The World Wide Web
As noted before, many people confuse "The Internet" with "The World Wide Web." The Internet is all computers linked together using the TCP/IP protocol set. The World Wide Web is primarily one protocol used in that network, a protocol designed to share information in a graphic manner.
Not Made in the U.S.A.
Also contrary to what most people think, the World Wide Web was not created in the United States. It was, in fact, born in Europe, at the CERN labs in Switzerland, in a project headed by British scientist Tim Berners-Lee. Now Sir Berners-Lee, he used the already-established idea of hypertext links to create "pages" on a computer screen which would display information and allow readers to jump to other locations by the use of "links." This idea was proposed in 1990, and the primary work was done on a NeXT computer (a computer made by Steve Jobs after he left Apple).
It was only after the idea was proposed that America comes back into the picture. A college student name Marc Andreessen at the University of Illinois created a program (which Berners-Lee called a "browser") named "Mosaic" in 1993. I remember going to college in San Francisco at this time; I was given a floppy disk with a program called "Mosaic" on it. I had no idea what that was. At one point, I tried using it, and saw some web pages with some text on them. I thought it was interesting, but there was nothing I could use at the time. I stopped using it. I was much more interested in discussion groups in an area called "USENET."
The Emergence of the Popular Internet
As you may recall from an earlier chapter, many people using networks at this time were on private online services. These networks, however, were private "walled gardens"; as I used GEnie and my father used Prodigy, we could no communicate between us. Worse, some services started charging extra for basic features. Prodigy, for example, began charging users 25 cents per each email sent.
One more development helped spur the World Wide Web: ISPs, or Internet Service Providers. The first appeared in 1990, but they did not start to become popular until the mid-1990's, when Netscape Navigator started being widely used, and more and more web sites began appearing.
ISPs were a big change because they started to give open access to the World Wide Web and email. Before ISPs, most people used online services like Prodigy, CompuServe, or AOL. These were "walled gardens," private networks which were closed to anyone outside them. Emails could not be exchanged between different networks. They were also independent businesses, charging money for content, and sometimes charging extra fees, like Prodigy's decision to charge users 25 cents for every email sent. Because these were private companies, they did not have web pages for other companies' content, products, or services. You could not browse and go to any place you wanted; it was a very limited experience.
In contrast, ISPs charged a flat rate, usually starting at $20 per month, and allowed access to the Internet, which was connected to everything else. Suddenly, you could visit web pages for any company, see news from any source, send email to anyone you wanted. It was a much wider, and more liberating experience.
A Slow Start, Then a Big Bubble
One problem at this time was connection speeds. At the time, most people had modems no faster than 14,400 baud (1 baud is usually considered equal to 1 bps, or a single bit of data transmitted in one second; 14,400 baud would be 14.4 Kbps). Such speeds could, at most, download 1.8 KB every second. 200 KB is not uncommon for a single small photograph, but that would take a full 2 minutes to download, even at top speed—and Internet connections rarely perform at top speed. As a result, web pages were mostly text; images were small, and usually were low-quality GIF images made to be as small as possible. Take a look at the White House web site from 1994, pictured to the right, and then the same site today, just below that; more early web pages can be seen here. See more about Internet connections in the chapter on that topic at the end of this unit.
|The White House web site, in 1994 and 2012|
Browsers had better success aside from my own early experience, fortunately. Marc Andreessen had formed a private company called "Netscape," and created a new browser called Navigator, released in 1994. Netscape Navigator was the first successful popular browser, and was the #1 browser until it was effectively destroyed by Microsoft in the late 1990's. Microsoft released Internet Explorer, which was much worse than Navigator; however, Microsoft was able to place Internet Explorer on almost every PC desktop, and many people either didn't bother to change, or had trouble installing Navigator.
The World Wide Web, despite slow connection speeds, became an explosive market. Stock prices skyrocketed, creating the "Internet Boom" of the 1990's, which became the "Internet Bubble"—a bubble which popped in 2000, causing an economic downturn. Before that happened, anything related to the Internet was a "hot property," and investors would sink millions into anything related to the web.
Eventually, things settled down, but not before the Internet became so widely used that it is now as ubiquitous as TV and radio used to be. The web has replaced many resources which used to be common. Newspapers and magazines are dying as a result of the Internet; for example, Newsweek, a famous weekly news magazine, just recently stopped issuing a print edition, and now is a web entity. People who used to read the newspaper every morning now surf the web instead. I myself used to be a newspaper reader, but stopped about 6 or 7 years ago. Telephone books have all but disappeared as phone numbers are just a Google search away. Students who used to spend hours in the library searching for a single reference now get a dozen from a quick search engine check. Encyclopedias, once a treasured family possession, have been replaced by Wikipedia. YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are slowly replacing TV.
The appeal of the web is simple: it is a huge resource, with almost anything you might want to see; it is, in most cases, free to use (there are ads, but browser plug-ins and extensions like AdBlock make them disappear); and it is immediately available wherever you are: at home, at work, on your mobile device.