Internet Roots

photo of John Michael Pierobon By: John Michael Pierobon

The Interstate network of highways was created in the 1950s as a defense project. The Internet also got started as a defense project. The United States Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in the early 1970s was very interested in networking computers to be able to couple the compute power of several computers. Originally it linked only four universities. Today the Internet links millions of computer around the globe.

These two military projects have become the key infrastructure to a growing economy in peace time. They have been useful way beyond their original intent. The same is true about the World Wide Web.

The World Wide Web was originally conceived by Tim Berners-Lee, a British chap who was working at CERN, the European Physics Research Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland. CERN is a place where scientists go work on projects for a couple of years, finish their projects and leave. Berners-Lee found out that many scientists would work on their projects and when they were done they discovered they had reinvented the wheel for another scientist had done the exact same research years ago and had filed his findings in the CERN archives. The information was there, but it was not readily accessible.

Tim Berners-Lee also realized that he was "terrible at names and faces." So he wrote a program that linked pictures with information about the person in the picture, such that when one clicked on the picture, a short data sheet would reveal key information such as name, address, telephone number, etc. He called the program "Enquire".

Put the two together, Enquire, and the need to find research information, and you have the beginnings of the World Wide Web. Fortunately, there were some other ingredients in place to round thing out, such as the Internet, the File Transfer Protocol (FTP), and the concept of hypertext and a mark-up language. Berners-Lee used these to build HTML (HyperText Mark-up Language), HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol), and a system to address documents called URL (Uniform Resource Locator).

A couple of other factors had to happen for the World Wide Web to take off. One key thing was ownership. If Tim Berners-Lee was to retain ownership of it, then everyone would have to ask his permission to use it, and that could cost money. So he made it free and publically available. He gave it away!

The other factor was the advent of forms in HTML. Forms in web browsers allow people to interact with their computer. HTML forms allow us query the web for information we are seeking and enter data into data bases. Without forms, Yahoo!,, and other Internet companies would not exist.

Today Tim Berners-Lee is the head of the World Wide Web Consortium, and the World Wide Web is by far the fastest growing part of the Internet.

John Michael Pierobon is an Internet consultant based in Fort Lauderdale.
John Michael may be reached by sending electronic mail to

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