BOSTON - Internet luminaries gathered in Boston Wednesday to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), honor its founder, Director and Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, and look forward to another decade of innovation.
Speakers at the gathering recounted, in sometimes excruciating detail, the events leading to the creation of the Web and the W3C, which has promoted a long line of key Web standards, including HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and XML (Extensible Markup Language). Experts, including representatives of leading technology firms, also looked forward to future developments backed by the W3C, including the Semantic Web, which will allow users to access and connect more types and sources of data online.
Early backers of the Web were on hand to recount the early days of the Web, which Berners-Lee invented in 1989 while working at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory, as a way to manage and connect research information stored on different machines. In presentations both funny and flat, speakers detailed the early days of the Web and the W3C, as Berners-Lee and others jetted between France, the U.K. and the U.S. in a dizzying series of conferences and meetings to evangelize the Web and drum up support for a group to steward its development.
Among the early challenges faced by Web supporters was getting CERN, in 1993, to relinquish intellectual property claims to HTML and other technology invented at the lab that was integral to spreading the Web in the world at large, according to Berners-Lee.
Other speakers recounted early squabbles, as the Web grew and the W3C's rising membership sought ways to contribute to the standards development process.
Håkon Wium Lie, inventor of the Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) standard for formatting content on Web pages, and now chief technology officer at browser maker Opera Software ASA, contributed an amusing video recounting the early and humble days of the Web, which was created as an afterthought in the windowless, cramped subterranean offices of CERN in Switzerland. Cascading Style Sheets was one of the early standards promoted by the W3C.
Alan Kotok, formerly of Digital Equipment, spoke of that company's dawning awareness of the potential of the Web and his early role as a backer of the W3C.
Other speakers addressed the enormous impact that the Web has had in just over a decade on the way that individuals live and work. "Internet use is now the norm, and that's just an amazing adoption story," said Lee Rainie of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. "The Internet and the Web have built themselves into the very rhythms of people's lives."
From the time the first popular Web browser appeared, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications' (NCSA) Mosaic, it took just four years for 50 million people to begin using the Web. That compares with much longer adoption periods for other revolutionary technologies, such as the telephone, which took 38 years to be adopted by the same number of people, and television, which took 13 years to reach the 50 million user threshold, he said.
Technological developments based on W3C standards such as HTML and HTTP were an important part of the success of the Web, and brought ease of use to computing environments that were distributed, heterogenous and complex, according to Bill Ruh, global practice director at Cisco Systems and a speaker at the event.