Chapter 1: Information Sciences
World Wide Web and introduction of browsers
The World Wide Web (sometimes abbreviated “www” or “W3”) is an information space where documents and other web resources are identified by URIs, interlinked by hypertext links, and can be accessed via the Internet using a web browser and (more recently) web-based applications. It has become known simply as “the Web”. As of the 2010s, the World Wide Web is the primary tool billions use to interact on the Internet, and it has changed people’s lives immeasurably.
Precursors to the web browser emerged in the form of hyperlinked applications during the mid and late 1980s (the bare concept of hyperlinking had by then existed for some decades). Following these, Tim Berners-Lee is credited with inventing the World Wide Web in 1989 and developing in 1990 both the first web server, and the first web browser, called WorldWideWeb (no spaces) and later renamed Nexus. Many others were soon developed, with Marc Andreessen‘s 1993 Mosaic (later Netscape), being particularly easy to use and install, and often credited with sparking the internet boom of the 1990s.Today, the major web browsers are Firefox, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Opera and Safari.
A boost in web users was triggered in September 1993 by NCSA Mosaic, a graphical browser which eventually ran on several popular office and home computers. This was the first web browser aiming to bring multimedia content to non-technical users, and therefore included images and text on the same page, unlike previous browser designs; its founder, Marc Andreessen, also established the company that in 1994, released Netscape Navigator, which resulted in one of the early browser wars, when it ended up in a competition for dominance (which it lost) with Microsoft Windows‘ Internet Explorer. Commercial use restrictions were lifted in 1995. The online service America Online (AOL) offered their users a connection to the Internet via their own internal browser.
Use in wider society 1990s to early 2000s (Web 1.0)
The Internet was widely used for mailing lists, emails, e-commerce and early popular online shopping (Amazon and eBay for example), online forums and bulletin boards, and personal websites and blogs, and use was growing rapidly, but by more modern standards the systems used were static and lacked widespread social engagement. It awaited a number of events in the early 2000s to change from a communications technology to gradually develop into a key part of global society’s infrastructure.
Typical design elements of these “Web 1.0” era websites included: Static pages instead of dynamic HTML; content served from filesystems instead of relational databases; pages built using Server Side Includes or CGI instead of a web application written in a dynamic programming language; HTML 3.2-era structures such as frames and tables to create page layouts; online guestbooks; overuse of GIF buttons and similar small graphics promoting particular items; and HTML forms sent via email. (Support for server side scripting was rare on shared servers so the usual feedback mechanism was via email, using mailto forms and their email program.
During the period 1997 to 2001, the first speculative investment bubble related to the Internet took place, in which “dot-com” companies (referring to the “.com” top level domain used by businesses) were propelled to exceedingly high valuations as investors rapidly stoked stock values, followed by a market crash; the first dot-com bubble. However this only temporarily slowed enthusiasm and growth, which quickly recovered and continued to grow.
The changes that would propel the Internet into its place as a social system took place during a relatively short period of no more than five years, starting from around 2004. They included:
- The call to “Web 2.0” in 2004 (first suggested in 1999),
- Accelerating adoption and commoditization among households of, and familiarity with, the necessary hardware (such as computers).
- Accelerating storage technology and data access speeds – hard drives emerged, took over from far smaller, slower floppy discs, and grew from megabytes to gigabytes (and by around 2010, terabytes), RAM from hundreds of kilobytes to gigabytes as typical amounts on a system, and Ethernet, the enabling technology for TCP/IP, moved from common speeds of kilobits to tens of megabits per second, to gigabits per second.
- High speed Internet and wider coverage of data connections, at lower prices, allowing larger traffic rates, more reliable simpler traffic, and traffic from more locations,
- The gradually accelerating perception of the ability of computers to create new means and approaches to communication, the emergence of social media and websites such as Twitter and Facebook to their later prominence, and global collaborations such as Wikipedia (which existed before but gained prominence as a result),
and shortly after (approximately 2007–2008 onward):
- The mobile revolution, which provided access to the Internet to much of human society of all ages, in their daily lives, and allowed them to share, discuss, and continually update, inquire, and respond.
- Non-volatile RAM rapidly grew in size and reliability, and decreased in price, becoming a commodity capable of enabling high levels of computing activity on these small handheld devices as well as solid-state drives (SSD).
- An emphasis on power efficient processor and device design, rather than purely high processing power; one of the beneficiaries of this was ARM, a British company which had focused since the 1980s on powerful but low cost simple microprocessors. ARM rapidly gained dominance in the market for mobile and embedded devices.
With the call to Web 2.0, the period up to around 2004–2005 was retrospectively named and described by some as Web 1.0.
The term “Web 2.0” describes websites that emphasize user-generated content (including user-to-user interaction), usability, and interoperability. It first appeared in a January 1999 article called “Fragmented Future” written by Darcy DiNucci, a consultant on electronic information design, where she wrote:
“The Web we know now, which loads into a browser window in essentially static screenfuls, is only an embryo of the Web to come. The first glimmerings of Web 2.0 are beginning to appear, and we are just starting to see how that embryo might develop. The Web will be understood not as screenfuls of text and graphics but as a transport mechanism, the ether through which interactivity happens. It will […] appear on your computer screen, […] on your TV set […] your car dashboard […] your cell phone […] hand-held game machines […] maybe even your microwave oven.”
The term resurfaced during 2002 – 2004, and gained prominence in late 2004 following presentations by Tim O’Reilly and Dale Dougherty at the first Web 2.0 Conference. In their opening remarks, John Battelle and Tim O’Reilly outlined their definition of the “Web as Platform”, where software applications are built upon the Web as opposed to upon the desktop. The unique aspect of this migration, they argued, is that “customers are building your business for you”. They argued that the activities of users generating content (in the form of ideas, text, videos, or pictures) could be “harnessed” to create value.
Web 2.0 does not refer to an update to any technical specification, but rather to cumulative changes in the way Web pages are made and used. Web 2.0 describes an approach, in which sites focus substantially upon allowing users to interact and collaborate with each other in a social media dialogue as creators of user-generated content in a virtual community, in contrast to Web sites where people are limited to the passive viewing of content. Examples of Web 2.0 include social networking sites, blogs, wikis, folksonomies, video sharing sites, hosted services, Web applications, and mashups. Terry Flew, in his 3rd Edition of New Media described what he believed to characterize the differences between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0:
“[The] move from personal websites to blogs and blog site aggregation, from publishing to participation, from web content as the outcome of large up-front investment to an ongoing and interactive process, and from content management systems to links based on tagging (folksonomy)”.
The mobile revolution
The process of change generally described as “Web 2.0” was itself greatly accelerated and transformed only a short time later by the increasing growth in mobile devices. This mobile revolution meant that computers in the form of smartphones became something many people used, took with them everywhere, communicated with, used for photographs and videos they instantly shared or to shop or seek information “on the move” – and used socially, as opposed to items on a desk at home or just used for work.
Location-based services, services using location and other sensor information, and crowdsourcing (frequently but not always location based), became common, with posts tagged by location, or websites and services becoming location aware. Mobile-targeted websites (such as “m.website.com”) became common, designed especially for the new devices used. Netbooks, ultrabooks, widespread 4G and Wi-Fi, and mobile chips capable or running at nearly the power of desktops from not many years before on far lower power usage, became enablers of this stage of Internet development, and the term “App” emerged (short for “Application program” or “Program”) as did the “App store“.