World Wide Web

Wang Yuan-li

As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. The reason why World Wide Web has so successfully conquered the world market can be explained by this old saying. Before the invention of the World Wide Web, one could only read black-and-white plain text on the Internet. However, nowadays one can read web information with an impressive mix of graphics and text. The World Wide Web can simply interconnect the information worldwide and enable users to find documents on the Net that contain a variety of formats, not only photos and graphics, but also audio and video. Because the Web is so convenient for one to get the information one wants, it has become an indispensable friend to many users. Furthermore, among so many services of the Internet, the World Wide Web is the most important factor bringing the Internet into popularity. The dramatic growth of the Web can be seen from the survey conducted by Merit Computer Network Backbone Statistics, which shows the number of the Web sites has increased from 130 in June 1993 to 650,000 in January 1997.

HISTORY

If one observes the development of the World Wide Web, one will find how quickly things can change. The birth of the World Wide Web can be dated back to March 1989. In that month, the inventor of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee of Geneva’s European Particle Physics Laboratory (CERN) brought up a proposal to develop a ‘hypertext system.’ He wanted to develop the hypertext system in order to enable information sharing among geographically separated teams of researchers in a more efficient and easy manner. The first implementation of the Web was in 1990. However, it did not gain its popularity until the end of 1993. In January 1993, there were only 50 Web servers in existence, but in October 1993 the number of Web servers increased to approximately 500. From this point of view, one can see how fast the Web developed.

TECHNOLOGY

HOW WWW WORKS

The way the Web works is quite simple. It takes place in four basic phases: connection, request, response, and close. First, the user can use the browser (like Netscape or Microsoft Internet Explorer) to connect with the server. The browser works by using a special protocol, which is called HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) to request a specially encoded text from the web server. The text is written in HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), which tells the browser how to display the text on the user’s screen. HTTP is not the only protocol that the WWW browsers know. One can also use ftp, gopher, wais, telnet and archie to command the server to search for the information desired. Web pages are written in HTML. Everyone can learn the HTML easily to write his or her own homepages. A simple example of HTML is as follows: <H1>, which means the page heading. The commands are enclosed in angle bracket. On top of all of these technical definitions, one of the important terms one should know is the URLs (UNIFORM RESOURSE LOCATORS), an Internet address. A URL consists of four parts. These parts are the protocol, domain name, path, and filename. For example: a completed URL might look like this: http://home.mcom.com/home/internetsearch.html. With the help of the URL, a user is able to find the information one wants more efficiently. The most important feature of the web is the hypertext system, which allows a user to move from document to document without knowing the address of specific web sites. For example, the text on the screen will have some highlighted spots. One needs only to click the mouse, and the information will be pulled to the screen in a few seconds.

APPLICATION

The Web can be used for multiple purposes. One of the original purposes of the Web was to disseminate research for academic use. However, according to the WWW User Surveys conducted by GVU (Graphics, Visualization, and Usability), the main use of the Web is for entertainment purposes. Additionally, Web shopping increases gradually year by year. Other than dissemination of research and ordering products, the Web can also be used for client and customer support. For example, when one visits the homepage of the Motorola company, a user can find not just the information of its products, but also the answers to frequently asked questions and technical information, etc. There are still other uses that the World Wide Web can offer, like Web TV and Distance Education. Once a user understands how to use the Web, universal Web information can be reached.

BUSINESS

As of mid-1998, the hottest issue related to the World Wide Web is the browser’s war between the Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape. Although the browser statistics for the random Yahoo link shows that people like to use Netscape more than Microsoft Explorer, Netscape still undergoes fierce threat from Microsoft. Microsoft has unfairly gained market by giving its Internet Explorer a shared place with its dominant Windows 95 operating system software. Netscape is planning to release a browser source code in order to encourage people to use it. This issue is related to the antitrust law, which may be very intricately related to the policy of the government. The World Wide Web is the largest source of network traffic around the world; its revenue is huge, and the impact the Web has brought to the software industries, arousing fierce competition among them cannot be ignored. Approximately 7 million people worldwide have access to the Web, demonstrating its importance. If one desires to connect the Internet through the telephone company, there is approximately a $20 monthly fee. This cost is one of the important factors which will affect the willingness of a user to use the Internet.

DRIVING FORCES

THE WORLD BRIDGE

The rapid growth of the Web can be contributed to its simple usage, which benefits numerous users who have neither patience nor interest to learn the complicated commands of the computer. From the user’s point of view, the Web is easy to manipulate, even for the computer-illiterate. One can simply find the information desired by clicking the mouse, and getting the information around the world without leaving home. Besides gaining its popularity among the users, the Web is also popular in the business field. Many companies have their own web sites in order to promote their products or services to customers. The Web has become an important market, which cannot be ignored, since there are approximately 7 million people worldwide who have access to the Web. Using the Web to promote one’s product saves comparatively more money than using TV or other advertising methods

POLICY

There are many public policy issues in related to the Web, like censorship, Intellectual Property, Copyright Infringement, and Encryption. All of these issues are hard to resolve. In order to solve these problems, many organizations and international conferences were held. For example, WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) held a conference in December 1996 in order to find a way to protect the copyright.

OPPORTUNITIES, PROBLEMS, AND PROSPECTS

THE FUTURE

The future of the Web seems to be very bright. It might continue to converge with the TV and many other multimedia, offering more functions for the users, like live interactive entertainment, in which audience members can participate in dramas or other programs on the Web, possibly influencing the outcome or joining the game. The Web can be used for voting in the presidential elections, and distant education could become more popular in the future.

THE PROBLEM

The most important issues now the Web facing are the problems of the privacy and censorship. In addition to fears of using one’s credit card to purchase products on the Web, the Web users also face the threat of the ‘cookie,’ which will violate their privacy. The effect of the cookie is similar to ‘Caller ID’ on telephones. Whenever one visits a web site, the web server sends a cookie to a user’s computer, which is stored in the user’s hard drive. By retrieving the cookie, which was previously left, people will know a user’s visiting habits and preferences. Hence, many view this as a violation of privacy. In order to keep one’s privacy, one can use cookie crusher to let the web server know not to send cookies to particular users. As for Web censorship, it is a big problem in the Internet world. The World Wide Web consortium has developed a technical standard, called PICS (Platform for Internet Content Selection). It can help parents to control what children can access on the Internet. However, it still waits to be fully resolved in the future.

REFERENCES

GVU’s WWW User Surveys, available http://www.cc.gatech.edu/gvu/user_surveys/User_Survey_Home.html.

Kehoe, B.P. (1996) Zen and the art of the Internet: a beginner’s guide, New Jersey: Upper Saddle River.

Merit Computer Network Backbone Statistics, available http://www.mit.edu/people/mkgray/net/.

Randall, N. (1996) Discover the World Wide Web with your Sportster, Indianapolis: Sams.net.

Special Report, 3/3/98: Competition and the Software Industry, available http://www.policy.com/reports/dojvsms/index.html.

World Wide Web Journal, available http://www.w3j.com/.

World Wide Web Organization, available http://www.w3.org.

Zender, M., Fine, J. and Albertson, R. (1995) Designer’s guide to the Internet, Hayden Books.

http://www.net101.com/reasons.html.

http://www.thelimitsoft.com/cookie.html.

 

 

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