands of networks. And the internet is what happens when you take these networks and you network them all together. It is a network of networks, an inter-net.
And so having produced that and allowed these computers to send messages to each other, one of the things that emerged was the file transfer protocol. And that allowed a computer in one location to send a file to a computer in another location. And so people started to use that part of the internet. But of course you would take a file, you would upload it to a server, someone else could come and download it from that server to a computer on their desk in another country. But then what would you do? Well, then you would take that file from your hard disc and send it to a printer. You would wait for it to come out of the printer.
And then you would read it. And the reason that you would do that was because they weren’t very good displays. You couldn’t see wonderful, wonderful documents with all sorts of fonts and colours and images. The technology wasn’t there. And so it was much more sensible to send it out to a printer. And so it’s after all of these attempts we end up with Tim Berners-Lee, who you’ve heard about, who was at CERN and who produced, with these colleagues, this software, the World Wide Web, based on a very similar idea that lots of people had been working at for well over 100 years. But with three specific ideas that were central that made the Web what it is.
And those ideas are number one, the idea that everything has an identifier or a name, the so-called URI, Uniform Resource Identifier. You may know that as the Uniform Resource Locator, a URL is its official name. But that idea is that everything has an ID or a name or an address. And so whether it’s a book, a report, a video, a television programme, a CV, or information about you or the Eiffel Tower, there is a place that you can go, there is an identifier you can associate that with, and there is a proper place for it. You had the idea that paired with that identifier you have a way of getting the information that is associated with that.
And we call that HTTP, the hypertext transfer protocol. And that tells you how to set up a conversation across the internet, where one computer can ask another computer for the information associated with that URI, with that URL. And the third thing that he designed into the Web was the idea of HTML, a document format, a way of expressing data that allows you not only to talk about the documents and the contents of the document, but to join up that document to other documents to use URIs, URLs in the form of links. So not just to express the structure of the page on the printed paper but to express the structure of the information across the internet on different servers.
So the Web that Tim Berners-Lee created was an information service on top of the internet, which had those three ideas at the heart of it. The World Wide Web was given to the world. And then the world started to use it and use it to invent new kinds of Web and new activities. So they turned it into online shopping and internet TV, social media, and internet porn. And all of these things, all of these applications of human life, different parts of society, using the Web for different things have turned the Web into what we see today.

In this video, Professor Les Carr explains how the hypertext technologies used on the internet infrastructure became the Web as we know it today.

Technically, there are three specific big ideas that are at the heart of the Web and allowed Tim Berners-Lee to create an information service on top of the internet:

  1. Uniform Resource Identifier or Locator (URI or URL)

  2. Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP)

  3. Hypertext Markup Language (HTML).

However, in this course we must not only think about ‘How the Web is changing the World’ but also ‘How the World is changing the Web’.

In the next step, Professor Susan Halford explains that there are more complex factors involved in the evolution of the Web besides the technology underpinning it.

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Web Science: How the Web Is Changing the World

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