Tim Berners-Lee/Robert Cailliau/Jean-François Groff/Bernd PollermannWorld-Wide Web: The Information Universe

Tim Berners-Lee/Robert Cailliau/Jean-François Groff/Bernd Pollermann, World-Wide Web: The Information Universe, in: Electronic Networking, Volume 2(1), pp. 52–58 (Geneva 1992).

Background

One of the authors of the text, Tim Berners-Lee, is known as the inventor of the World Wide Web. After graduating from Oxford University, Tim Berners-Lee became a software engineer at CERN, the large particle physics laboratory in Geneva (Switzerland). Berners-Lee noticed that there were difficulties in sharing information. «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.» In March 1989 Berners-Lee wrote a proposal for an information management system that he delivered to his boss, Mike Sendall. The proposal was not directly accepted; it was evaluated as «vague but exciting». However, Mike Sendall allowed Berners-Lee to continue his idea.

In October 1990 Berners-Lee wrote the fundamental technologies of the World Wide Web: (i) HTML, the markup language for the web; (ii) URI/URL, the uniform resource identifier, and (iii) HTTP, the hypertext transfer protocol. Berners-Lee also developed the first web page editor/browser and the first web server. By the end of 1990, the first web page was uploaded on the open Internet. Therefore, the World Wide Web was invented in Switzerland.

The text «World-Wide Web: The Information Universe» was published by Tim Berners-Lee, Robert Cailliau, Jean-François Groff and Bernd Pollermann. They were all employed at CERN in Geneva. Robert Cailliau, a Belgian informatics engineer and computer scientist, ran the office computing systems group of CERN from 1987 to 1989 and joined Berners-Lee in 1990 to start the World Wide Web. Jean-François Groff, a Swiss, joined the so-called World Wide Web team in 1991. After graduating from the French National Institute of Telecommunications, Groff came to CERN. Bernd Pollermann, a German, was experienced in managing large bases of information and was responsible for the index of CERN’s computer centre documentation.

Tim Berners-Lee (born 1955) is an English computer scientist. Berners-Lee is founder and director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a so-called web standards organisation that develops interoperable technologies to lead the web to its full potential. The Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute honoured Berners-Lee for the invention of the World Wide Web; he was awarded on 29 April 2015 for his pioneering invention. Professor Urs Gasser (cf. Gasser, 2.1) who held the laudation said: «Over 25 years ago, Tim Berners-Lee gave us a tool to communicate, cooperate and create a better world. Now it is our turn to shape the future of the web together.»

Summary

The text starts with a comparison between the dream and the reality of the World Wide Web from the authors’ perspectives. Referring to the dream, the authors state that computers provide civil society with two practical techniques for human-knowledge interface. The one technique, called hypertext, «links between pieces of text to mimic association of human ideas». The other technique is called text retrieval and it allows associations to be deduced from the context of the data. The ideal world in the World Wide Web allows both operations and provides access from any browsing platform. According to the authors’ reality perspective, research projects and commercial products are not far from succeeding in the above-mentioned dreams. Merging the techniques of hypertext, information retrieval and wide area networking produces the World Wide Web model. The World Wide Web model involves both hypertext links and index searches in a complementary manner. A useful aspect is the fact that almost all existing information systems can be embodied into the World Wide Web model. A menu becomes a page of hypertext with each element linked to a different destination.

Regarding the process of publishing, it can be said that from an information provider’s point of view existing information systems may be «published» as part of the web simply by giving access to the data through a small server program. The data itself, combined with the software and human resources managing the processes, is left completely in place. The authors also describe how the World Wide Web architecture of such functions as hypertext and text retrieval systems have been available for many years. The question therefore arises why a global system has not already come into existence. The answer is the lack of (i) a common naming scheme for documents; (ii) common network access protocols; (iii) common data formats for hypertext.

In addition, the authors describe the aspects of document naming. A document name provides a method for the user to find the server and for the server to find the document. The World Wide Web clients are connected in a common core of networking code for information access. The authors discuss the different document formats and outline the important function of the so-called Wide Area Information Server (WAIS) protocol. Furthermore, the authors report about a successful experience with a World Wide Web pilot protocol and finally create an outlook.

Consequently, the text describes the aims, data model, and protocols needed to implement the World Wide Web and compares them with various contemporary systems. The World Wide Web initiative is a practical project designed to bring a global information universe into existence using available technology.

Further developments

(i) In 1999, Tim Berners-Lee wrote the book «Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by its Inventor». Weaving the Web is about a unique story (World Wide Web) and a unique inventor (Tim Berners-Lee). This book addresses the following questions: What was Tim Berners-Lee thinking when he invented the World Wide Web? What does he think of it now? Where is this going to take us? Generally the book as such is not «technical»; it is divided into 14 chapters and contains about 220 pages.

The book starts with Tim Berners-Lee’s thoughts when he began tinkering with a software program that eventually would lead to the idea of the World Wide Web. He describes his experiences at CERN and the incompatibility between computers as an (existing) huge problem for everyone. At that time Berners-Lee analysed simple rules for global systems (protocols), and looked at the developments of when the web slowly spread around the world. The number of browsers increased quickly and by January 1993 was up to about 50. The web started to change phase; its activity rose at a relentlessly exponential rate.

In addition, Berners-Lee describes the time he had the idea of building a consortium to operate in a way that reflects a web-like existence. He is convinced that the ultimate goal of the web is to support and improve its existence in the world. In a further chapter Berners-Lee addresses the privacy issues which he evaluates as «serious» problems. Referring to the web he criticises that information can be collected and easily used to tailor what a person experiences. Furthermore, Berners-Lee dreams that the web becomes a much more powerful means for collaboration between people and that collaborations will be extended to computers; consequently, Berners-Lee concludes that machines will play an important role in the World Wide Web.

Jean-François Groff (a Swiss) has also played a key role in creating the World Wide Web; he was equally one of the web’s pioneers. Together with Berners-Lee, while at CERN Jean-François Groff contributed important work steps by defining the HTTP protocol and the HTML language. During his career Groff created and supported numerous Internet-based services that were guided by the vision to make technical innovations accessible to the public and to simplify them.

(ii) A further technological development concerns the search engine business, mainly designed by Google. Google, founded in 1998, is a U.S. multinational technology company that is focused on Internet-related services and products. In 2003 Urs Hölzle wrote a text – titled «Web Search for a Planet: The Google Cluster Architecture», in: IEEE Micro, Vol. 23 (2003), 22-28 – which he co-authored with Luiz André Barroso and Jeffrey Dean. These authors give an overview of Google’s software architecture and describe the leveraging commodity parts. Furthermore, they report about the challenging problems related to power consumption. In the last section of this technology-related text, the authors examine the characteristics of Google’s hardware-level application including the memory system and large-scale multiprocessing.

Urs Hölzle (a Swiss) is senior vice-president of technical infrastructure at Google. In this capacity he oversees the design, installation and operation of the servers, networks and data centres that power Google’s services. In his previous role as vice-president of engineering, Urs Hölzle was responsible for managing the development and operation of the Google search engine. He joined the company as its eighth employee and is now one of the key people in the firm. Urs Hölzle grew up in Switzerland and received a Ph.D. from Stanford University. Swiss influence is therefore seen in the most capitalised company of the world.

Luiz André Barroso is a Google Fellow. At the time the text was published, Barroso was a member of the systems lab at Google, where he focused on improving the efficiency of Google’s web search and of Google’s hardware architecture. Luiz André Barroso holds a Ph.D. in computer engineering from the University of Southern California. Jeffrey Dean is currently a Google Senior Fellow in the «Knowledge Group». In his previous role he worked in the systems lab at Google. He received his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Washington.

Text

You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here: BernersLee et al – World Wide Web_The Information Universe