My book, 100 Ideas that Changed the Web, is out. You should all rush out and buy it!
It’s meant to be an accessible introduction to the history of the web but we would not have the web if it were not for the Internet, so it’s not only a collection of ideas that changed the Web, it also includes those that led to its creation.
The book starts and ends with a dream. In 1934 Paul Otlet dreamt of a telescope that could transmit electronic documents. In 1999, Tim Berners-Lee outlined his vision for a Semantic Web, an information space of an unimaginable amount of data, automatically interrogated, processed and turned into knowledge. In between, we have 98 other ideas. Some are revolutionary, like the peer-to-peer network. Others are humble, like the GIF (hard G!). All of them have contributed to the world-changing phenomena that is the World Wide Web.
The first 20 ideas examine the precursors, those ideas that led to the creation of the web. Without hypertext, the modem, the PC and of course the Internet, there would be no web. Ideas 21-53 deal with the web’s infancy, introducing the browser, the JPEG, search, multiplayer gaming, the web cam, the banner ad, net art, web mail and the blog. These early years were a time of experimentation, a DIY landscape typified by the now deleted GeoCities.
Ideas 54 – 73 address the birth of ecommerce. Brands entered cyberspace and the web began to lose its original spirit.. There was a reaction, John Perry Barlow, member of The Grateful Dead, declared the Independence of Cyberspace and Shawn Fanning created the first peer-to-peer network. He called it Napster. Then came the crash. Those companies that survived not only had deep pockets, they understood that the secret of the web was social. Amazon had customer reviews, Ebay had user-driven auctions, Wikipedia was entirely written and edited by its users. Even Google had user-generated links.
With ideas 74-98, the web came of age, becoming dynamic, social and crucially, mobile. In the early years of the Web, pages were built entirely in HTML. On each click, a new page was loaded. Even a small change to the page meant the entire page had to be refreshed. In 2005, Google launched Google Maps, which behaved more like a software application than a website. Web 2.0 had arrived and with it came the social web. The launch of the iPhone in 2007 took the web mobile. Our most important device was firmly the one in our pocket.
Ideas 99 and 100 look to the future. When the Web was first conceived, it was intended to be more than an interconnected library of information. The ultimate aim was a system that drew meaning from this information. In an increasingly connected world, our ability to capture and store data is staggering. When this data is marked up with contextual information, it becomes knowledge and we are one step closer a web that thinks. The Semantic Web.
Whilst writing the book, it became apparent that the history of the web is an exploration of the very way we think and communicate. Our thought processes are non-linear and erratic but the way we make sense of things and express ourselves is linear. Pioneers like Paul Otlet, Vannevar Bush, Theodor Nelson, Douglas Engelbart and Tim Berners-Lee questioned this assumption. I hope I’ve done their legacy justice!