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Review: Weaving the Web

 The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide WebThis book is one mans opinion of the purpose of the Web and its future. This would be boring, as we all have opinions about the Web, except who this man is.

Tim Berners-Lee is the fellow who co-invented the technology that later became The World Wide Web.

In inventing that technology, he was riding on years of prior development of the Internet and its communications protocols. The Internet was begun in the late 1960's by researchers working under DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) grants. By the time of my first access to the Internet, it had grown to have international scope and primarily connected only University and Government researchers. Commercial access to the Internet was rare at the time.

Tim Berners-Lee worked at CERN and wanted to develop a way to share physics papers among physicists. To do that he invented HTML and the HTTP protocols, and developed the first web browser. These basic pieces eventually inspired the huge expansion of The Internet as the world took a great liking to the capabilities offered by The Web.

This book was published in 1999 and so is a little aged. For example Tim Berners-Lee was since Knighted by the Queen of England and is now Sir Tim Berners-Lee. But some of what he has to say is still very prescient.

The first part of this book is a history of how he and others developed the Web. He also gives a few basic lessons in some fundamental Internet and Web terminologies. But the most interesting part is in the rear of the book, in which he discusses the future of the Web (as he sees it).

That future he calls the "Semantic Web". It's where there is more knowledge built into the Web, so that software can make more use of the data that sits in the Web.

Let's dive into those statements a little.

First, a web page may look pretty or dull depending on what the writer of that web page did to prettify the presentation. They can put pleasing colors into use, pleasing fonts, useful graphics, nice layout, etc, or they can alternatively ignore all that and just mash together a bunch of text. However, computers don't care about the presentation. To computer software all the web pages in the world are data.

The text, the images, the numbers, everything on the web pages is data.

One of the uses for that data is to display the pages in web browsers. However there are other uses which are possible.

An example he gives is that the core purpose he forsaw for The Web is communication through shared knowledge. In discussing that principle he gives this scenario:

For people to share knowledge, the Web must be a universal space across which all hypertext links can travel. I spend a good deal of my life defending this core property in one way or another.

Universality must exist along several dimensions. To start with we must be able to interlink any documents -- from trafts to highly polished works. Information is often lost within an organization when a "final document" of some kind is created at the end of an endeavor. Often, everything from the minutes of meetings to background research vanishes, and the reasoning that brought the group to its endpoint is lost. It might actually exist on some disk somewhere, but it is effectively useless because the final document doesn't link to it....

The book is full of stuff like this. Highly recommended to learn the background of the Web.

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