Weaving the Web

December 16, 2021

Because it was Nutcracker Week, I spent many nights driving downtown to pick up my daughter after rehearsal or her performances. It also meant that I was sitting around in my car in a parking lot behind the theatre not knowing exactly when she would be finished. I decided to pass the time productively by listening to some podcasts. I also took time to listen to the audiobook of Weaving the Web, by Tim Berners-Lee.

I had recently seen someone mention it in a post. I have also been listening to Jay Hoffman’s Web History. I thought it would be fun to go to the original source. Weaving the Web tells the story of the Web’s origins. The audiobook I listened to was read by the author. I felt like I was sitting in a room with Tim Berners-Lee and he was personally telling me the story. Much of it was familiar as other sources I have read must have used this book as source material.

Much of the book’s material covers the history of the Web before I got involved with building websites in 1999. I was first introduced to the Web at Kansas State University when I reported for my first assignment with Campus Crusade for Christ. I would visit one of many computer labs on campus to access email for the first time and from time to time, surf the Web.

At first, it was more of an entertainment and curiosity thing. Later I started utilizing some different sites to download resources that helped me in my job or read articles. It was two years before I got a computer and signed up for a Compuserve account so that I could use the Web from the comfort of my home and without a time limit (because there were always people at the computer lab waiting to use a computer).

I have lived much of the Web’s history. But the origin of the Web was something I was less familiar with. I am always struck with amazement as I learn the stories of how things came about. And no less so than with the story of how the Web came to be. The Web was shaped by Tim who has a very practical need to be able to organize and recall information about people and projects at Cern. It is fascinating how his father had ideas about how to make computers more like the human brain in making connections between two distinct sources of information. And how Tim talked with his father about that and it planted a seed.

I enjoyed hearing about Tim’s different experiments which eventually led to using hypertext markup, the foundation of the Web. And to see how the right players came in at the right time to help develop software or to come alongside Berners-Lee to help him communicate and promote the Web. And to see how the Web was able to develop apart from commercial interests and be accessible to everyone, which is still something that has to be fought for. I am really glad that I listened to this book and learned more about the platform that has changed our lives and been so central to my employment over the last 20 years.

In the last chapter of the book, Tim shared some thoughts about the future of the Web. He talked about it being more of a collaboration tool, which was his original vision. I would really enjoy getting to hear his thoughts on how the Web today, 21 years later, has fulfilled or fallen short of the ideas that he shared in that last chapter.

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