The Ancient Web

Once upon a time (in 1993), I read a Usenet posting about a new communications technology. Sure, we used FTP to share documents and files Gopher wasn’t much of an improvement. Tim Berners-Lee struck me that this technology was more than a new client, or a new protocol, or a new server… he proposed all three.

I downloaded the CERN httpd server, the Viola browser (which I soon swapped out for Mosaic), and the RFC for the new HTTP specification,1 I could see the potential, and set up a system for my collegues.

A month later, to display a summary of my documents for my teammates, I put together a C program adhering to the new CGI specification, and soon replaced that with a Perl script. This wasn’t my job, I just needed to share information about the X.25 network module I was working on, but soon, making web applications became my job.

I now work with engineers who have never experienced a world without “the web”.

My point of this essay is not to verify my age, but to explain a curious metaphor I ran across the other day.

Like all biologic systems, the “web” has evolved in similar ways. For instance, one browser mutated and accepted the following HTML tag:

<blink>This text is annoying to view.</blink>

The blink tag wasn’t part of the HTML specification, but every other browser had to support it. No one would even think to use that tag now, but some browsers still have code for it!2

While we often have to speculate about the original purpose of the appendix and how our blood vessels cover the front of our backward-facing light cells in our eyes, we remember the concessions we had to make to push forward a world of inter-communication.

Also, like biologic systems, the internet has no intrisic meaning, and after years of millions of monkeys banging out text in their browsers, we still haven’t produced anything that Shakespeare would marvel.

Well, except for kittens asking for cheeseburgers.



I find it funny that I have to post links to Wikipedia entries for these programs.


I originally wrote this essay in 2012, and many browsers then were still supporting the tag. Now? Not so much.