As August 1st was World Wide Web Day, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at its history, future and some of the things we need to be aware of.
Born out of the vision of British computer scientist, Sir Tim Berners-Lee in the late 20th century the web has evolved into a vast network of interconnected services, documents and platforms that shape our day to day lives. Whilst it presents untold opportunities, the truth is that not all of them are positive.
Initially, Berners-Lee conceived the web as a way of sharing information between researchers at CERN, Europe’s organisation for nuclear research. Using something called hypertext, they could link documents together with hyperlinks. Thus allowing different researchers to easily access other scientists’ work or share their findings with colleagues. However, it soon became clear that this application of technology could be expanded beyond CERN, the potential for scientific collaboration was too great to remain the sole property of one organisation. It would allow scientists across the globe to participate in the same research and studies more effectively.
Naturally, it wasn’t long before someone saw the commercial opportunities presented by a system of interconnected services. Why shouldn’t businesses and governments have access to the same form of information sharing as research scientists? So, the early 1990s saw the arrival of the first, basic web browsers. No Google in sight, the early market was dominated by Microsoft with Netscape Navigator and another browser called Mosaic. These enabled individuals to explore connected web pages. The first commercial websites appeared and a process of standardising helped the web explode. As the 1990s moved on, some of us may remember the advent of the likes of America Online (AOL) or AskJeeves (for those who don’t know, AskJeeves was the Google of the era).
The 2000s saw a new world wide web emerge with user-generated content, social media and interactive web applications. Wikipedia, YouTube and Facebook all emerged in this era and redefined the capabilities of the web.
As we drift closer to the middle of the 21st century, the web is still evolving. We face a future where the web is more interlinked than ever, a vision of a more intelligent web that can interpret data. Of course, the integration of artificial intelligence has already begun and this will see the web becoming more personalised. Extended, augmented and virtual reality will transform how we behave with web pages and browsers, perhaps allowing us to interact with digital content on the page itself. The so-called Internet of Things continues to expand as well, allowing us to integrate more of our devices.
We end on some words of caution and some tips for using the web, whether in a professional or personal context.
1. Check your privacy information – utilise privacy settings on internet browsers, apps, social media, and websites to limit the information that is available to anyone who shouldn’t have access to it.
2. Browse smart – avoid links that ask for personal information or that claim to come from your bank, a delivery company or other trusted source. Always verify messages like this by contacting those organisations or companies independently.
3. Apps – Don’t download apps from unofficial sites or if it looks suspicious, it could be malware.
4. Look for https – especially when shopping online as the ‘s’ at the end of the word means it is secure and encrypted. Using sites that don’t have web addresses beginning with https could compromise your payment or personal information.
5. Remember the basics – keep software up to date, use multi-factor authentication or two-step verification, use strong and separate passwords, especially for things like email (using a password manager can help).