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Happy birthday, WWW
The Web can vote and smoke, but not drink

08/18/11
By John Andrews jandrews@hippopress.com



If your browser seems a little more festive this month, it might be celebrating. Whether it still seems brand new or like it’s been around your whole life, here’s a solid fact for you: the Web is now 20 years old.

The date getting all the attention is Aug. 6, but hold your horses before rushing to the “Belated” section of e-cards. That’s just the day one of the folks instrumental in creating the Web, Tim Berners-Lee, announced the newborn on the alt.hypertext newsgroup and it became available to the public.

There was only one server at first, a humble desktop computer within the CERN laboratory in Switzerland. That’s right — while the Internet itself emerged from networks put together by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the United States Department of Defense in the 1970s, its most visible component, the Web, began two decades later in Europe. But whatever, we single-handedly saved them from the Nazis, so we’re still awesome.

In the most basic terms, what makes the Web the Web, and not some other part of the Internet, is that it happens in a browser. The earliest browsers were text-based, with only the ability to link to images, not display them alongside words. In fact, the first image wasn’t even uploaded until 1992, and a fully graphical browser wasn’t widely available until 1993, when Mosaic was released for an operating system other than UNIX.

Much of the team that built Mosaic also made another browser, Netscape Navigator, remnants of which still live on in Mozilla Firefox. Microsoft released Internet Explorer in 1995, and it’s up to its ninth version 16 years later. The third most popular browser today, Google Chrome, only came out in 2008, but is already up to version 13. Firefox is quickly iterating its version numbers these days too; version 5 came out in June, and 6 and 7 are planned before the end of the year. Apple’s browser, Safari,was released in 2003 and is also currently on its fifth version.

While early Web pages were static read-only deals containing only words and pictures, the modern Web is much more interactive. The latest version of the HyperText Markup Language, HTML5, as well as add-on technologies like Java, Ajax and Flash, have enabled viewers to move page elements around, watch video and add their own content in real time. The phrase “Web 2.0” was coined to describe this increasing interactivity.

The Web has become so dominant that just about any other Internet application can be accessed in a browser. How many e-mails are sent through Yahoo!, Gmail or Hotmail sites rather than a dedicated e-mail client? Usenet newsgroups, FTP (File Transfer Protocol) and IRC (Internet Relay Chat) all have Web-based clients now, so there’s little need for an old-school Internet junkie to ever leave their browser. As much as “Internet” and “World Wide Web” are used incorrectly as synonyms, the difference is increasingly invisible to end users.

Be sure to take a few minutes this month and celebrate the Web’s life. Any excuse for cake, right?

My browser spends a lot of time pointed to twitter.com/CitizenjaQ .






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