Twenty years ago, in October 1990, Tim Berners-Lee started writing code for a Web client on his new NeXT computer. By mid-November he had a Web browser/editor which he called the World Wide Web. The year before, in March 1989, Berners-Lee circulated a proposal to a few colleagues at CERN, stating that it “discusses the problems of loss of information about complex evolving systems and derives a solution based on a distributed hypertext system.” The proposal contained a diagram of an “information mesh” and concluded that “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. 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 result should be sufficiently attractive to use that the information contained would grow past a critical threshold, so that the usefulness of the scheme would in turn encourage its increased use.”
Twenty years later, I’m writing this on a widely-used blog platform which allows me to easily link my information to anything else that lives “online” which today is getting close to all existing knowledge. And my “information mesh” is part of a vast network of connections around which an entire new information universe – and associated new ventures, new celebrities, new industries, new business models, new cultural productions, new communities – has been built.
Why has the Web been so successful and had such an impact on our lives? The driving force behind this ever-expanding, constantly changing information universe is its unique ability to provide us with solutions to what Berners-Lee identified in his proposal as the key problems relating to information: Finding it and preventing its loss.
We are what we remember. The Web has delivered on the promise of computer technology, the hopes of the early innovators and users: It augments the remarkable cognitive abilities of the human brain exactly where it is deficient. It allows us to indefinitely preserve memories, personal and collective, and to retrieve the most relevant piece of information when we need it. It brings us closer to the vision of total information recall and relevance.
In future posts, I will outline a “Web Timeline,” one milestone at a time. It starts in 1728.