Saturday, March 14, 2009

World Wide Web feels its growing pains

The World Wide Web (WWW) on Friday marked its 20th anniversary and one of its founders admitted there are bits of the phenomenon he does not like.
The creation of the web by British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee and colleagues at the European particle physics laboratory (CERN) paved the way for the Internet explosion which has changed our daily lives.
In March 1989, the young Berners-Lee handed his supervisor in Geneva a document entitled 'Information Management: a proposal".

The supervisor described its as "vague, but exciting" and later gave it the go ahead, according to CERN.

"It was really in the air, something that had to happen sooner or later," said former CERN systems engineer Cailliau, who teamed up with Berners-Lee.

They drew up the global hypertext language -- which is behind the "http" on website addresses -- and came up with the first web browser in October 1990, which looks remarkably similar to the ones used today.

"Everything that people talk about today, blogs and so on, that's what we were doing in 1990, there's no difference. That's how we started," Cailliau told Swiss radio RSR.

The WWW technology was first made available for wider use on the Internet from 1991 after CERN was unable to ensure its development, and the organisation made a landmark decision two years later not to levy royalties.

Cailliau still marvels at developments like wikipaedia that allow knowledge to be exchanged openly around the web, but never imagined that search engines would take on the importance they have assumed today.

"A search engine is very centralised... while the web is totally decentralised, I couldn't have predicted the things that it does," he said.

But the commercial development of the web still irritates some of the founders.

"There are some things I don't like at all, such as the fact that people have to live off advertising," said Caillau, who preferred the idea of direct "micro payments" to information providers.

"And there's the big problem of identity, of course, the trust between the person who is consulting and the person who provides the page, as well as the protection of children," he added.

Berners-Lee, now a researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States and a computer science professor at Southampton University in Britain, still heads the World Wide Web Consortium that coordinates development of the web.

Lynn St. Amour, chief executive of the Internet Society, said the web is often wrongly confused with the wider Internet.

"The Internet is a vast network of networks, interconnected in many different physical ways, yet all speaking a common language," she explained.

"The Web is one -- albeit, the most influential and well known -- of many different applications which run over the Internet."

"The great achievement of Tim Berners-Lee was to recognise the power and potential in the Internet," she added.

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