The Missing Building Blocks of the Web


At a time when millions are losing trust in the the web’s biggest sites, it’s worth revisiting the idea that the web was supposed to be made out of countless little sites. Here’s a look at the neglected technologies that were supposed to make it possible.

Though the world wide web has been around for more than a quarter century, people have been theorizing about hypertext and linked documents and a global network of apps for at least 75 years, and perhaps longer. And while some of those ideas are now obsolete, or were hopelessly academic as concepts, or seem incredibly obvious in a world where we’re all on the web every day, the time is perfect to revisit a few of the overlooked gems from past eras. Perhaps modern versions of these concepts could be what helps us rebuild the web into something that has the potential, excitement, and openness that got so many of us excited about it in the first place.

[An aside: Our team at Glitch has been hard at work on delivering many of the core ideas discussed in this piece, including new approaches to View Source, Authoring, Embedding, and more. If these ideas resonate with you, we hope you’ll check out Glitch and see how we can bring these abilities back to the web.]

View Source

For the first few years of the web, the fundamental way that people learned to build web pages was by using the “View Source” feature in their web browser. You would point your mouse at a menu that said something like “View Source” (nobody was browsing the web on a touchscreen back then) and suddenly you’d see the HTML code that made up the page you were looking at. If you squinted, you could see the text you’d been reading, and wrapped around it was a fairly comprehensible set of tags — you know, that <p>paragraph</p> kind of stuff.

It was one of the most effective technology teaching tools ever created. And no surprise, since the web was invented for the purpose of sharing knowledge.

These days, View Source is in bad shape. Most mobile devices don’t support the feature at all. And even on the desktop, the feature gets buried away, or hidden unless you enable special developer settings. It’s especially egregious because the tools for working with HTML in a browser are better than ever. Developers have basically given ordinary desktop web browsers the potential to be smart, powerful tools for creating web pages.

But that leads to the other problem. Most complicated web pages these days aren’t actually written by anyone. They’re assembled, by little programs that take the instructions made by a coder, and then translate those instructions into the actual HTML (and CSS, and JavaScript, and images, and everything else) that goes to your browser. If you’re an expert, maybe you can figure out what tools were being used to assemble the page, and go to GitHub and find some version of those tools to try out. But it’s the difference between learning to cook by looking over someone’s shoulder or being told where a restaurant bought its ingredients.

Bringing View Source back could empower a new generation of creators to see the web as something they make, not just a place where big companies put up sites that we all dump our personal data into.

Authoring

When Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web, he assumed that, just like in earlier hypertext systems, every web browser would be able to write web pages just as easily as it read them. In fact, that early belief led many who pioneered the web to assume that the format of HTML itself didn’t matter that much, as many different browsing tools would be able to create it.

In some ways, that’s true — billions of people make things on the web all the time. Only they don’t know they’re making HTML, because Facebook (or Instagram, or whatever other app they’re using) generates it for them.

Interestingly, it’s one of Facebook’s board members that helped cause this schism between reading and writing on the web. Marc Andreessen pioneered the early Mosaic web browser, and then famously went on to spearhead Netscape, the first broadly-available commercial web browser. But Netscape wasn’t made as a publicly-funded research project at a state university — it was a hot startup company backed by a lot of venture capital investment.

It’s no surprise, then, that the ability to create web pages was reserved for Netscape Gold, the paid version of that first broadly consumer-oriented web browser. Reading things on the web would be free, sure. But creating things on the web? We’d pay venture-backed startup tech companies for the ability to do that, and they’d mediate it for us.

Notwithstanding Facebook’s current dominance, there are still a lot of ways to publish actual websites instead of just dumping little bits of content into the giant social network. There are all kinds of “site building” tools that let you pick a template and publish. Professionals have authoring tools or content management systems for maintaining big, serious websites. But these days, there are very few tools you could just use on your computer (or your tablet, or your phone) to create a web page or web site from scratch.

All that could change quickly, though— the barriers are lower than ever to reclaiming the creative capability that the web was supposed to have right from its birth.

Embedding (Transclusion!)

Okay, this one’s nerdy. But I’m just gonna put it out there: You’re supposed to be able to include other websites (or parts of other websites) in your web pages. Sure, we can do some of that — you’ve seen plenty of YouTube videos embedded inside articles that you’ve read, and as media sites pivot to video, that’s only gotten more commonplace.

But you almost never see a little functional part of one website embedded in another. Old-timers might remember when Flash ruled the web, and people made simple games or interactive art pieces that would then get shared on blogs or other media sites. Except for the occasional SoundCloud song on someone’s Tumblr, it’s a grim landscape for anyone that can imagine a web where bits and pieces of different sites are combined together like Legos.

Most of the time, we talk about this functionality as “embedding” a widget from one site into another. There was even a brief fad during the heyday of blogs more than a decade ago where people started entire companies around the idea of making “widgets” that would get shared on blogs or even on company websites. These days that capability is mostly used to put a Google Map onto a company’s site so you can find their nearest location.

Those old hypertext theory people had broader ambitions, though. They thought we might someday be able to pull live, updated pieces of other sites into our own websites, mixing and matching data or even whole apps as needed. This ability to include part of one web page into another was called “transclusion”, and it’s remained a bit of a holy grail for decades.

There’s no reason that this can’t be done today, especially since the way we build web pages in the modern era often involves generating just partial pages or only sending along the data that’s updated on a particular site. If we can address the security and performance concerns of sharing data this way, we could address one of the biggest unfulfilled promises of the web.

Your own website at your own address

This one is so obvious, but we seem to have forgotten all about it: The web was designed so that everybody was supposed to have their own website, at its own address. Of course, things got complicated early on — it was too hard to run your own website (let alone your own web server!) and the relative scarcity of domain names made them expensive and a pain for everybody to buy.

If you just wanted to share some ideas, or talk to your friends, or do your work, managing all that hassle became too much trouble, and pretty soon a big, expensive industry of web consultants sprung up to handle the needs of anybody who still actually wanted their own website—and had the money to pay for it.

But things have gotten much easier. There are plenty of tools for easily building a website now, and many of them are free. And while companies still usually have a website of their own, an individual having a substantial website (not just a one-page placeholder) is pretty unusual these days unless they’re a Social Media Expert or somebody with a book to sell.

There’s no reason it has to be that way, though. There are no technical barriers for why we couldn’t share our photos to our own sites instead of to Instagram, or why we couldn’t post stupid memes to our own web address instead of on Facebook or Reddit. There are social barriers, of course — if we stubbornly used our own websites right now, none of our family or friends would see our stuff. Yet there’s been a dogged community of web nerds working on that problem for a decade or two, trying to see if they can get the ease or convenience of sharing on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram to work across a distributed network where everyone has their own websites.

Now, none of that stuff is simple enough yet. It’s for nerds, or sometimes, it’s for nobody at all. But the same was true of the web itself, for years, when it was young. This time, we know the stakes, and we can imagine the value of having a little piece of the internet that we own ourselves, and have some control over.

It’s not impossible that we could still complete the unfinished business that’s left over from the web’s earliest days. And I have to imagine it’ll be kind of fun and well worth the effort to at least give it a try.

In a similar vein, you may also enjoy this look at the lost infrastructure of the early era of social media.

Human brain can store 4.7 billion books – ten times more than originally thought


One petabyte is the same as 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets filled with text,13.3 years of HD-TV recordings, 4.7 billion books or 670 million web pages.

The human brain has a capacity that is ten times greater than first thought and can retain 4.7 billion books

The human brain has a capacity that is ten times greater than first thought and can retain 4.7 billion books

The human brain has a capacity that is ten times greater than first thought and can retain 4.7 billion books, scientists have discovered.

This is according to US scientists who have measured the storage capacity of synapses – the brain connections that are responsible for storing memories.

They discovered that, on average, one synapse can hold roughly 4.7 bits of information. This means that the human brain has a capacity of one petabyte, or 1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes.

One petabyte is the same as 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets filled with text,13.3 years of HD-TV recordings, 4.7 billion books or 670 million web pages.

“The discovery is a real bombshell in the field of neuroscience,”
Professor Terry Sejnowski

Nevertheless, Professor Terry Sejnowski, of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, in California, said the discovery is a “real bombshell in the field of neuroscience”.

“We discovered the key to unlocking the design principle for how hippocampal neurons function with low energy but high computation power,” he said.

“Our new measurements of the brain’s memory capacity increase conservative estimates by a factor of 10 to at least a petabyte, in the same ballpark as the World Wide Web.”

Source:http://www.telegraph.co.uk

Three challenges for the web, according to its inventor


Today is the world wide web’s 28th birthday. Here’s a message from our founder and web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee on how the web has evolved, and what we must do to ensure it fulfils his vision of an equalising platform that benefits all of humanity.

 

Today marks 28 years since I submitted my original proposal for the world wide web. I imagined the web as an open platform that would allow everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries. In many ways, the web has lived up to this vision, though it has been a recurring battle to keep it open. But over the past 12 months, I’ve become increasingly worried about three new trends, which I believe we must tackle in order for the web to fulfill its true potential as a tool which serves all of humanity.

1)   We’ve lost control of our personal data

The current business model for many websites offers free content in exchange for personal data. Many of us agree to this – albeit often by accepting long and confusing terms and conditions documents – but fundamentally we do not mind some information being collected in exchange for free services. But, we’re missing a trick. As our data is then held in proprietary silos, out of sight to us, we lose out on the benefits we could realise if we had direct control over this data, and chose when and with whom to share it. What’s more, we often do not have any way of feeding back to companies what data we’d rather not share – especially with third parties – the T&Cs are all or nothing.

This widespread data collection by companies also has other impacts. Through collaboration with – or coercion of – companies, governments are also increasingly watching our every move online, and passing extreme laws that trample on our rights to privacy. In repressive regimes, it’s easy to see the harm that can be caused – bloggers can be arrested or killed, and political opponents can be monitored. But even in countries where we believe governments have citizens’ best interests at heart, watching everyone, all the time is simply going too far. It creates a chilling effect on free speech and stops the web from being used as a space to explore important topics, like sensitive health issues, sexuality or religion.

2)   It’s too easy for misinformation to spread on the web

Today, most people find news and information on the web through just a handful of social media sites and search engines. These sites make more money when we click on the links they show us. And, they choose what to show us based on algorithms which learn from our personal data that they are constantly harvesting. The net result is that these sites show us content they think we’ll click on – meaning that misinformation, or ‘fake news’, which is surprising, shocking, or designed to appeal to our biases can spread like wildfire. And through the use of data science and armies of bots, those with bad intentions can game the system to spread misinformation for financial or political gain.

3)   Political advertising online needs transparency and understanding

Political advertising online has rapidly become a sophisticated industry. The fact that most people get their information from just a few platforms and the increasing sophistication of algorithms drawing upon rich pools of personal data, means that political campaigns are now building individual adverts targeted directly at users. One source suggests that in the 2016 US election, as many as 50,000 variations of adverts were being served every single day on Facebook, a near-impossible situation to monitor. And there are suggestions that some political adverts – in the US and around the world – are being used in unethical ways – to point voters to fake news sites, for instance, or to keep others away from the polls. Targeted advertising allows a campaign to say completely different, possibly conflicting things to different groups. Is that democratic?

These are complex problems, and the solutions will not be simple. But a few broad paths to progress are already clear. We must work together with web companies to strike a balance that puts a fair level of data control back in the hands of people, including the development of new technology like personal “data pods” if needed and exploring alternative revenue models like subscriptions and micropayments. We must fight against government over-reach in surveillance laws, including through the courts if necessary. We must push back against misinformation by encouraging gatekeepers such as Google and Facebook to continue their efforts to combat the problem, while avoiding the creation of any central bodies to decide what is “true” or not. We need more algorithmic transparency to understand how important decisions that affect our lives are being made, and perhaps a set of common principles to be followed. We urgently need to close the “internet blind spot” in the regulation of political campaigning.

Our team at the Web Foundation will be working on many of these issues as part of our new five year strategy – researching the problems in more detail, coming up with proactive policy solutions and bringing together coalitions to drive progress towards a web that gives equal power and opportunity to all. I urge you to support our work however you can – by spreading the word, keeping up pressure on companies and governments or by making a donation. We’ve also compiled a directory of other digital rights organisations around the world for you to explore and consider supporting too.

I may have invented the web, but all of you have helped to create what it is today. All the blogs, posts, tweets, photos, videos, applications, web pages and more represent the contributions of millions of you around the world building our online community. All kinds of people have helped, from politicians fighting to keep the web open, standards organisations like W3C enhancing the power, accessibility and security of the technology, and people who have protested in the streets. In the past year, we have seen Nigerians stand up to a social media bill that would have hampered free expression online, popular outcry and protests at regional internet shutdowns in Cameroon and great public support for net neutrality in both India and the European Union.

It has taken all of us to build the web we have, and now it is up to all of us to build the web we want – for everyone.  If you would like to be more involved, then do join our mailing list, do contribute to us, do join or donate to any of the organisations which are working on these issues around the world.

 

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

The Web Foundation is at the forefront of the fight to advance and protect the web for everyone. We believe doing so is essential to reverse growing inequality and empower citizens. You can follow our work by signing up to our newsletter, and find a local digital rights organisation to support here on this list. Additions to the list are welcome and may be sent to contact@webfoundation.org

Please share this letter on Twitter using the hashtag #HappyBirthdayWWW

 

A College Education Can Now Be Found On The Internet for Free


The wealth of knowledge once reserved for the Ivy League Elite is now being released for free on the internet, power to the people! In the beginning information traveled slow, knowledge was confined to a few buildings around the globe that are guarded by high entry fees and standardized test scores. The number of individuals who could gain access to information was kept to a short acceptance list while many were given an Access Denied. But then like a swift kick in the face, the internet came along and changed everything! From media to commerce, the education system is no exception to the tornado that is the world wide web. Where once higher education was reserved for those who could pay the toll, the internet, in all its divinity has endowed us with a free higher education experience for all those who have a connection to the great and powerful Wi-Fi. Here are just a few amazing online institutes that offer free college courses for the good people of planet earth, enjoy and never stop learning! Khan Academy Khan Academy wants to help you learn almost anything for free! Their mission is to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. All of their resources are completely free forever, regardless of whether you’re a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology. EdX EdX is a non-profit created by founding partners Harvard and MIT. Bringing the best of higher education to students around the world, EdX offers MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) and interactive online classes in subjects including law, history, science, engineering, business, social sciences, computer science, public health, and artificial intelligence (AI). Coursera Coursera is an education company that partners with the top universities and organizations in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. Their technology enables their partners to teach millions of students around the world rather than just hundreds. “We envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education that has so far been available to a select few. We aim to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.” MIT OpenCourseWare “The idea is simple: to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone.” -Dick K.P. Yue, Professor, MIT School of Engineering MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) is a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content. OCW is open and available to the world and is a permanent MIT activity. Now the wealth of knowledge from one of the most prestigious technology schools in the world, is now available at your finger tips, without the massive tuition prices and near perfect SAT scores. ALISON ALISON is a two million-strong, global online learning community, filled with free, high-quality resources to help you develop essential, certified workplace skills. “Our mission at ALISON is simple: to enable you, wherever you are in the world, to learn and get certified new skills – at your own pace – using our free, interactive, multimedia.” There are over 500 free courses for you to choose from at ALISON. Every course is standards-based and certified, which means bragging rights with family and friends, an edge in your first job or new job, and inspiration to be all you can be. Bookboon.com Bookboon.com originates from Denmark, out of Ventus Publishing, established in 1988. Ever since it was founded, the company has focused on publishing education related books for business professionals and students. In 2005 the company made a strategic leap and became the first book publishing company in the world to focus 100% on free eBooks. Ever since, the company has been aiming to set new standards in the world of modern publishing based on the readers’ needs. Open Yale Courses Open Yale Courses (OYC) provides lectures and other materials from selected Yale College courses to the public free of charge via the Internet. The courses span the full range of liberal arts disciplines, including humanities, social sciences, and physical and biological sciences. It is important to note that for now, the majority of these places like do not offer college credit nor a degree, but it brings up a very interesting question. In the pursuit of knowledge is a degree really the only thing that matters? If you learn a skill or trade is proof by action not enough, or does the piece of paper need to be acquired. There are many people in possession of high degrees because they are good at going to school but are still quite incompetent. Too much emphasis is put on the degree and not enough on actual skills,talents and knowledge. I don’t know about you, but if i learned how to build a Zero-Point Energy Fuel System from MIT, I’m gonna build that Zero-point Energy Fuel System. It is the experience and knowledge you learn along the way, not the piece of paper at the end of the gift shop that says “you where here” that matters. Let your actions speak louder than a degree.

Happy 25th Birthday, World Wide Web!


Twenty-five years ago on March 12, 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, wrote a paper proposing the system now known as the World Wide Web. (Left: 25 Years logo courtesy Marketing Magazine UK.) It was originally conceived and developed as an improved means for instantaneous information-sharing between scientists around the world.

From DOD’s ARPANet to an Internet

The Internet itself had actually started as a creation of the U.S. Government’s Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) together with U.S. universities. It was in response to the Cold War need for a backup communications method in case the traditional phone networks were knocked out. The resulting mainframe-to-mainframe computer network in 1969 was called ARPANet, the foundation for today’s Internet. (Read the History Channel’s history of the invention of the Internet here.) Soon, other organizations, mostly universities and military, created their own private networks. When the University College in London and the Royal Radar Establishment in Norway) connected to ARPANET in 1973, the term Internet was born.

In 1974, the first Internet Service Provider (ISP) was launched with the introduction of a commercial version of ARPANET, known as Telenet, thus expanding the availability of the Internet. After the introduction of a new protocol called TCP/IP by computer scientists Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn (called “The Fathers of the Internet”) in 1974, diverse computer networks could easily interconnect with each other, transforming the “Internet” into a truly global network by the end of the 1970s.

However, by 1990, frustrated CERN scientists were using the text-only Internet with its bulletin boards and limited mainframe messaging, but it was not user-friendly for either the end users or the publishers of content.

From a text-only Internet to a graphical World Wide Web

After Berners-Lee’s proposal received the go-ahead from his boss at CERN, he went on to write software in his spare time, creating the first World Wide Web server (“httpd”) and the first web client “WorldWideWeb.”

This “World Wide Web browser” was a WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) hypertext browser/editor that would install on their client (end user) computers, providing them with the first graphical interface for accessing Internet content (think of clicking on hyperlinks, viewing  photos and other graphical images, seeing text in different fonts, colors and sizes).

The World Wide Web was launched publicly on August 6, 1991, forever after providing the world a way to “browse the World Wide Web.”

Sir Tim Berners-Lee First World Wide Web Server 1990

Image: This NeXT workstation (a NeXTcube) was used by Sir Tim Berners-Lee in 1990-1 as the first Web server on the World Wide Web. Source: Wikipedia

In a guest blog post today on Google’s official blog, Sir Tim Berners-Lee explains the results of his World Wide Web idea:

In 1993, after much urging, CERN declared that WWW technology would be available to all, without paying royalties, forever.

This decision enabled tens of thousands to start working together to build the web. Now, about 40 percent of us are connected and creating online. The web has generated trillions of dollars of economic value, transformed education and healthcare and activated many new movements for democracy around the world. And we’re just getting started.

So, thank you, Sir Tim! The rest, as they say, is history.

Below is a timeline of Internet history from 1990 to 2007:

Internet timeline including World Wide Web and social media. Courtesy: Harbott.com

Internet timeline including World Wide Web and social media. Courtesy: Harbott.com

GPO’s History on the World Wide Web

GPO is joining in the celebration by commemorating our own moments in World Wide Web history:

1993:    The Government Printing Office Electronic Information Access Enhancement Act of 1993 was enacted (Public Law 103-40).

1994:    GPO Access launched (available by subscription; free to Federal depository libraries)

1995:    GPO Access became free to all users.

1995:    GPO began selling Government publications online with its “Sales Product Catalog” (now the site known as the U.S. Government Bookstore)

1996:    GPO’s Federal Depository Library Program Web site, “FDLP Administration,” launched (later named the FDLP Desktop and nowFDLP.gov)

2000:    GPO’s kids’ site, Ben’s Guide to U.S. Government, launched.

Image: Home page of Ben's Guide to U.S. Government for Kids as of March 12, 2014.

Image: Home page of Ben’s Guide to U.S. Government for Kids as of March 12, 2014.

2006:    The Catalog of U.S. Government Publications, launched.

2009:    GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys) launched.

2010:    GPO entered the world of social media, first with the launch of its YouTube Channel.

2013:      GPO relaunches its newly redesigned U.S. Government Bookstore ecommerce site at http://bookstore.gpo.gov/.

BEFORE (U.S. Government Online Bookstore 2000):

US_ Government_Online Bookstore_Wayback-Machine_20000708

Image: Snapshot of the home page of the U.S. Government Online Bookstore http://bookstore.gpo.gov/ as of July 8, 2000. Source: Internet Archive Wayback Machine http://archive.org/web/

AFTER (U.S. Government Online Bookstore today in 2014):

Image: Today's U.S. Government Online Bookstore home page as of March 12, 2014.

Image: Today’s U.S. Government Online Bookstore home pagehttp://bookstore.gpo.gov/ as of March 12, 2014.

To see how your favorite websites looked in years past, visit the Internet Archive Wayback Machine at http://archive.org/web/ which archives snapshots of web pages since the World Wide Web launched.

Federal Publications for the Digital Age

The U.S. Government Online Bookstore carries a number of Federal publications that highlight the triumphs and the challenges of the digital age.

A History of Army Communications and Electronics at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, 1917-2007 (Hardcover) or Ebook  ISBN: 9780160813597 or 9780160869105One interesting read is, “A History of Army Communications and Electronics at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, 1917-2007 (Hardcover) and eBook.” This book details ninety years of communications-electronics achievements carried out by the scientists, engineers, logisticians and support staff at Fort Monmouth, NJ. It’s a fascinating read, as it details communications ranging from homing pigeons to frequency hopping tactical radios!

YouTube War: Fighting in a World of Cameras in Every Cell Phone and Photoshop on Every Computer by US Army War College & Strategic Studies InstituteAlso check out “YouTube War: Fighting in a World of Cameras in Every Cell Phone and Photoshop on Every Computer,” from the U.S. Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute. This publication discusses the digital environment in which we live that enables terrorists to film and instantly share their attacks within minutes of staging them. It also describes possible courses of action for the Army and the U.S. military as they seek to respond to an enemy in this type of environment.

Computers Take Flight: A History of NASA's Pioneering Digital Fly-by-wire Project ISBN: 9780160914423You might also be interested in, “Computers Take Flight: A History Of NASA’s Pioneering Digital Fly-by-wire Project.” This book details the flight research project which validated the principal concepts of all-electric flight control systems now used on nearly all modern high-performance aircraft and on military and civilian transports.

These, and a wide array of other interesting publications on related topics, can be found by browsing the U.S. Government Bookstore under the “Computers and Electronics” category. In addition, the World Wide Web has made obtaining eBooks possible, so our wide selection of free and/or inexpensive eBooks for consumers, industry, academia, military, law enforcement, legal community and more would be worth viewing as well.