www.20yearsold -- World Wide Web feels its growing pains

Mar 13, 2009 by Peter Capella
British computer scientist and internet founder Tim Berners-Lee speaks at the Campus Party, the world's biggest online electronic entertainment festival in Valencia, July 2008. The creation of the web by Berners-Lee and other scientists at the European particle physics laboratory (CERN) paved the way for the Internet explosion which has changed our daily lives.

The World Wide Web (WWW) on Friday marked its 20th anniversary and its founders admitted there were bits of the phenomenon they do not like: advertising and "snooping."

The creation of the web by British computer software genius Tim Berners-Lee and other scientists at the European particle physics laboratory (CERN) paved the way for the Internet explosion which has changed our daily lives.

Berners-Lee and former colleagues such as Robert Cailliau, who originally set up the system to allow thousands of scientists around the world to swap, view and comment on their research, regardless of the distance or computer system, took part in commemorations on Friday at the laboratory.

"Back then there were 26 web servers. Now there are 10 to the power 11 pages, that's a many as the neurones in your brain," said Berners-Lee, who still has an active hand in the web's development.

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 gave it the go-ahead, although it took a good year or two to get off the ground and serve nuclear physicists in Europe initially.

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

They drew up the global hypertext language -- which is behind the "http" on website addresses and the links between pages -- 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.

"Without that, it would have died," commented Berners-Lee.

Cailliau still marvels at developments like wikipedia 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.

But the commercial development of the web irritates some of the founders, who prize its open and universal nature.

"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 (3WC) that coordinates development of the web.

He expressed fears about the growing tendency to profile web users and detail their habits by collecting online data, often automatically.

"That sort of snooping is really important to avoid," he told the commemorative event here, heralding a future built on linked open data networks and mobile web use.

Lynn St. Amour, chief executive of the Internet Society, complained that the web is often wrongly confused with the wider Internet, a "network of networks."

"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.

(c) 2009 AFP

Explore further: Google Trends info is placed on inbox duty for subscribers

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Draper prize to go to MIT researcher

Jan 15, 2007

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher credited with inventing the World Wide Web is the winner of the 2007 Charles Stark Draper Prize.

The Web: Fifteen years of browsing

Dec 28, 2005

Fifteen years ago this Christmas week, Tim Berners-Lee, an obscure scientist working in a European laboratory, invented the Internet browser, now a fixture of the digital economy, experts tell United Press ...

Beyond Einstein: A live webcast from around the Globe

Nov 18, 2005

Thursday, December 1, 2005 from 12:00 to 24:00 CET CERN and the World Year of Physics International Steering Committee are partnering with some of the world's leading physics laboratories, science museums and technology pa ...

Recommended for you

LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

Apr 18, 2014

The career-focused social network LinkedIn announced Friday it has 300 million members, with more than half the total outside the United States.

Researchers uncover likely creator of Bitcoin

Apr 18, 2014

The primary author of the celebrated Bitcoin paper, and therefore probable creator of Bitcoin, is most likely Nick Szabo, a blogger and former George Washington University law professor, according to students ...

White House updating online privacy policy

Apr 18, 2014

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

(Phys.org) —The solar lamp developed by the start-up LEDsafari is a more effective, safer, and less expensive form of illumination than the traditional oil lamp currently used by more than one billion people ...

UAE reports 12 new cases of MERS

Health authorities in the United Arab Emirates have announced 12 new cases of infection by the MERS coronavirus, but insisted the patients would be cured within two weeks.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...