Twenty-five years ago, when the World Wide Web was on the drafting board, I had a tough time trying to explain to friends and relatives what the Internet was and why I was working with it. “Global network” meant nothing to the average citizen. Now, at least, most people understand that the Internet is the thing they need in order to use the World Wide Web, and they know they want (or need) that to carry out many of their personal and professional activities (and to get cat videos). As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web, it’s worth reflecting on the ways in which the Web’s transformation of our lives, in such a short timeframe, really demonstrates how Internet technology matters!
The Web is the poster child for the “permission-free innovation” that the Internet has enabled. Sir Tim Berners-Lee did not have to ask a central authority whether or not he could write a client-server hypertext system. He wrote it; others who found the possibilities interesting downloaded clients and servers and started using it.
It also highlights the value of a global fabric for the Internet. While the WWW was created in Switzerland, it didn’t remain circumscribed by any nation’s borders. Soon, servers were cropping up all over the globe, and clients could connect from anywhere to any server. You can’t have that sort of effect without a single naming system (the domain name system) and globally accessible server addresses.
And, it has flourished, beyond the original imaginings of its creator, because the specifications for its technologies have been established and advanced through open standards processes — HTML at the W3C (turning 20 this year!) and HTTP through the IETF. These open standards have allowed diversity of implementations and harnessed the technical expertise of engineers around the world to improve and extend the standards and the software implementations of them.
That’s a lot of impact from one Internet application. The real question for the Internet of today is: can we still, today, develop and deploy such an impactful technology on the Internet, such that we’ll look back in 25 years with similar amazement? I am confident that the world’s developers have the imagination to create such an application – what can we do to ensure the Internet remains a platform for ensuring the results can flourish?