Web Science/Part1: Foundations of the web/Internet vs World Wide Web/Motivation and requirements for the World Wide Web

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Motivation and requirements for the World Wide Web

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Motivation for creating www

Let’s look back to the late 80th when Tim Berners-Lee came up with the idea of WEB. So what was the situation at the end of 80th from a technical point of view?

Tim B. Lee worked at CERN which was a big space for physicists to collaborate and there were 2000-3000 people coming in and out. And usually they didn’t stay for a long time and they had a problem of storing all the information from the physical experiments and distributing the results to other people. This was due to many problems:

1) It was still not clear what computer hardware would be the most usable. So they would use anything: workstations, PCs and etc. And those systems would not be compatible most of the time. Even if they all used the same system still they could have different software on it, different operating systems so formats would not be compatible to each other. And that was a big problem.

2) Existing online communities, that was in the closed networks and it was very difficult to get from one of these networks to the other. And in CERN it was the same. It was possible by login into these systems, transferring data from one kind of network to the other but you had to operate with the awkward commands from a terminal. You could not just click. You really had to know all these commands in your memory.

The hypertext was already invented. The idea of hypertext is older than the computers came out. But most hypertext systems used to be at one central server. And there you can link documents to each other. But if that single server was down you could not use the system anymore. It was very hard to get access to it. And if many people would want to use it this system will be a bottleneck.

On the other hand, wouldn’t this fact increase the quality if you have a centralized place to maintain everything? That was what people think most of the time. But this takes a lot of freedom from people. They cannot easily add something.

This system could not response as quickly as possible because it was controlled by a few people. So it is a particular type of governance of IT system. And then there came the idea of Tim Berners-Lee to change this type of governance completely. What he was trying to do is to go to the distributed way, give the power back to the people. So everyone can public whatever he wants to.
So the idea was to say: we have an internet really working, we have a DNS and let’s combine those 2 things with hypertext. It’s really about letting every person to produce knowledge and link that knowledge internally, but then also let this person link the piece of knowledge he/she created with knowledge that other people have created somewhere else in the world.

So it is the main motivation for creating the web.

furtherReading= Data Management problem at CERN

Tim berners lee working there:

  • information management systems have been centralized and that meant bottleneck
    • waiting for time on the mainframe for several hours and then missing to join meant start over waiting
I am not sure that waiting was so much the issue. An in fact, even if waiting was an issue then, by now this would have been solved - but the issue of autonomy wouldn't
    • hypertext (which was invented even before computers existed: w:Memex) systems have always be bound to a computer or if connected to a central data store.
and one master!
  • WWW is much more about decentralization of government than about decentralization of computational resources (also, but less so!)
  • loads of different hardware / operating systems
    • not clear which one would win
    • need to find a way of communication that is not bound to a particular piece of hardware or operating system
  • from a technical point of view
    • wish to combine TCP and DNS with the idea of hypertext in order to link information and create an information management system


  • the web was made to...
  1. link knowledge (like Memex)
  2. separation of software and content
  3. enable communication between people (n to m)
  4. autonomy of content publisher (it is a decentralized system that even works partially if many parts of the system fail)


1 What is true about Hypertext?

It was first conceived by Tim Berners-Lee
The ideas are older than Computers
People in the late 40's already thought of this
Hyperlinks are always created in two directions
It needs a central server to coordinate the link network

2 Which problems has led to the invention of the World Wide Web

CERN was keen on making software inventions for computing
CERN had a need for an information management system
loads of different hardware existed and information should be easy to exchange independent on what hardware it was stored
TCP was still not a fully reliable protocol
gopher started to use a commercial licence
Various operating systems and formats for data existed.
Systems for linking information in documents would not scale or operate successfully on the Internet

3 What technical building blocks were essential for the World Wide Web?


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