Even though we all use the World Wide Web every single day for both work and pleasure, most of us would be hard pressed to define exactly what it is, describe much about its history, and/or articulate details of its impact. This primer offers a quick introduction to all those things.
We tend to use the terms Web and Internet interchangeably and think of them as being the same thing, but they’re not. As Webopedia describes them:
The Internet is a massive network of networks, a networking infrastructure. It connects millions of computers together globally, forming a network in which any computer can communicate with any other computer as long as they are both connected to the Internet.
The World Wide Web, or simply Web, is a way of accessing information over the medium of the Internet. It is an information-sharing model that is built on top of the Internet … The Web is just one of the ways that information can be disseminated over the Internet. The Internet, not the Web, is also used for e-mail…, Usenet news groups, instant messaging and FTP.
In “information superhighway” terms, we can think of the Internet as the infrastructure of roads and routes, and the Web as the way to create and promote destinations and provide the slickest and most sophisticated way get from point A to point B.
In case you don’t recall (or didn’t know), Sir Tim Berners-Lee is the inventor of the World Wide Web. It was created over twenty years after the Internet began in 1969 with the establishment of ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network).
The idea of the Web was conceived in March 1989, when Berners-Lee published Information Management: A Proposal, “an attempt to persuade CERN management that a global hypertext system was in CERN's interests.” Just over two years later, in August of 1991, he published the first website.
Without getting too technical, the components of the Web that generally differentiate it from other Internet protocols are (all definitions from Webopedia):
As instrumental as Tim Berners-Lee has been – and continues to be – to the evolution of the Web, he is certainly influenced and inspired by both collaborators and predecessors, who were in turn influenced and inspired by those who came before them. In some respects we can trace those influences to Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century, or even to cave paintings and other ways in which our ancient ancestors communicated with each other. But if we limit ourselves to more recent history, and the rise of information and digital technology in particular, here are some of the other folks we have to thank for the ideas and inventions that led to the birth of the Web:
I think of the Web as the “great enabler,” not just because of its underlying technologies, but also because of the spirit and philosophies of the people and organizations that develop and promote the widespread dissemination of those technologies (see, for example, the World Wide Web Consortium’s mission). CERN’s decision in early 1993 to relinquish its intellectual property rights and put the components of web software in the Public Domain was pivotal in this regard. Doing so not only enabled “anyone to use, duplicate, modify and distribute it,” it also contributed to the then-nascent open source movement, which in turn led to countless innovations and the growth of both businesses and industries (click here to learn more).
The Web has created tremendous opportunities for expression, empowerment and enrichment for everyone, not just techies. Even in the earliest days, anyone with Internet access could create a website, thereby becoming active participants as content creators, disseminators and contributors, rather than just passive consumers. That equality of access, along with openness and egalitarian ideals, created a much more level playing field for individuals and organizations, creating seemingly limitless opportunities to pursue – from the profane to the mundane to the sublime.
Without the Web there would be no… Wikipedia, Amazon, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Netflix, online news sites, blogs, Groupon, Grubhub, Expedia, Motley Fool, Fandango, Gangam Style, Candy Crush, Grumpy Cat, Where The Hell Is Matt? videos, Kickstarter, live wildlife webcams…
And there would be no RecruitingBlogs.
1994 was a year of many beginnings that created a tipping point for the exponential growth of the Web and its integration into the social, political and economic fabric of the lives of people around the world. Here are some of the key events that happened twenty years ago (click here to view even more):
It’s no exaggeration to say that the Web has changed our personal and professional lives, often in dramatic ways. Think, for example, about how you spent the last 24 hours, and how integral the Web and its underlying technologies were to your interactions and activities. Did you for example:
Even if you didn’t surf the Web, your electronic communication was probably still influenced by the Web in some way. Web-enabled technologies have been infiltrating other Internet protocols like email and SMS text messaging, making them less and less distinguishable from one another.
And unless you were in a remote corner of the world, even if you were offline you undoubtedly encountered multiple signs of the Web – a URL, a QR code, a hashtag – no matter where you looked.
It’s virtually inescapable.
In recognition of 1994 as a tipping point, The Denovati Group is publishing a book titled The World Wide Web: Reflections on Its Past, Present and Future. In it, Digital Era thought leaders and other netizens share their perspectives on the Web’s impact on individuals, organizations, economies, and societies – not just today, but also over the past twenty years and into the near and far future. The book is targeted to professionals and leaders in all disciplines, in organizations of all types, in all sectors throughout the world. The book is intended to be a source of information and insight valuable to digital immigrants as well as the Web’s discoverers, explorers, pathfinders, and early settlers.
We’re thrilled that many thought and action leaders, like Sandy Carter of IBM, Didier Bonnet from Capgemini, and Luis Suarez (of #noemail and #lawwe fame) have enthusiastically committed to contributing to the book. And we’re equally excited to hear from less-famous folks whose thoughts and stories can be just as compelling and insightful.
Would you like to share your reflections on the impact and future of the Web?
You can learn more about the book and the kinds of contributions we’re looking for here. We’re seeking stories relevant to the birth, growth and future of the Web. Because we’re keen on having the book read by a large, diverse audience, we encourage stories of how people have personally experienced the impact of the Web – good or bad – and the opportunities and challenges created by that impact. Many people, like book contributor Jhony Choon Yeong Ng, can easily cite examples of how the Web has enriched their professional lives. But as Tracy Gravesande notes in her reflection on authenticity, the Web can also create interpersonal challenges. We welcome other personal reflections and opinion pieces like these, as well as bigger picture examinations (e.g., how the Web works as a vehicle for social change).
Want to learn more about the World Wide Web? Here are some great resources: