History of the World Wide Web

Understanding the evolution of the web is crucial to helping one appreciate the how far the World Wide Web has come from, and what the future holds for this impressive piece of technology. This chapter takes you through the history of Web 1.0, Web 2.0, and Web 3.0 (semantic powered web).

Web 1.0

The origin of the World Wide Web begins with Web 1.0, which comprises completely of Web pages which are inter-linked to each other by hyperlinks. Although experts do not have a standard definition for Web 1.0, it is generally agreed that it refers to era when static websites were the order of the day, and the idea of interactive content had not yet been conceived (Special, 2011).

Even though the Internet has been in existence for at least two decades, the 60s and 80s, it had to wait until 1990 when legendary Tim Berners-Lee and his friend Robert Cailliau first came up with the idea of the Web, writing a letter on this new vision to their employer CERN (a research organization) (Brian, 2007). Their intention at this time was to utilize hyper-text as a way of linking and accessing different kinds of information as a Web of nodes, making it possible for users to browse freely. (Note: this is the first time the word ‘browse’ was associated with the Internet. Today, browsing is associated with the act of scrolling through a Web page, moving from one Web page to the next, aided by a set of hyperlinks) (Brian, 2007).

It was in the same year that Berners-Lee introduced the world to the World Wide Web browser, a mandatory requirement for viewing the young Web. But this browser wasn’t that powerful, and by 1993, NCSA launched Mosaic, a more capable browser which led to a sudden rise in the popularity of the Web in various fields. The one thing about Mosaic is that the academic circles were the main beneficiaries, but in 1994, Netscape Navigator was released, purely inspired by Mosaic (Gabriel, 2011). The new browser was able to captivate the attention of many people from all walks of life as opposed to just the academicians.

Prior to the onset of Web 1.0, the Internet had a wide range of services. Unfortunately, finding and using such services was a difficult task due to a number of factors included: steep learning curve, complexity of the software used, and the many protocols, formats, and standards at play. Among these services that were around before Web include FTP, Email, Name/Finger, and Gopher. Development of Web 1.0 is based on all these earlier services. The only difference is that the technology emerged as a more advanced platform, providing some form of standardization when you want to interact with information. Furthermore, it gets rid of unnecessary complexities, making it more accessible to the general public (Wikipedia, n.d.).

By linking various documents, the Web was made to look like an electronic library for all those who had a phone line or a computer. As opposed to the librarians, Web users had a series of link directories (Yahoo) and popular search engines of those days like AltaVista, Lycos, and WebCrawler, which directed one’s maneuvers on the Internet. By the end of the 90s, a host of web-based services had been introduced to make access to email much easier (Wikipedia, n.d.). Yahoo and Hotmail were the dominant platforms around this time, making the usage of email to extend beyond the confines of the academic circles.

Web 1.0 became a trend in which websites would be specifically designed in given screen sizes, with tables, and their functioning was browser-dependent. There were pointless animated icons and uncontrolled background sounds which would replay every time you got to a new page view. Even though this period saw the emergence of countless sites integrating animation technology, many of these sites appeared to be of poor usability and the content was never prioritized (Gabriel, 2011). The reason as to why Web 1.0 remained an amateur was the fact that there was a shortage of persons qualified to come up with user-friendly websites. This industry was completely young, and lacked the ability of satisfying visitor’s technical preconditions or needs.

Web 2.0

Since Web 1.0 proved to be quite limiting, researchers started imagining the possibility of people being able to interact with the content provided by various websites. This set the stage for the creation of Web 2.0. Emerging at the onset of the new century, the participatory Web was focused on making it possible for one to publish content, share other people’s content, comment and socialize online, hence the name “Social Web.” Web standards were developed, the most notable one being RSS (Really Simple Syndication) which made it possible for one to subscribe to content without necessarily providing their email addresses (Special, 2011). This is a period that saw the origin of the so-called mashups – creating something new by re-using one or more external services. A trend emerged whereby publishers would embed content from other places, say adding YouTube or Google Maps content on your website.

The growth of the Web at this time was so rapid that publishers found it economically viable to dedicate ample time on user experience, rather than just keep their websites up and running. Many now took interest in a career in Web design, and many of the top ranking websites were those which had been designed in a thoughtful manner. The rapid growth of Web 2.0 was fueled by the fact that 1 out of 3 persons in the developed world could access the Internet, taking advantage of content published on the Web. 7% of the world’s population also had accessed (Wikipedia, n.d.).

The move from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 was largely fueled by technological changes on the Internet which made it easier to develop content in a more flexible manner, and also opened accessibility to this content. Some of these changes included AJAX, advanced browsers, broadband Internet, and countless widgets. Web 2.0 makes applications more open source hence users have the upper hand when it comes to influencing the web (Wikipedia, n.d.).

Web 2.0 opened doors for the ability to make money out of one’s website, leading to a situation where publishers sought to harness data on the number of visits they had over a certain period of time. With these measurements, the payment systems would be simplified, navigation structures optimized, and the popularity of news monitored. In addition to it having social values, Web 2.0 also had the highest functionalities, indicated by the decreasing need to install a given program on your computer. There are countless online-based services that have successfully replaced or augmented numerous office applications.

There are many elements that came with Web 2.0, including: floating advertisements, search suggestions, streaming video, Maps, Social feeds, search fields at a Web page’s top, and Flash. Advertisements are particularly seen as the incentive to make Web 2.0 work for all, as many companies seek to market their products via the web while websites seek to become the preferred marketing platforms. And as ad servers attempted to take charge, there are those who developed ad blockers so that users would not be interrupted by unnecessary popups.

Web 2.0 was more like giving power back to the people. This era led to a situation where end-users create and receive information. This is a time when Encyclopaedia Britannica got replaced by Wikipedia. Many changes took place, which led to the imagination and desire that the Web can be made to do more, thus the motivation to innovate into Web 3.0.

Web 3.0, Semantic Powered Web

When we talk of Web 3.0, we are talking of the Now and the Future. We already have an understanding of the transition from static Web 1.0 to interactive Web 2.0, and out of that, we are able to distill what Web 3.0 is all about. As a semantic powered web, Web 3.0 is more of an adjustment of the manner in which the creation of websites happens and how they interact.

Some are of the opinion that Web 3.0 is already here with us, citing a few signs. However, it must be noted that the shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 happened over a 10-year period, and so we shouldn’t expect Web 3.0 to be any different (Techopedia, n.d.). The fact that Web 2.0 has influenced a bigger percentage of our daily lives and more people have access to the Internet now than before may make this transition longer. So whether you believe we are there or not, the fact remains that the old state of the Web is not the same and is headed somewhere, likely to the third generation of Semantic Web where machine-readable content can be accessed via the web.

The exact time when this trend began remains a dispute, but it should be around 2008 when Micro-formats took over Web development. Web 3.0 is all about relevance, meaning, and knowledge in which case user’s needs and personal perspective are at the center of Web design. It is all about personalization, in which case services can adapt to a specific user. But for that to happen, machines ought to have that machine-machine communicating power.

Predicting what Web 3.0 will look like in the future is purely a guessing game. The few clues we have of what the future holds rely on how the Web is being used now. As much as a lot of guesswork is involved, there are some scenarios like marketing and artificial intelligence which give us an idea of what to expect (Nations, 2018).

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