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Web History 101, or How the Future is Unwritten

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Web History 101, or How the Future is Unwritten

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In 1989 computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee wrote “Information Management: A Proposal” to persuade CERN management that a global hypertext system was in their interests. That proposal gradually grew into what we now call the World Wide Web. This originating document contains not only the bits that would later become the Web, but also features for a future we’ve yet to realize. In this talk, we’ll take a look at some of those highlights and focus them on the world of publishing, proposing solutions to problems we’re still attempting to solve and fostering ideas for further daydreaming.

In 1989 computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee wrote “Information Management: A Proposal” to persuade CERN management that a global hypertext system was in their interests. That proposal gradually grew into what we now call the World Wide Web. This originating document contains not only the bits that would later become the Web, but also features for a future we’ve yet to realize. In this talk, we’ll take a look at some of those highlights and focus them on the world of publishing, proposing solutions to problems we’re still attempting to solve and fostering ideas for further daydreaming.

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Web History 101, or How the Future is Unwritten

  1. 1. Web History 101 or How the Future is Unwritten
  2. 2. bigbluehat.com   @bigbluehat   github.com/bigbluehat   worksFor   worksAt  
  3. 3. Web Genesis •  Information Management: a proposal in 1989 by TimBL @ CERN http://info.cern.ch/Proposal.html •  WorldWideWeb (software) proposed in 1990 by Tim Berners-Lee and R. Cailliau •  Weaving the Web by Tim Berners-Lee •  TimBL’s own history page - https://www.w3.org/History.html a reading list
  4. 4. Pre-Web •  1945 –  Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think” published in Atlantic Monthly •  1960’s –  Doug Engelbart demo’s NLS (“oNLine System”) –  Ted Nelson coins the word “hypertext” in A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing, and the Indeterminate” pre-1980
  5. 5. Behold the Web •  1980 –  TimBL’s first CERN “notebook program”: Enquire-Within-Upon-Everything •  1989 –  TimBL’s “Information Management: a proposal” •  1990 –  TimBL begins building “WorldWideWeb” a “hypertext GUI browser+editor” –  Robert Cailliau joins; proposes a focused plan around WorldWideWeb 1980-1990
  6. 6. Web begats companies & conferences •  Presentations – internal at CERN, then beyond •  Then browsers – Erwise, Viola, Mosaic, •  Then conferences –  WWW Conference begins in 1994 –  “semantics on the Web” points toward a future of Linked Data https://www.w3.org/Talks/WWW94Tim/ •  Then companies –  Andreessen founds Mosaic Communications Corp which becomes Netscape •  Then the W3C – October 1994
  7. 7. The Present •  Social networks run amuck •  Ad ridden browsing •  “Fake News” •  Privacy loss is a daily constant •  <body><script src=“” /></body> •  …etc… you know this bit
  8. 8. Let’s back up.
  9. 9. Information Management: a proposal by Tim Berners-Lee
  10. 10. It  discusses  the  problems   of  loss  of  informa/on   about  complex  evolving   systems  and  derives  a   solu/on  based  on  a   distributed  hypertext   system.  
  11. 11. p2 “Firstly, it discusses the problem of information access at CERN. Then, it introduces the idea of linked information systems, and compares them with less flexible ways of finding information.” Overview
  12. 12. p3 & 4 “The actual observed working structure of the organisation is a multiply connected “web” whose interconnections evolve with time.“ “CERN is a model in miniature of the rest of world in a few years time.“ Loosing Information at CERN
  13. 13. p5 “the method of storage must not place its own restraints on the information.” “The system we need is like a diagram of circles and arrows, where circles and arrows can stand for anything.” Linked Information Systems
  14. 14. “We can call the circles nodes, and the arrows links.” node   node   link   Web   page   Web   page   link   plays  
  15. 15. …or as Tim said… P6 Diagram   Nodes  are   Arrows  mean   Family  tree   People   "Is  parent  of"   Dataflow  diagram   SoCware  modules   "Passes  data  to"   Dependency   Module   "Depends  on"   PERT  chart   Tasks   "Must  be  done   before"   OrganisaIonal  chart     People     "Reports  to"  
  16. 16. Semantic Web / Linked Data concept break
  17. 17. Read up on the Semantic Web •  1998 – Tim’s Semantic Web Roadmap •  2001 – Scientific America (Volume 284, Issue 5) •  2005 – An introduction to Tim Berners-Lee's Semantic Web •  2007 – Tim Berners-Lee Explains the Semantic Web •  2014 – From E-Commerce to Web 3.0: Let the Bots Do the Shopping •  2014 – Tim Berners-Lee on the Web at 25: the past, present and future aka Web 3.0
  18. 18. The problem with trees “A tree has the practical advantage of giving every node a unique name. However, it does not allow the system to model the real world.” p6
  19. 19. The problem with keywords “A linked system takes this to the next logical step. Keywords can be nodes which stand for a concept. A keyword node is then no different from any other node.” p8
  20. 20. A solution: Hypertext “Imagine, then, the references in this document, all being associated with the network address of the thing to which they referred, so that while reading this document you could skip to them with a click of the mouse.” …can you imagine?! p9
  21. 21. CERN Requirements •  Remote access across networks. •  Heterogeneity •  Non-Centralisation •  Access to existing data •  Private links –  “One must be able to add one's own private links to and from public information. One must also be able to annotate links, as well as nodes, privately.” •  Bells and Whistles –  “ASCII text, and display on 24x80 screens, is in the short term sufficient” p11
  22. 22. CERN Requirements (continued) •  Data analysis –  “Perhaps a linked information system will allow us to see the real structure of the organisation in which we work” •  Live links –  “Hypertext allows documents to be linked into "live" data so that every time the link is followed, the information is retrieved.” •  Non requirements –  “Discussions on Hypertext have sometimes tackled the problem of copyright enforcement and data security. These are of secondary importance at CERN, where information exchange is still more important than secrecy.” p11 & 12
  23. 23. Specific Applications •  Development Project Documentation. •  Document retrieval. –  “A linked system would allow one to browse through concepts, documents, systems and authors, also allowing references between documents to be stored.” •  The "Personal Skills Inventory". p13
  24. 24. The State of the Art in Hypermedia “There have been two conferences, Hypertext '87 and '88, and in Washington DC, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NST) hosted a workshop on standardisation in hypertext, a followup of which will occur during 1990” p14
  25. 25. The State of the Art in Hypermedia •  Browsing techniques –  “Problems addressed are those of making navigation easy, and avoiding a feeling of being "lost in hyperspace".” •  Interconnection or publication? –  “Many systems have been put together with little or no regard for portability, unfortunately. Some others, although published, are proprietary software which is not for external release.” p14
  26. 26. Incentives “There is also much support from the publishing industry, and from librarians whose job it is to organise information.” “The only way in which sufficient flexibility can be incorporated is to separate the information storage software from the information display software, with a well defined interface between them. “ p15
  27. 27. Incentives “… separate the information storage software from the information display software…” “Therefore, an important phase in the design of the system is to define this interface. After that, the development of various forms of display program and of database server can proceed in parallel.” p16
  28. 28. Incentives “This will have been done well if many different information sources, past, present and future, can be mapped onto the definition, and if many different human interface programs can be written over the years to take advantage of new technology and standards. ” p16
  29. 29. Examples of “mapped in” systems •  uucp News •  VAX/Notes •  CERNDOC •  File systems •  The Telephone Book •  The unix manual •  Databases p18
  30. 30. “In 'news' articles, for example, one could use (in the text) a standard format for a reference to another article.” Modern examples: @bigbluehat #techforum :smiley: p18
  31. 31. “we will lose out if we try to constrain them, as we will exclude systems and hamper the evolution of hypertext in general.” p18
  32. 32. Conclusion “We should work toward a universal linked information system, in which generality and portability are more important than fancy graphics techniques and complex extra facilities.” p19
  33. 33. Conclusion “The aim would be to allow a place to be found for any information or reference which one felt was important, and a way of finding it afterwards.” … “The passing of this threshold accelerated by allowing large existing databases to be linked together and with new ones.” p19
  34. 34. Conclusion “the system we need can be combined from various sources: for example, a browser from one source with a database from another.” p19
  35. 35. The Future is Unwritten
  36. 36. Is it for Everyone?
  37. 37. The mess we’ve made… •  How many languages? •  Can everyone experience this? –  Geopolitical –  Technological –  Accessible •  May I (re)use this? –  Copyright / licensing info missing –  Author / attribution missing –  Publication dates, authority, ownership…all absent
  38. 38. Tim proposed… •  a linked data system –  Not just documents –  “graph”-based data presented as pages of relationships •  a borderless information space to wander –  On click takes you “across the Web” to other servers, countries, etc. •  a world wide note taking system where we all add to the knowledge available •  a dumb enough system to wrap around the smarter ones
  39. 39. We have the technology. We can fix [this].
  40. 40. Clay Shirky “HTTP and HTML are the Whoopee Cushion and Joy Buzzer of Internet protocols, only comprehensible as elaborate practical jokes. For anyone who has tried to accomplish anything serious on the Web, it's pretty obvious that of the various implementations of a worldwide hypertext protocol, we have the worst one possible.” “Except, of course, for all the others.” in In Praise of Evolvable Systems
  41. 41. The Opportunity •  W3C + IDPF = Publishing @ W3C –  EPUB is built from Web “bits”…but not webby –  The Web is “everywhere” except offline… •  Combining these into “Web Publications” “Books can learn from the Web how to be bounded, but open. The Web can learn from books how to be open, but bounded.” Hugh McGuire, Medium, April 2016 The future is unwritten…but inprogress.
  42. 42. Thanks.

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