The Origins of the Web
Returning to reality and the recent past, the
web started as a static text based medium that allowed
researchers to easily share information around the world. The
key feature that set the web apart from preceding and now largely
obsolete technologies such as gopher was the hypertext link.
This is a marked area of text, that when the user selected it and
pressed enter or clicked on it with a mouse in graphical
environments caused another web page to be retrieved.
The document to be retrieved was and still is identified by a
Uniform Resource Locator or URL. A URL allows any document,
located on any computer in the world connected to the Internet
and running web server software, to be uniquely identified and
retrieved directly from the computer on which it is located.
Actually a URL can be even more specific than
that. It can identify any location within a specific document
provided the author has entered the appropriate codes. Thus, in
a large document, the author can mark specific important
locations with a code and then refer to these locations from
anywhere else in the document. These references are visible and
when selected, the web browser displays that part of the document.
It's this jumping around ability from which hypertext gets its
Until the invention of the hypertext link, the
navigation of text documents was limited to sequential methods.
You could start reading at the beginning and proceed to the end.
You could also go the front and find the table of contents or the
back and find the index. If the document was well organized and
had a detailed table of contents or was extensively and
intelligently indexed you could likely find a reference to what you wanted.
Page numbers provide an approximate location of the referenced information.
Then you sequentially scan forwards or backwards until you find what you
were looking for.
With the invention of hypertext links, for the
first time since the invention of writing, an author could
provide a non linear way of navigating a text document. If an
author used hypertext links well and liberally, you might read an
entire document but in an order quite different than its
sequential organization. It's not often that you find a document
that is comprehensively organized this way but when you do, the
result can be impressive.
Much more important for the development of the
web than internal hypertext links were external ones. These
allowed an author to identify supporting or related documents
that might be located anywhere in the world (on the Internet).
With a click of the mouse, readers could have these documents on
the screen in front of them in seconds. Such a retrieved
document might have links to other relevant documents. In a
minute or so you might be reading a document on a computer in New
York, then jump to one in Switzerland and then to one in Japan.
The web provided the first human communication in which
physical location no longer mattered.
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