Reactions to "Weaving the Web"

Chapters 5-8: The Spread of the Web

Barbara Chu

Like a snowball rolling down a mountain, the World Wide Web started getting rolling slowly, picking up momentum, and snowballing down the mountain. At the end of the fourth chapter of Weaving the Web the World Wide Web was a small community of users. The constraining factor that held the group from becoming huge at this point was the fact that there existed only a browser for the NeXT machine. The PC's, Unix, and Macintosh all needed a program that could simplify navigation of the World Wide Web in order to spread to these machines.

Erwise was the next browser released on the World Wide Web. Erwise was developed at the Helsinki University of Technology. The reasoning behind the name was because the department that the students were working under was "OTH" (OTH + Erwise = "Otherwise"). It was written for use on a Unix machine running X-Windows. This was the last project the students did together before finishing their degrees, and unfortunately had no intention of expanding their browser to be an editor as well.

Around the same time another browser came to rise for the X-Windows Unix machines. The name of the browser was ViolaWWW and was developed by Pei Wei. ViolaWWW was very complicated to install because not only did you have to install the program itself, but the base language that it is written in called Viola. This browser was very advanced though. ViolaWWW was capable of displaying HTML with graphics, do animations, and download applets off the Internet.

With the rise of these new browsers, Tim's partner, whose name is Robert, started to design a browser for his Macintosh computer called Samba. Nicola Pellow, who had formerly helped Tim and Robert in their search for a universal browser, helped Robert's design through and basically got it working.

The National Center for Supercomputing Applications was the home to two programmers, Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina, who created a browser for X-Windows called Mosaic. Mosaic was easy to download, easy to install, and was basically just point and click navigation of the web. Later, these two and other NCSA programmers left to form their own company, which they called Mosaic, but had to change their name. They are now known as Netscape Communications.

As the number of browsers was increasing, so was the number of servers. Although most would e-mail Tim to let him know of their server, some would not and would just set it up. This worried Tim because he had envisioned a sort of organization to the web. In order to keep organization, Tim envisioned having a consortium, a group that would steer the development of the web in the right direction. Eventually Tim got the consortium started with one location in MIT, and the other in CERN. Their first conference was located at CERN. They limited registration up to three hundred, but ended up having three hundred and fifty people. At this conference Tim stated that with the Web comes responsibility; the Web development community had to be ethically and morally aware of what they were doing.

Emily de Ayora

These chapters of Weaving the Web were interesting, especially towards the end as Berners-Lee started to talk about things that I actually recognize and remember happening. One thing that is focused on in these chapters is the evolution of the web browser, something that I find particularly interesting, as we so take browsers for granted today. It is also fascinating that in the beginning there were all of these different browsers being developed by students and companies across the world, and today there are really two hugely popular browsers, with a few minor ones on the side.

Berners-Lee talks a lot about the community of web aficionados – those researchers who were especially interested in the web and its development. It is easy to imagine the people who got the ball rolling on the web, all meeting together to develop this thing that is now so central and necessary in the every day life of many in this world. Berners-Lee does not talk a lot about conflict within this community, except for a few passages regarding Marc Andreessen, and this comes as a surprise to me. Berners-Lee meant for the web to take on a life of its own, and I am surprised that what did occur followed a course that he found pleasant and in the best interest of his ideals for the world wide web and its affect on the world.

I also didn’t realize how quickly the web went from being an ideal, to being used by a small group of researchers, to being used by many people across the world through the help of universities, ISP’s, and companies like Netscape and AOL. This book reads like history, which it is – but it is truly different to read about history and think of oneself as part of it. Considering the relative youth of the World Wide Web, and the fact that I remember first using it, to read about its evolution is just different.

Berners-Lee does a good job of giving a lot of technical and bureaucratic information about how groups were formed, how different coalitions and companies came to be – but he does it without being boring or conceited. You can tell how excited he was about the prospect of his idea taking form. Considering the web is now considered a very basic part of life for many people, it is helpful and also eye opening to see that groups of really intelligent, bright, and ambitious people had to come together and pool their knowledge of fledgling computer science in order for the internet and the World Wide Web to serve the world as it does today.

Marcela De Vivo

In these chapters it is apparent that TBL had succeeded in accomplishing most of his technological goals for the Web. Browsers were being created and made accessible to the public. More and more servers went online and more people were sharing their information. The causes and conditions had been assembled to make the web mainstream.

However, it was a critical phase of the future of the web - it could've quite easily been fragmented into separate programs and scripts that would've prevented the web from becoming universal. Or it could've remained in academia, all of the pieces of puzzle created but never assembled. Many people were actively creating the web but there was no unifying force or vision - only TBL's eagerness to create a web that was accessible and beneficial to all.

During these chapters TBL noticed that different people were interested in pursuing their own goals, not in furthering the world wide web. He mentions several times that he had a tense interaction with Marc Andresen and people from NCSA. To keep the Web open, international, and free, he convinced CERN to formally renounce any ownership or licensing rights that it might hold in relation to the Web. He founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to attract commercial and non-profit developers, but also to make certain that the Web continued to reflect his vision.

One interesting aspect of all this is how the web functioned to create communities and to connect people in a way that had never been possible. Through email and newsgroups people created strong connections that even surpassed phone conversations because it gave people the space to act differently. Then TBL mentions the excitement of meeting these people that he had been communicating with and the electricity of their first meeting. To me this marks the actual origin of the global village. People would establish these connections over email and usenet and then fly to meet each other, thus blurring the restraints of space and creating virtual communities.

TBL was very committed to this goal of connecting people and creating global communities, in fact this is what he was protecting when he was avidly pursing the creation of the Consortium. And his vision has been realized - one of the web's major successes is in connecting people and exposing them to other aspects of culture and the world. An example of this is, one of the most successful web properties. People can chat through Messenger, attend their parties held in different cities throughout the world, email each other. In a world where it is harder and harder to meet people, the web is serving as a bridge where people can meet virtually, and this is giving rise to all sorts of changes. The impact isn't just social - by connecting minds, it is facilitating inventions, new ideas, and so many projects to be conducted on a global basis.

We are just beginning to see the impact of the web on our society and culture - but already we know it is massive. It's hard to imagine life without the web. So now that it has become completely integrated with our culture and daily lives, we have to wonder about its implications. How is this affecting how we view ourselves, others, and our world? Are our lives richer, or more void and meaningless? These are questions that TBL didn't address and which I think are extremely important to explore.

Dan Driscoll

After the first eight chapters of Berners-Lee's Weaving the Web, it still seems a bit unclear to me why Berners-Lee is credited as the father of the internet. It seems to me that, while the author may have developed what we now call the World Wide Web, the evolution of the Internet as the public tool that it has now become was the fruit of many people's work.

Especially interesting for me were the conflicting ideas of exactly what the Internet should be. Certainly, those with business interests were much more selfish and distrusting of others, while those who saw the Internet as a hobby did not always seem to have any direction to take it in. How could it be that people doubted that the Internet would be a useful tool for anyone except high-tech businesses or academic institutions? On the other hand, if I was asked to support a company such as Andreesen's Mosaic/Netscape, I doubt I would have been confident to invest. It seems to me that the idea of giving away one's product is a bit too far to go, and it is unclear whether that approach has paid off in the long run for Netscape, a company that is basically being cornered out of the market by Microsoft (and evil as Bill Gates' company may be, the tactics Microsoft is using against Netscape are virtually the same ones that Netscape had hoped to use against the rest of the market).

The most bizarre part of the book is what Berners-Lee was actually doing at CERN: was he basically hiding the fact that he was working on his World Wide Web on company time? It seems that he was a valued employee at the Swiss physics giant, but why? The one thing that this book has yet to explain is what Berners-Lee's work was doing for CERN (I realize it earned prestige when the Internet exploded, but while he was working there, it doesn't seem that his work had anything to do with the company's greater mission).

Elliot Lee

The chapters five through eight of "Weaving the Web" could be used as a guide for collaborative efforts. Tim Berners-Lee's travels around the globe and countless meetings leave us with a number of examples as to how groups work or don't work. At times it seems as if everyone involved at a particular meeting has their own individual agenda that is non-negotiable. The squabbling that goes on over minutia is painful at times to read. Luckily, at other times there seems to be some inspirational motivation from out of the morass that actually influences the group to progress.

I find Tim's persistence to be remarkable, yet the strength of his convictions is probably similar to that of those who helped to slow his efforts in the IETF and other such conventions. The tales he recounts show that the issues for any serious undertaking are endless. The playing-field was constantly changing as far as the people involved, the tasks at hand, the technology produced, and the overall goals.

Interestingly enough, Tim does pause to mention his personal life in the midst of everything. His imagery of his French hillside backyard view versus the gray American business existence of his counterparts offers a perspective on the different cultures and lifestyles, that I feel really helps the reader get a sense of things. It especially helps us to humanize this programmer/narrator who is very driven towards this ideal of perfect communication and integration into the worlds of different people.

While Tim pauses to commend the then deputy president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, for his keynote address to the G7, I believe Tim overlooks one of his own analogies as far as helping people to understand the web. Mbeki's statement speaks to the political and economic ramifications of the web and how people should embrace, and integrate themselves through the web. Earlier, Tim mentions how his consortium's efforts are similar to those originally needed for the international telephone system. In this telephony analogy, he shows how a person can plug in anywhere in the world due to a set of previously established standards. This is something we as phone pluggers take for granted. Considering how much the telephone has changed our existence, we can safely assume telephony is a powerful tool. The same may be the case for the Internet/World Wide Web. Given the strength of this new tool, regardless of its use or optimal capabilities, the neutral application across country borders and demographics is essential if we want to maintain some balance of power. The problems of control or abuse of such a thing as the WWW could be theorized by a hypothetical abuse of the phone system. If only key individuals or certain groups had access to phones, the advantage would be tremendous and the result catastrophic to any opposing those groups. The realization of this issue by Tim Berners-Lee and by those who supported him or the effort is the most admirable of actions presented in this book as far as I'm concerned.