Thursday, March 13, 2014

Thank you very much for the World Wide Web

Twenty-five years. Is it really that long since Tim Berners-Lee jumped out of bed one fine morning with a figurative light bulb over his head?

Looking back at that momentous day in March 1989, Berners-Lee (now Sir Tim), explained things very simply: “I just had to take the hypertext idea and connect it to the Transmission Control Protocol and domain name system ideas and – ta-da! – the World Wide Web!”

Obvious, when you come to think of it. What’s amazing is that no one had thought of the World Wide Web before.

And what’s even more incredible is that Sir Tim later confessed that those two forward slashes we’ve been meticulously typing at the beginning of every web address are totally unnecessary. He put them in, he said, because “it seemed like a good idea at the time”.

Well, we’ve all done things like that, from painting our bedrooms mauve to sliding down a hill on a tea-tray.

But looking back over 25 years of trying to remember which computer key is a forward slash and which one’s a backslash, it’s hard to forgive Sir Tim for that particular boo-boo.

Let’s look on the bright side, though. Much has changed since Sir Tim wrote in his WWW User Guide: “When color [sic] comes along, we can use colour...”

Imagine a world in which you couldn’t click your mouse on the words Click Here! and find that nothing happens because the web designer meant you to click some graphic down at the bottom of the page.

Imagine a world in which you couldn’t find out, with another mouse click, why Dermatologists Hate This Woman For One Weird Trick. What weird trick could it possibly be? Laying the poor out dermatologists with a bunch of daffs? Creeping up behind them and giving them a wedgie? Must... just... click... that... link...

Imagine, too,  a world where you couldn’t watch videos of kittens doing cute, stupid or downright dangerous things when you should be concentrating on work.

Yes, dear reader. For those of us old enough to remember it, that was the World before Sir Tim stuck those two extra Ws on the end. Not to mention the /s. Or possibly the \s.

It was a dark and dreary place. A world without Facebook. A world without Twitter. A world where you didn’t have  to remember a 12-character password and the second, fourth and tenth characters of a nine-character phrase if you wanted to find out how much money you haven’t got.

A world in which casually mentioning your mother’s maiden name to some friendly stranger down the pub wasn’t a catastrophic breach of data security.

A world in which you had to use a proper encyclopaedia, with paper pages, to settle family arguments.

And a world in which you couldn’t check up on the progress of Lydia the great white shark, whose solitary meanderings have taken her across the Atlantic in the general direction of the UK where, we can exclusively reveal, she will swim up the Avon to Bath and take part in the Jane Austen Centre's  forthcoming all-singing, all-dancing tribute to the Bennet family.  

So anyway, thank WWW, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. The world would be a lot less fun without you.

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