Bonus Video- Robert Cailliau - co-Inventor of the Web
So there was no way we could build it smaller, but the thing that we probably did not expect or did not aim for, definitely, in the beginning at least, was to have this be useful outside the community of academics and Internet people that existed then. It's when we had the first conferences, when, you know, Mosaic got off the ground, really, and when commerce started to notice it and companies began to be formed exclusively with that in mind, and that was only then. I think that the real problem was that this development system is so much better than anything else that porting what we had here to any other platform took an order of magnitude more time.
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Hi, Charles Severance here. I’m at CERN in Geneva Switzerland, one of the world’s preeminent high-energy physics facilities. We were lucky enough to talk to Robert Cailliau, one of the co-founders of the World Wide Web. The big collaborations at CERN, and Stephen here is a member of one of them, have people spread all over the world and use CERN as the infrastructure to do the experiments, and so obviously, the whole of high-energy physics has been a sort of miniature information society, since way back when. As soon as there were networks, essentially. And so, because we have this need for spreading documentation around, we built these things like centralized databases, There was CERN Doc, you know, and you could use it, but whatever. And we had a, well we still have, a large database of high-energy physics articles kept by Stanford and you could get at it before the Web by knowing exactly what computer to log in to over the network, blah blah blah blah. When the Web came all that necessity of knowing which computer to go to, what to say to that computer. and so forth just disappeared. People put up these pages with the links and you could just follow links and get to places where you wanted to be and find everything. And it was also all in the same format, so that was very important too. That we broke this proprietary commercial system of vertical markets, which don’t let you get at anything except if you stay with this particular company, or with that particular company. So that horizontal split, that cap that we made between the browsers on top and the databases at the bottom, was I think essential to make it useful for us, but also to make it useful for everybody else, right? And so, that was what it was like in the beginning. And Tim and I, we did this all on this NeXT machine here in about 1990. So the first server was about 1990, end of 1990. The first server in the United States came out about a year later at Stanford because of that database that I was talking about before. Do you and Tim feel like this was the big one, or it was just … Well in a sense, of course, as I always say, we called it World Wide Web in 1990, and Tim had in fact a name like that just before that. So there was in fact no way of building it smaller than the Internet already was, and the Internet was everywhere. So there was no way we could build it smaller, but the thing that we probably did not expect or did not aim for, definitely, in the beginning at least, was to have this be useful outside the community of academics and Internet people that existed then. See, the Internet came outside the academic world only, what, after, I would say only after 94, right? 94 is roughly when I think of the beginning of the current… Yeah, 94 is what I call the Year of the Web. It’s when we had the first conferences, when, you know, Mosaic got off the ground, really, and when commerce started to notice it and companies began to be formed exclusively with that in mind, and that was only then. Before that it was mainly universities and academics. Gopher was simpler and easier to install and easy to populate and that explained its easier success for a while. Because both took off at about the same time. And because the Web was somewhat more difficult, it took somewhat longer. But Gopher became also integrated in the web browsers almost instantaneously, and so, you know, after that, after a short while you saw what you could do with the Web and what you could do with Gopher and you went to the Web. But it was much easier to install Gopher. This is a very, which is why it had a sort of bump where it went ahead of the Web for a while. The same is true of Mosaic. Mosaic was just no good, but easier to install, right? And so it went ahead of what we were trying to do. We were completely killed in the browser environment, because what we tried to do with our browsers was more difficult than what Mosaic was trying to do. And so, you know, this proved a better thing sometimes gets killed or takes much, much longer to come up because the easier thing sort of like a virus. you know, outgrows the other one. I think that the real problem was that this development system is so much better than anything else that porting what we had here to any other platform took an order of magnitude more time. And, for example, every time you clicked here, you had another window. Every time you clicked on a diagram, you had the diagram in another window. When you clicked on a map, you got the map in PostScript, scalable, perfectly printable, and so on, and so forth. You try to port that to another system, you’d go berserk. And this is the reason why, in Mosaic, you had only one window. And every time you’d click, you replaced the content of that one window, which was not what we wanted. Every time you see a page, you got the images in line. So you scroll, and they are gone. This was all not what we wanted. This was horribly complicated for the user, and it’s not efficient, but it was the easiest way to do it on the NeXT system. And so, you know, there you go, so that thing spreads and if you want to make, and you know there’s a big difference between making an editor and something that just puts up a page and you can’t do anything with it. So our system from 1990 was also the editor. I mean, I started, it’s only after NeXT stopped making hardware and I had to go back from a NeXT to a Macintosh that I had to learn HTML. I mean before, we produced all the documentation, the stuff, but we never saw any, we never saw any HTML, we never saw any URLs, right? Because, you linked by saying link this to that, not by typing in a URL. There was a special window you could call up in which you could type a URL if you needed to. But it wasn’t the usual thing. I mean, this navigation bar which says HTTP dot, dot, dot, I learned all that the hard way afterwards that you have to use that, because you’ve lost that system, right? The interesting thing, though, is that, see I find HTML a glorious language. Tsk. Oh, uncivilized. Now, I’m not the average user, but I like to write it. I mean, I enjoy it almost as a word processing. It’s like TeX. Yeah, right, right. It’s exactly as bad as TeX. That’s exactly what it is. It’s exactly as bad as TeX. And can you imagine, I mean the headings have levels which are absolute? True. Need a plus, certainly. What, I mean, come on now. HTML was, we just didn’t have, must realize that we were never more than four people here. Tim, and myself, and a student each, okay? So, things like putting in serious effort into thinking about HTML was a low-priority business. And then of course, by the time it there was time to do that, it had spread beyond repair. That’s sort of like Unix right? Like a virus. Yeah, in a sense. We have XML coming now, fortunately, so that’ll help. This machine here, it’s well, it’s more than ten years old now. It’s got, it runs Unix. But it has Unix with a nice visual interface. It had some other interesting things which permitted us to do the development of the Web in such a small time. In such a short time. That was, it had a completely or it has a completely object oriented development system, in which there is already supplied, as part of the library, an editable text object, that was what Tim used to make the first browser. And this was all nice because it got us there very quickly, and then we realized that, you know, that somehow the “real world” uses these horrible machines, and porting it from here to make it available on these horrible machines in the same elegant way is an enormous amount of work. About half way through 93, I think, we made a last effort in outputting browsers that were also geared to becoming editors, but then there was just no hope.
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