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The men who invented the web

The Story


The World Wide Web has a father. His name is Tim Berners-Lee, a computer programmer at a Swiss particle physics laboratory called CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire). It was Berners-Lee who in 1990 developed a system of online links called Hypertext Transfer Protocol (or HTTP, the first letters you see on web page addresses today). In 1991 Berners-Lee named his system the World Wide Web. In this excerpt from the CBC Radio Ideas documentary "Archeology of the Internet," Berners-Lee describes how the World Wide Web evolved. He is joined by a stellar cast of fellow internet pioneers: Jon Mittelhauser (who helped create the Mosaic browser), Brewster Kahle (who wrote the first internet publishing system) and Arthur van Hoff (who helped create the Java programming language). The four pioneers reminisce about how the web became the dominant form of internet communication. 

Medium: Radio
Program: IDEAS
Broadcast Date: Dec. 10, 1997
Guest(s): Tim Berners-Lee, Brewster Kahle, Jon Mittelhauser, Arthur van Hoff
Producer: Paul Kennedy
Duration: 11:20
Photo: Tim Berners-Lee in 2008 by Mike Groll/Associated Press.

Did You know?


• Tim Berners-Lee points to Internet Protocol (IP) inventors Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn as the fathers of the internet. The "Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol" (TCP/IP) system of packet switching, furthered the work of Paul Baran. TCP breaks data into packets at the source and reassembles them at the destination, IP addresses the packets. TCP/IP was adopted by the military in 1980 and became the internet standard on Jan. 1, 1983.

• In addition to inventing the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee became the president of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international body that co-ordinates World Wide Web standards and development. In 1999 Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. In 2004 Berners-Lee was made a Knight Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth.

• When Ideas producer Paul Kennedy got an e-mail from Tim Berners-Lee agreeing to this interview, he described it as "a little bit like getting a hand-printed letter from Gutenberg."

• Later in this documentary, Tim Berners-Lee described the early days of the web this way:
"It was a hard slog for the first two years. I compare it with the bobsled, where everybody pushes very, very hard for a while. Then there's a certain point where you can jump in, and then from then on, it starts to take off, and you can't jump in anymore, but you have to steer. And it went through that transition in 1992 or 1993, and until that point, it wasn't clear that it wouldn't just die out as another fad."

• In addition to the famed Berners-Lee, the other internet pioneers featured on this Ideas program are legendary in their own right:
- Jon Mittelhauser is one of the inventors of the web browser. He worked with Marc Andreesen at the U.S. National Center for Supercomputing Applications and in 1993 helped develop the Mosaic browser, the first popular program for accessing the World Wide Web. The two men left to found Netscape Corporation, which dominated the browser world for years.

- Brewster Kahle, who worked at Thinking Machines Corp., was one of the developers of WAIS (Wide Area Information Servers), the first internet publishing system. It indexed the full text of database files and allowed them to be searched. WAIS was sold to America Online. Kahle went on to develop Alexa Internet, which catalogues internet traffic. (It was later sold to Amazon.com.) A key product of that work was the Internet Archive and its Wayback Machine, which archives the World Wide Web.

- Arthur van Hoff worked for Sun Microsystems and worked alongside James Gosling to develop the Java programming language, which allowed small programs to run on a web browser. Java was made public in 1994 and was incorporated into the Netscape Navigator browser the following year.

• In 1995, CBC Radio's Quirks & Quarks said that 1995 was "The Year of the Internet," when the World Wide Web achieved dominance as the best way to surf the internet. They predicted 1996 would be "The Year of Java."

• The Java language was originally called Oak, but that name had already been trademarked. The development team came up with the name Java at a local coffee shop. Some accounts claim that it is an acronym for creators James Gosling, Arthur Van Hoff, and Andy Bechtolsheim. Others say it stands for Just Another Vague Acronym. Its logo is a steaming cup of java.

• Arthur van Hoff left Sun to co-found Marimba, a software distribution company, then a startup called Strangeberry. In 2004 he became principal engineer at personal video recorder company TiVo. He left a year later.


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