Alex Massie

How It All Began

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Way back in 1994 the Economist reported on this whole World-Wide-Web thingy:

The enthusiasm of volunteers has made the web into one of the Internet's most popular technologies, accounting for about 3% of Internet traffic and growing twice as fast as the Internet itself. Mr Berners-Lee is trying to make sure that this growth does not choke the system; he is establishing a consortium to set standards and ensure that new innovations are compatible with the base system. That done, even faster growth might be possible. Mr Berners-Lee would like to make it easier for users to create their own links to documents. He also wants to make it possible to label the links, so that users do not head off in the wrong direction. Such labels might note whether a link supports the argument or criticises it.

They could also be used for advertising. The web is a marketplace as well as a library and a playground. Digital Equipment uses it to provide an on-line catalogue of product information. Wired, a Californian magazine favoured by technobohos, got dragged into the web when readers in Singapore, tired of waiting for the latest issue, created their own web-linked version of the magazine. The editors bought their efforts and are now investing in expanding on the web. And O'Reilly & Associates, an innovative Californian publisher of technical books, is trying to use the web to create a new form of electronic publication.

This sort of reads like ancient history now, but of course some, even many, of the problems people were wrestling with then (how to make online publishing pay!) remain largely unsolved. I think 1994 was when I got my first email address; it was also a time when the universiy ran classes called "Computing for Historians" which didn't amount to much more than "This is a computer. This is how you turn it on. It's like a typewriter but different." No-one had laptops and the university paper was still put together using scissors and glue...


Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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