On Twitter the other day, Justin Hall wrote:
hah! 18 years ago today, I posted my home page on the public web; here’s a 27 January 1994 version bit.ly/AraMW0
Eighteen years! That’s quite something. For reference, Justin’s site links.net is generally acknowledged to be the web’s first blog, before John Barger coined the term “weblog” (or Peter coined the more common contraction).
If you go right back to the start of links.net, Justin explains that he was inspired to start publishing online by a 1993 article in the New York Times—he has kept a copy on his site. What’s fascinating about the article is that, although it’s talking about the growth of the World Wide Web, it focuses on the rising popularity of Mosaic:
A new software program available free to companies and individuals is helping even novice computer users find their way around the global Internet, the network of networks that is rich in information but can be baffling to navigate.
From a journalistic point of view, this makes a lot of sense: focusing on the interface to the web, rather than trying to explain the more abstract nature of the web itself is a good human-centric approach. When the author does get around to writing about the web, there’s a lot that must be explained for the audience of the time:
With hypertext, highlighted key words and images are employed to point a user to related sources of information.
“I realized that if everyone had the same information as me, my life would be easier,” Mr. Berners-Lee said.
From a small electronic community of physicists, the World-Wide Web has grown into an international system of data base “server” computers offering diverse information.
Links, servers, the World Wide Web …these were actually pretty tricky concepts to explain, and unlikely to elicit excitement. But explaining the browser gets straight to the heart of how it felt to surf the web:
Mosaic lets computer users simply click a mouse on words or images on their computer screens to summon text, sound and images from many of the hundreds of data bases on the Internet that have been configured to work with Mosaic.
Click the mouse: there’s a NASA weather movie taken from a satellite high over the Pacific Ocean. A few more clicks, and one is reading a speech by President Clinton, as digitally stored at the University of Missouri. Click-click: a sampler of digital music recordings as compiled by MTV. Click again, et voila: a small digital snapshot reveals whether a certain coffee pot in a computer science laboratory at Cambridge University in England is empty or full.
These days we take it for granted that we have the ability to surf around from website to website (and these days we do so on many more devices). I think it’s good to remember just how remarkable that ability is.
Thanks, Tim Berners-Lee for dreaming up the web. Thanks, Marc Andreessen for giving us a tool to navigate the web. Thanks, Justin Hall for publishing on the web.