Monday, December 12, 2011

A Brief History Of Accessing Information Worldwide

The Earth is not just an ordinary planet!’

IN BANGLADESH, the increasing use of the internet for social media, surfing, etc is significant. According to Facebook, by August 31, 2010, the number of Facebook users in Bangladesh was 995,560. Within the next one year, it went up to 1,735,020. Whereas eleven years back, in 2000, the number of internet users was only 100,000. Since the introduction of the internet in our country in 1996, it has brought changes in our social life (urban life in particular) giving a new dimension to media, commerce and education. However, all these would not have been possible if the world wide web, commonly known as W3, was not introduced 20 years back.

So, aren’t ‘internet’ and ‘W3’ the same thing? Definitely they are not. Internet is a pool of smaller networks. In other words, internet uses a group of protocols called TCP/IP to instruct the network where to go, and exchange data accordingly. On the other hand, the worldwide web is a tool to access information with the help of ‘hyperlinks’, which allow collaborators in remote sites to share their ideas.

The past
IT ALL began when Tim Berners-Lee, a British physicist and computer scientist working at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research in Geneva, wanted to find an advanced way to link up all his colleagues to share documents without much hassle. In March 1989, Tim Berners-Lee proposed the WWW, which would allow ‘all links to be made to any information anywhere’ — so he explained in his posted summary of the software project that he had built in 1980, on alt.hypertext usenet group. Thus, on August 6, 1991, the first website was created as <>, and was hosted with a set of hyperlinks and texts. He named the project ‘World Wide Web’, or W3. In December 1991, Professor Tim Berners-Lee presented a paper at a Hypertext’91 conference in San Diego, Texas, which was accepted as a poster session. However, the internet revolution took yet another three years to grow. It was in December 1992 that the first web server outside Europe was set up at Stanford University, USA, and in the beginning of 1993 people came to know about the web when Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, a science and technology writer, wrote on it.

Berners-Lee wanted to expand the scope of the web. To have gateway servers for other data, he welcomed collaborators. Initially, Berners-Lee set up the website, where he created a page with information about how people could create their own web pages, and how the web could be used for searching information. As a result, by 1992, fifty web servers with 19.68 billion pages were born around the world. The number happened to be more than three times the world’s population at that time, according to sources. By December 2010, the internet monitoring company Netcraft reported that around 266,848,493 websites were available on World Wide Web, with an increase of 47 million hostnames and 7 million active websites, from previous months. According to, on Wednesday, August 24, the indexed web contained at least 13.31 billion pages. In Bangladesh, there are 5,234 sites under 212 categories (, November 23, 2007).

What began as a simple communication platform for scientists has grown into a phenomenon. But how? In Berners-Lee’s own words, he ‘just had to take the hypertext idea and connect it to the TCP and DNS ideas.’ ‘What are TCP and DNS?’ one might ask. TCP (transmission control protocol) is the networking protocol or internet protocol suit used by messages as they zip across the internet, and is responsible for providing reliable, systematic delivery of a stream of bytes. Whereas, DNS (domain name system) is the system that transforms ‘.com’ domain names into numerical identifiers for computer and other networking devices.

W3 became more popular and accommodating with the emergence of Web 2.0, a term that was proposed by Tim O’Reilly, a supporter of free software and open source, and the founder CEO of O’Reilly Media Inc. Based on the web as a platform , it is ‘ a set of principles and practices that tie together a veritable solar system of sites that demonstrate some or all of those principles . . .’ It allows animated images and user-generated content involving interactivity and collaboration using scripting and programming languages like Ajax, Flash and Javascript,. Under this category are the social networking sites, blogs, wikis, video-sharing sites, hosted services, web applications, mash-ups and folksonomies. Proposed in the first Web 2.0 conference by O’Reilly in 2004, the term was dismissed as jargon by Berners-Lee as the W3 was created on the same principle.

Present: the wave of change
WARDRIP-FRUIN, Noah and Nick Montfort, wrote in The New Media Reader in 2003 that ‘The World-Wide Web was developed to be a pool of human knowledge, and human culture.’ Now, starting from education to entertainment, the web has changed the entire outlook of life both on ground and in cyberspace, as the Web 2.0 now accommodates websites containing text with images, podcast and videos, help users transact business online, buy goods from sites like Amazon, eBay, or Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and search engines like Google and Bing are bringing newer trends of online marketing, branding and rankings. Interestingly, this Eid, shopping activities on Facebook have been reported too. One can now have the three-dimensional experience of a product advertisement on the web, creating newer purchasing behaviours.

Perhaps the changes in politics and media are far more remarkable. The recent uprisings in the Arab region and how it spread through Facebook and Twitter is known to all. News today travels faster than light because of Web 2.0. Our newspapers would probably go half empty without the existence of W3. The more the information becomes accessible, the more it requires authenticity. Thus, William Dutton of the Oxford Internet Institute terms this vast ocean of information as the ‘Fifth Estate’ that would hold governments and media around the globe accountable (quotes in SPIEGEL interview).

Many a today’s adults remember reading Lewis Carrol’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in their childhood, and might have even wondered at Alice’s question, ‘What is the use of a book, without pictures or conversations?’ It is amazing that a childhood fascination from the past is a reality now. Today, children, even toddlers, have something to learn on the web. There are many YouTube videos on learning alphabets with pictures, music, and conversation. In geography class, teachers are using Google Maps to locate and find a place. In one click, a student can go to a place where they have never physically visited before. The scope is ample. 

Teachers are now being trained and instructed to educate students using the web, and to use social sites, smartboards, video streaming, YouTube and so on to teach both children and adult learners. Bangladesh is trying hard not to lag behind. In 2007, at Presidency University, a group of Bangladeshi teachers were trained on teaching methods using these available facilities in a classroom situation. Though small, the initiative was a welcome start.

There is the other side of the midnight too! The web has increasingly become the hub of cyber crimes and pornography. According to Google hit counts, there are about 1, 860,000,000 (0.24 seconds, Friday, 12:42 hr) results with the term ‘porn’ on it. This definitely has a negative impact on the society as a whole, as many today do not ‘love the sunset, when one is so sad.’ Instead they rely on web entertainment. How this behavioural pattern is going to be changed is another topic of discussion. Most importantly, human privacy is under threat. Recently W3 consortium announced a draft of online privacy, and the western world is devising new plans on how to resist online pornography; however, where do we stand on this note?

The future: the semantic web and evolving social system
THE web started as a social need, as Tim Berners-Lee said once in a lecture. Therefore, in the future, we can anticipate that the web would revolve around creating certain social systems, which may run by, what Berners termed, ‘social machines’. These machines will be like little devices that will understand the users’ requirements. In the future, one would not need to roam around the web looking for specific information. We already have meta search engines like ‘,’ that bring us all the related web sites in one click. 

Likewise, in more advanced ways, the machines will directly read and process the meta data and automatically access information for the user, according to their needs, rather than the user looking for the information themselves. How is it possible? The answer is ‘semantic web’, an extended hyperlinked network. The term ‘semantic’ refers to the study of meaning- through the web of data the computer would access the exact information one requires. This might be done through ‘voice browsing’, reveals W3C (World Wide Web Consortium).

The web is likely to dissolve geographical boundaries. In the commerce sector, the geographical limitations of the world are already disappearing. People are choosing where to live, work, study or settle. Decision-making will be performed online. At present W3C’s focus is on developing technologies that would allow web access using devices like mobile phones, eBook readers, TV systems, voice response systems, music players, kiosks, digital picture frames, in-car navigation systems and even domestic appliances.

Certainly, the next phase of the web is going to affect many human lives. For example, unlike the situation in our part of the world, many global companies like Cisco, Pfizer and Boeing have already started to cut jobs, predicting that the prospects of the web will reduce the necessity of human work. In our neighbouring country India, the situation is completely the opposite. They are hiring more people in this sector.

Maybe the future web will have lot more contributions. It would definitely change the entire social structure, starting from the individual. Scientists believe that human belief, concept, culture, literacy, politics -every aspect of society -would face a new dimension, and new definitions. Would people take collective decisions on reducing crime, solving problems, developing infrastructure, over the web? That is yet to be decided. 

Whatever future lies ahead, it is certain that what began as a simple hyperlink tool, will necessarily play a great role in shaping the future society and directing us towards a new world order!

Nevertheless, the wave of technology and the wave of transformation always travel parallel. It will certainly touch this corner of the world without delay. But, the huge wave of world transformation will just stop at the deep sea shores of Cox’s Bazaar, where the optical fibre cables end. The rest of the country has wired connection to the internet which provides merely minimum speeds. On a single day, the urban citizens face power surges several times a day, while most rural areas are still in primitive condition. Under these circumstances, are we ready? ‘Ask yourselves: is it yes or no? …no grown-up will ever understand that this is a matter of so much importance!’(The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint Exepury, chapter 27).

BY : Mehjabeen Rahman