Twenty-five years ago, the World Wide Web was just an idea in a technical paper from an obscure, young computer scientist at a European physics lab.
That idea from Tim Berners-Lee at the CERN lab in Switzerland, outlining a way to easily access files on linked computers, paved the way for a global phenomenon that has touched the lives of billions of people.
He presented the paper on March 12, 1989, which history has marked as the birthday of the Web.
However, the idea was so bold, it almost did not happen.
“There was a tremendous amount of hubris in the project at the beginning,” said Marc Weber, creator and curator of the Internet history program at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley.
“Tim Berners-Lee proposed it out of the blue, unrequested,” he added.
At first, Weber said, the CERN colleagues “completely ignored the proposal.”
The US military began studying the idea of connected computer networks in the 1950s and in 1969 launched Arpanet, the forerunner to the Internet. However, the World Wide Web was just one of several ideas to connect the public.
Berners-Lee convinced CERN to adopt his system, demonstrating its usefulness by compiling a lab telephone book into an online index.
A key aspect of the design put forward by Berners-Lee was that it worked across various computer operating systems. And it offered the ability to click on links to access files hosted on computers located elsewhere.
The Web was not a winner out of the gate. There were rival online services such as US-based CompuServe and France’s Minitel, but they involved fees, while Berners-Lee’s system was free.
“It started as a real underdog; no one would have predicted the system would have succeeded,” Weber said.
The Gopher system owned by the University of Minnesota was beating the Web in the early 1990s.
Weber credited former US vice president Al Gore with helping the Web topple Gopher by getting government agencies in Washington to use the system.
The launch of the Whitehouse.gov Web site was seen as a huge stamp of approval for the Web.
In 1993, the Web system was released free into the public, while those behind Gopher started charging, according to Weber.
“Most people don’t realize that both the Web and the Internet had competitors,” Weber said.
“Had they lost the battles, we would still be going online, but it could certainly be different, a lot more top-down control, like Facebook’s walled garden,” he said.
Web competitors were online environments controlled by operators.
Under the Berners-Lee model, people were free to publish what they wished on Internet-linked computers.
Internet titans such as Google and Yahoo were built on helping people find pages of interest as the amount of information being hosted on servers exploded.
“At its birth, many of us were guilty of a lack of imagination and just didn’t see what the Web would do to the future,” Gartner analyst Michael McGuire said.
“The personal computer changed the way we work, but it was the Web that disrupted and changed a lot of industries,” he said.
The ability to freely access files on the Web has shaken traditional business models in music, film, news and more.
“The Internet pushes power to the edges,” said Jim Dempsey, vice president for public policy at the US-based Center for Democracy and Technology.
“Anybody can be a listener and anybody can be a publisher on the same network; there has never been anything like it,” Dempsey said.
A powerful underlying tenet of the Web is that it is egalitarian and open, but those principles are under threat, according to Dempsey.
It remains to be seen whether the Web is hobbled with regulations and fragmented by governments walling off portions in countries.
“You will never stop the teenage kid from watching little snippets of cute cats,” Dempsey said.
“The trouble is you could limit the ability of people to criticize the government or make a tiered Internet in which it is harder for innovators, critics or human rights activists to reach a global audience,” he added.
Threats to a Web based on equality concern its creators, according to Weber.
While the Web unified the Internet decades ago, there is nothing “written in stone” saying it cannot fragment anew, the historian said.
In the US, major Internet service providers have won the right to give some online traffic preferential treatment and governments have shown willingness to invade online privacy or restrain Web freedom.
A big battle for the shape of the Web could be the effect of billions more people getting online with smartphones in parts of developing parts of the world.
“The Web is really only half built; it is not worldwide yet,” Weber said.
NEW CONSIDERATIONS: An airline manager said the idea is tempting, as demand for air cargo is strong, but issues such as training loaders would need to be addressed Taiwanese airlines might repurpose passenger jets to carry cargo in their cabins to offset lost revenue amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Airlines are considering applying to the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) for permission to transport cargo in passenger cabins after StarLux Airlines Co (星宇航空) last month became the first among the nation’s airlines to offer cargo-only flights using the normal cargo holds of its three Airbus SE A321neo passenger jets. “We are considering whether to increase our capacity by putting cargo on passenger seats,” Starlux spokesman Nieh Kuo-wei (聶國維) told the Taipei Times by telephone. “The advantage is that we can improve revenue,
GLOBAL CUTS: CEO Warren East said the firm’s focus was on strengthening financial resilience, so it would likely reduce salary costs by at least 10% this year Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC is scrapping its targets and final dividend to shore up its finances as the British aero-engine maker’s customers around the world ground planes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rolls-Royce, one of Britain’s most historic industrial names, which before the pandemic struck was trying to emerge from a multiyear turnaround plan, has suspended its dividend for the first time since 1987. The company’s engines power Airbus SE and Boeing Co’s widebody jets, but more than 60 percent of that fleet is now grounded, according to aviation data provider Cirium. Rolls-Royce is paid by airlines based on how many hours they fly. Over
PAINFUL CONTRACTION: Passenger loads in February on flights between Taiwan and China, Hong Kong and Macau fell by more than 90 percent compared with December Even with more than NT$450 billion (US$14.85 billion) in financial aid from the Executive Yuan’s expanded relief package, local tourism-related businesses are unlikely to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic any time soon, a central bank report released last month said. The NT$1.05 trillion relief package includes NT$472 billion in financial assistance for tourism and transportation sectors, such as airlines, hotels, travel agencies, taxis and tour buses. However, a March 20 central bank report said that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on global and domestic economies are far greater than that of the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic, despite any benefits from delayed purchases
Taiwan’s GDP growth would slow to 0.2 percent this year as the COVID-19 pandemic would hurt the economy more severely than the government’s expanded relief measures could cover, Moody’s Investors Service said yesterday. Moody’s said that the pandemic’s effect on the economy has escalated from a temporary supply-side disruption of cross-strait trade to a global economic downturn. “The outbreak has evolved into a serious demand shock to Taiwan’s economy externally and domestically as the health crisis has swept the globe,” it said in a report. Taiwan is highly exposed to a global downturn because of its reliance on trade and cyclical industries. Export