The World Wide Web (the “Web” or “WWW” for short) is a hypertext system that operates over the Internet. Hypertext is browsed using a program called a web browser which retrieves pieces of information (called “documents” or “web pages”) from web servers (or “web sites”) and displays them on your screen. You can then follow hyperlinks on each page to other documents or even send information back to the server to interact with it. The act of following hyperlinks is often called “surfing” the web.
The Web can be traced back to a project at CERN in 1989 when Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau built ENQUIRE (short for Enquire Within Upon Everything, a book Berners-Lee recalled from his youth). While it was rather different from the Web we use today, it contained many of the same core ideas (and even some of the ideas of Berners-Lee’s next project, the Semantic Web!). Tim Berners-Lee published a more formal proposal for the actual World Wide Web on November 12, 1990 and wrote the first web page on November 13. In Christmas of that year Berners-Lee built all the tools necessary for a working Web, the first actual web browser (which was a web-editor as well), and the first web server.
The Web is made up of three standards: The Uniform Resource Locator (URL), which specifies how each page of information is given a unique “address” at which it can be found; Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP), which specifies how the browser and server send the information to each other, and Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML), a method of encoding the information so it can be displayed on a variety of devices. Berners-Lee now heads the World Wide Web Consortium, which develops and maintains these standards and others that enable computers on the Web to effectively store and communicate all kinds of information.
The initial “www” program at CERN only displayed text, but later browsers such as Pei Wei’s Viola (1992) added the ability to display graphics as well. Marc Andreessen of NCSA released a browser called “Mosaic for X” in 1993 that sparked a tremendous rise in the popularity of the Web among novice users. Andreesen went on to found Mosaic Communications Corporation (now Netscape Communications, a unit of Time Warner). Additional features such as dynamic content, music and animation can be found in modern browsers.
Frequently, the technical capability of browsers and servers advances much faster than the standards bodies can keep up with, so it is not uncommon for these newer features to not work properly on all computers, and the web as seen by Netscape is not at all the same as the web seen by Internet Explorer. The ever-improving technical capability of the WWW has enabled the development of real-time web-based services such as webcasts, web radio and live web cams.
Another significant advance in the technology was Sun Microsystems’ Java programming language, which enabled web servers to embed small programs (called applets) directly into the information being served that would run on the user’s computer, allowing faster and richer user interaction.
The exponential growth of the Internet was primarily attributed to the emergence of the web browser Mosaic, followed by another, Netscape Navigator during the mid-1990s.
It brought unprecedented attention to the Internet from media, industries, policy makers, and the general public.
Eventually, it led to several visions of how our society might change, although some point out that those visions are not unique to the Internet, but repeated with many new technologies (especially information and communications technologies) of various era.
Because the web is global in scale, some suggested that it will nurture mutual understanding on a global scale.
By far the most Web content is in English: 56%; next are German (8%), French (6%) and Japanese (5%).