Welcome to the World-Wide Web

By Davis, Philip | Computers in Libraries, January 1995 | Go to article overview

Welcome to the World-Wide Web


Davis, Philip, Computers in Libraries


What do Internet gurus, librarians, students, captains of private enterprise, and Al Gore all have in common? They're all talking about the World-Wide Web. Everyone is talking about it, and whether you call it WWW, [W.sup.3] or just the Web, it is the most flexible and intuitive way to navigate the Information Superhighway.

The World-Wide Web (WWW) originated at the European Center for Particle Physics (CERN) laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland. It was conceived in 1989 as a hypertext-based system to facilitate worldwide information sharing among the high-energy physics community.(1)

The idea behind the WWW is that everyone, irrespective of computer platform (DOS, Macintosh, Unix, OS/2) should be able to access information on the network.

In 1991, it became available for the rest of the Internet community. The Web's popularity is due largely to its simplicity and ability to incorporate data from almost any source with little effort, making it an excellent front end to the Internet.(1)

World-Wide Web information resources are a step beyond the world of pure ASCII, and into the world of multimedia. In addition to plain text, documents can contain images, sounds, and movies, creating a world rich with possibilities. The WWW is not exclusive of other Internet resources, but incorporates Gopher, telnet, ftp, WAIS, Usenet news, and other resources, making the Web a place for one-stop Internet shopping.

Unprecedented Success

The Web is undergoing unprecedented success. In 1993 the Web grew by 350,000 percent. By March 1994 at least 100,000 pieces of information located on 26,000 computers were accessible to the millions who use it. In May alone, 800GB of information--the equivalent of 2,300 Encyclopaedia Britannicas travelled over the Web.(2) As of June, there were more than 7,000 WWW servers on the Internet, and about thirty to ninety new servers are added daily, according to Henry Matthes, an analyst with Dataquest Inc., in San Jose, California.(3) According to statistics gathered from the NSFnet, WWW traffic over the NSFnet backbone (in megabytes) had exceeded gopher traffic in March 1994.(4)

Hypertext

The World-Wide Web is a globally distributed information system based on hypertext. Using Web client software (like Mosaic), browsing the information available on the Web lets users view that information as part of an enormous document of interlinked pages. These pages contain hypertext links to other documents providing access to almost all of the information available on the Internet.(5)

You can also think of the WWW as a huge global spider web (with the documents as the nodes and the hypertext linkages as the silk that connects them). Encapsulated in the link which connects two documents is the name of the document being referenced, the address of the computer where it can be found, and the method required to access it. End-users need not concern themselves with the technicalities of hypertext; they only need to point-and-click on hypertext links, and the software contends with linking them with the right document.(2)

Multimedia

The WWW is unique from all other Internet resources in that it supports multimedia. Any document on the Web can incorporate text, graphics, sound, and even video.

An excellent example of incorporating multimedia into the Web is Le WebLouvre (http://mistral.enst.fr/at pioch/louvre/). Le WebLouvre is a virtual tour of Paris, world-class art museum, which incorporates stunning images, art critiques, and classical musical clips together into a set of interlinked documents. It is no wonder why Le WebLouvre won the Best of Web '94 contest for the best use of multiple media.

The Web's ability to work on a multimedia platform makes it a perfect venue for publishing as well. Travels with Samantha (http://www-swiss.ai.mit.edu/samantha/travels-with-samantha.html), an electronic travelogue about Philip Greenspun's journey across North America, incorporates over 250 stunning photo images embedded in nineteen chapters of text. …

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