Timothy M. Denton

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First website went live 25 years ago

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Tim Berners-Lee put up the first website 25 years ago today. The occasion ought to be marked with speeches in Parliament, the erection of a statue of Berners-Lee in a major public park, and fireworks.  In the long perspective of history, the Web will rank with the printing press and the telephone as the revolutionary advances they were. But the Web would be impossible without the Internet, which is prior and even more important.

There are still people who are not aware that the World Wide Web is an application that rides on top of the Internet, and is not the same thing as the Internet. The Internet is a set of protocols that separate carriage from content, or if you prefer, applications from transport. At one stroke, the adoption of the Internet as a standard for military (1980) and then civilian communications (1983) by DARPA broke the monopoly on innovation that carriers had held until that moment. More important, the Internet separated the costs of building out networks (billions) from the costs of devising applications (millions and tens of millions). The Internet put innovation into the hands of freaks, entrepreneurs, hobbyists, and launched the fortunes of the Zuckerbergs and every Internet billionaire since.

The World Wide Web was the application that brought browsers to the attention of the public, and forced everyone to buy computers. We have since that time experienced the astounding increases of performance of computers captured under Moore's law. But we have not yet assimilated, I would argue, that the invention of the Internet protocols by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn was the decisive revolution in communications, the breakthrough from which has flowed everything that has changed how we live, and relate to one another across networks.

So three cheers for Tim Berners-Lee, as the first guy to comprehend what the Internet meant and acted upon it, and a 21-gun salute from the whole fleet to Cerf and Kahn and the others who put together the concepts and machine languages on which everything now runs.

 

 

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Timothy Denton is a lawyer by training who practices principally in telecommunications and Internet policy and domain name issues, with a strong concentration on explaining what the technology is and what it means.

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Guest Tuesday, 12 November 2019
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