YEdit IconDocument collaboration software > Web Review > Web Vision

The Vision and Original intentions for the Web

Berners-Lee attempted to persuade CERN management that the Web was in their best interests.  He detailed in this document entitled "Information Management: A Proposal" [Berners-Lee 1989] the original proposal that was the first step in the creation of the World Wide Web.  It details some of the problems that CERN was having (especially information management, and tracking of large projects), and makes a proposal to create a system that was the beginnings of the Web.

The following quote shows what the Web was originally designed to be used for.  It details the list of intended uses for the Web at CERN.  Most of these, such as online encyclopedias, online help and documentation, major news organisations, personal homepages, and to a lesser extent collaborative work [Berners-Lee 1990] are currently being used.

Intended uses for hypertext at CERN

  • General reference data (encyclopedia, etc)
  • Completely centralised publishing (online help, documentation, tutorial, etc)
  • More or less centralised dissemination of news which has limited life
  • Collaborative authoring
  • Collaborative design of something other than the hypertext itself
  • Personal notebook (Berners-Lee)
W3 Status: W3 Archive

From a talk in 1991 and 1992 entitled "W3 Concepts" [Berners-Lee 1991], the following concepts for the Web (that follow on from the intended uses that CERN had for hypertext), were put forward at an online seminar about the World Wide Web Consortium (

In the talk Berners-Lee talks about universal readership that allows anyone to retrieve information from any computer that they are using at the time; rather than having to go to a specific computer in a specific location to retrieve the information.  Hypertext essentially allows a document to have links in them that point to other locations (typically other documents).  This allows the restriction of reading documents in a serial fashion to be removed.  With the removal of this restriction, documents can have links to and from any place, allowing direct linking to appropriate information, such as indexes, bibliographies, and other media such as graphics, sound and video.  Searching allows for the location of specific information by the use of an engine behind the pages; this searches for the requested information and returns the results as a web page with links to the pages that it found.  The client/server model allows for distributed clients and servers that are linked together by a protocol, and creates a decentralised system so that anyone can set up a client to read information, and anyone can set up a system to serve information.  Format negotiation allows the client and the server to set up formats that both understand.  This gives the server the ability to serve the most appropriate information to the client, such as supplying the client with graphics that it understands, or giving the information in a language that both understand.

By the stage Berners-Lee delivered this talk, the Web had started to take off.  However as is shown by the quote below, some of the main reasons for creating it had been left behind.  The realisation of a good HTML editor took longer than was expected (and the quality of the output still varied widely).

The Future (1993)

The WWW initiative has taken off and become the emerging leader in Internet information systems. However, it has been overtaken by its popularity, and many of the original design goals for a collaborative tool have still not been implemented.

At the same time, it is spreads(sic) into many fields which put demands on its functionality.  Fortunately, these all fit in well with the original design concepts.

Collaborative work was the original design goal of W3. This involves everyone working together in a group to be able to share knowledge, modifying, annotating, and contributing as well as reading.  This is an exciting area. It requires good wysiwyg hypertext and hypermedia editors (which will probably arrive during the next year, 1994) as well as authentication of users. (Berners-Lee)

One of the original visions behind the Web was to provide a collaborative computing environment that provided an easy method for the exchange and storage of information and knowledge.  Information and knowledge were not meant to become lost in a sea of web servers and surfers, with people struggling to find the information that they require.  As the Web has grown, and outstripped other methods of accessing information over the Internet [NetValue 2000], many people form an idea that the Web is all that there is to the Internet, as that is the part that they see most often.

Looking at statistics for Internet usage as at November 2000 shows clearly that Web use is higher than other uses of the Internet.  The percentage of people with Internet access that browsed the Web in that month in the USA was 97.3% and in the UK was 96%, whereas the percent of people that used email in the USA was 44.5% and in the UK was 60.6%.  Usenet usage was even less at 5.1% in the USA and 10.5% in the UK.

Some of the ideas for the Web ( April 1998) were that it should be universal and be able to encompass anything, from a scribble on the back of an envelope, through to a polished work of art.  It should be easy to work on documents, add links, annotations, and to copy information containing embedded back links to the original document.

The Web has several key features that have helped to propel both its initial acceptance, and its growth since that time.

The simplicity of the Web's client/server design allows for ease of distributed use and development, allowing people to use it easily, regardless of location.  The Web can leverage legacy technology, which means that people can still access and use legacy technology with the latest web browsers, for example Gopher [RFC1436] and WAIS [RFC1625].  The Web is platform- and operating system- independent, which means that people are free to choose the system that they want, rather than being locked into using only one system.  Because the Web is based on open standards, we know that it will still be available in the future, whereas if it were proprietary, users would be locked into both the whim and success of the proprietor company.  The Web standards are also portable, extensible and scaleable, which means that the standards can be adapted and changed to changing circumstance, and they will tend to have greater acceptance because as they are open and portable, there are more people that can use them.

Previous: 2.01 Web beginnings
Next: 2.03 Web interaction