CIRCA:A General WWW History

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Based on a presentation by Domini Gee (Prezi presentation)

A general history of the WWW spanning from pre-invention to 2001.

Contents

What is the World Wide Web?

The WWW is an information retrieval internet service that allows navigation between interlinked hypertext and hypermedia documents.

Conceptual Hypertext Roots

Paul Otlet's Monde

In 1895, with help of Henri La Fontaine, Paul Otlet set out to create a master bibliography of all the world’s published knowledge. They collected books, journal articles, photographs, posters, etc. and created a vast paper database of over twelve million individual entries. However, the sheer amount of information (not to mention choking amounts of paper) made traditional means impractical. He started sketching out ideas in the 1920s to manage the information but realized the solution was to get replace paper with electronic storage.

Otlet's 1934 book, Monde, outlined his "vision of a 'mechanical, collective brain' that would house all the world’s information, made readily accessible over a global telecommunications network" (Wright, 2008). Through a network of computers, users would have been able to browse through interlinked documents, images, audio, and video files. Users would also have been able to send, share, or receive files or even congregate online.

Unfortunately, before Otlet's vision could become concrete the government cut the project's funding. A small number of staff continued to work on the project until the Nazi invasion. The Nazis cleared out thousands of boxes of index cards for a Third Reich Art exhibition, destroying much of Otlet's work.

Vannevar Bush's As We May Think

In 1945, Vannevar Bush wrote As We May Think, one of the most often cited, if not the earliest, roots of hypertext. Bush describes the Memex as a “mechanized private file and library, […] mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility” (Bush, 1945). The Memex was never built but it was intended to be a photo-electrical-mechanical device which could make and follow links between documents on microfiche.

Bush conceived the Memex as a way to make accessible the bewildering amount of knowledge. The Memex would imitate the human mind, capable of linking nonlinear ideas through a web of associations more quickly and efficiently than traditional hierarchical methods.

Murray Leinster’s A Logic Named Joe

A year after Bush's article, Murray Leinster released a A Logic Named Joe. Leinster's short story depicted a world where every home has a logic (aka a computer terminal) with the potential for massive networking and dissemination of information but also for the drawbacks of information explosion.

Rise of Hypertext Execution

Ted Nelson's A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing, and the Indeterminate and Project Xanadu

Douglas Engelbart's Mother of All Demos

Apple's Hypercard

The Invention of the Web

Rapid Growth of the Web

References

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