Understanding the World Wide Web
By Chelse Benham
In 1969, computer scientist, Ken Thompson and mathematician, Dennis Ritchie,
worked together at Bell Telephone Laboratories (BTL), for Multics (Multiplexed
Information and Computing Service) – a collaboration between BTL, General
Electric, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology – to create an operating
system for a large computer which could accommodate up to a thousand
simultaneous users which was a requirement for its use in telephony. The result
was a system called UNICS (Uniplexed Information and Computing Service), but
was later changed to UNIX.
“The most important thing about the development of UNIX was allowing
programmers the opportunity to experiment. Before UNIX, mainframe operations
required huge computers that didn’t allow programmers easy access,” said
Graham Toal, information technology security officer for the University of Texas-
Pan American. “UNIX was a very productive environment in which a programmer
could experiment much more than before. In the long term UNIX is still serving as
the operating system of choice for servers and research and development
During the formation of UNIX, other United States computer scientists began
researching computer networking. This research was funded by The Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which was established as a
separate defense agency under the Office of the Secretary of Defense and gave
the Internet its first name, the ARPANET, in January 1969.
ARPANET was used to test “packet-switched networks,” – computer networks
that transfer information in the form of little packets that move independent of
each other through various networks until they reach their final destination.
The Department of Defense realized this network was a robust communication
system, ideal for wartime, and began using it, but despite its military background,
the ARPANET eventually became a primary means of instant communication
between computer researchers and academics across the country.
In 1983, ARPANET was divided into two networks, reserving ARPANET for
civilian use and creating MILNET for military use.
In an interview at The Book & Computer.com in 2004, Alan Kay, the father of the
idea of “linking” computers together, explains his invention. Kay took a position at
Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) in 1972. He was instrumental in
developing the graphical user interface and the personal computer while at
Well before his arrival at Xerox, however, Kay had envisioned the Dynabook,
which he described as "a portable interactive personal computer, as accessible
as a book. The Dynabook would be linked to a network and offer users a
synthesis of text, visuals, animation and audio.” Ultimately, this idea of “linking”
information was the basis upon which the World Wide Web was founded.
“Alan Kay was the first person to consider the idea of linking machines to other
machines. Before that computers ran information internally without
communicating with other computers. Because of his access to the ARPNET,
Tim Berners-Lee developed Kay’s idea and constructed a system that
implemented “linking” and integrating computers into one big network,” Toal
According to MIT’s Magazine of Innovation Technology Review vol. 107/no.8
article, in 1980, Englishman and computer scientist, Berners-Lee invented an
information retrieval program called Enquire at the European Organization for
Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland.
Ten years after Enquire’s release, Berners-Lee finished writing the tools for a
larger information retrieval system he called the World Wide Web. He released
the program to CERN in March 1991. (livinginnet.com)
The early 1990’s were the beginning of a great technological fascination
sweeping the world. Several major events were occurring simultaneously that
ultimately burgeoned into one of the greatest explosions of the technological age.
Home computers became more proficient and less expensive. The Web
information retrieval and communication system was released and navigational
software was made available at no cost to computer users.
The first Web browser was NCSA Mosaic. Mosaic’s programming team then
developed the first commercial Web browser called Netscape Navigator, later
renamed Communicator, then renamed back to just Netscape. (livinginnet.com)
“Initially, you couldn’t really find any information that was useful. It was primarily
restricted to academic papers at the time,” Toal said. “The Web reached critical
mass when people began putting their own servers online. Anyone who was a
specialist in their area would put their material on the Web for everyone to find.
Most of these early servers were UNIX based because the Microsoft Windows
environment wasn’t very friendly to programming.”
The last event to shape the Internet, and make into one of the greatest
informational, promotional and communication tools in the world, was opening it
up to commercial traffic. Since then, the Internet has experienced rapid growth,
and is no longer used solely by academics and the military. Ironically, the
Internet is neither owned nor controlled by any government or body.
The Internet is a worldwide system permanently connecting millions of computers
together to form a global network. The Web uses the medium of the Internet to
access information stored on servers around the globe.
Moreover, the Web is just one way of sharing information. Information can also
be shared using e-mail or Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), instant
messaging and FTP (File Transfer Protocol). Because of the Internet, information
can be moved around the planet at great speed and minimal cost.
Browsers – navigational software which enables you to 'surf' the Web– such as
Netscape and Microsoft Internet Explorer, access Web pages. Information or
documents are stored in “pages.” Most Web servers have a starting page, known
as the home page, which contains links to other pages on the same server and to
Netscape Navigator is a graphical browser, a program which can read these
documents and display both text and pictures on your computer screen. These
pages are interconnected by means of hypertext links.
Hypertext is what makes the Web so intuitively navigable. Hypertext is a type of
document that contains links (called hyperlinks) that point your Web browser to
another resource on the Internet. A hyperlink can be in the form of a word,
several words, or even an image. When you select a hyperlink with your Web
browser (usually by clicking the link with your mouse), your browser automatically
loads whatever the selected link indicates.
A Web address such as The University of Texas-Pan American’s
http://www.panam.edu is very specific and allows any computer, with
navigational software and access to the Internet, to go directly to the site.
HTTP stands for Hypertext Transport Protocol, which is the protocol (access
rules) used by computers on the Web. This acronym gives us the common
Internet address prefix, http://, which always precedes addresses for Web pages.
The Web uses HTTP protocol, but it is just one of the languages spoken over the
With an address that ends with the acronym HTML such as
www.utpabroncs.com/sports/ m-baskbl/recaps/010305aaa.html, the HTML
stands for Hypertext Markup Language. This is the script language used to
create Web pages. This language uses HTML tags to tell your Web browser how
to display each document. HTML tags are not only responsible for determining
what gets bolded or italicized in a document, but they also are responsible for
In an address such as http://www.panam.edu the last part of a Web address
indicates the type of site it is. Many computer addresses in the United States end
with one of the following abbreviations indicating the certain categories the sites
are divided into.
edu educational site
mil military site
com corporate or company site
gov government site
net administrative organization for a network
org private organizations that don’t fit the
The full Web address is called a Uniform Resource Locater (URL). It enables
your browser to know which of the millions of sites on the Internet you are
requesting, and from which server to go and fetch it.
A search engine is “a tool that enables users to locate information on the
Internet. Search engines use keywords entered by users to find Web sites which
contain the information sought.” (www.getnetwise.org/glossary)
Search engines are the powerhouses of Internet information retrieval. By
knowing how to navigate the Web, you have resources for mining information,
thus giving weight to the adage “knowledge is power.” There are numerous
search engines. The following are some of the most widely used: AltaVista;
Google; Lycos!; Dogpile; Ask Jeeves; Yahoo!; HotBot; Scirus (scientific
information); ViVisimo; Education World; MSN Search; Teoma; Artcyclopedia
(fine art information); Northern Light and Infoseek.
An important thing to remember is that the Internet is huge; it is unstructured and
the content is as diverse as the people and cultures of the world. The Web is an
invaluable tool in today’s business environment. You can find a seemingly
endless amount of information on the Web: products and services, pay scales,
job opportunities, career advice and professional information. You can browse
information from health advice to computer basics. The key is not to be afraid of
the technology. Embrace it and put power at your finger tips.
“Science and technology multiply around us. To an increasing extent they dictate
the languages in which we speak and think. Either we use those languages, or
we remain mute.” – J. G. Ballard, (1930) American novelist and writer