So far in this aside group of articles within the larger series, you’ve learned about the basic motivations for and technical operations of the web. Last time, in How to Spy on Your Browser’s HTTP Requests and Responses!, you got to learn how to use your browser’s built-in tools to peek at what’s happening between you and the web servers you access.
Before we start to apply that knowledge to code and the building of custom web apps, let’s do a bit of time travel, all the way to the future.
Wait, that’s too hard. Will you settle for 2009 instead?
Are you frustrated and want to change the world?
Now that you understand why the web was created, and how the HTTP protocol powers your web browser, I present you with a more recent vision statement from the web’s father, but one that always reveals more about his own personal motivations back in 1989 when he invented the web.
The Next Web
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, knighted in 2004, gave a talk called The Next Web at a TED conference in 2009. In it, the knight described a project called Linked Data. The idea behind this is that the web sites that constitute the web are evolving well beyond just a collection of static documents. They’re becoming a truly interconnected web of related, meaningful data and relationships. Together, those sites and relationships start to look like this:
Tim was frustrated enough in 1989 to change the world
Here’s the first bit of the transcript from his talk, bold highlights mine:
Time flies. It’s actually almost 20 years ago when I wanted to reframe the way we use information, the way we work together: I invented the World Wide Web. Now, 20 years on, at TED, I want to ask your help in a new reframing.
So going back to 1989, I wrote a memo suggesting the global hypertext system. Nobody really did anything with it, pretty much. But 18 months later — this is how innovation happens — 18 months later, my boss said I could do it on the side, as a sort of a play project, kick the tires of a new computer we’d got. And so he gave me the time to code it up. So I basically roughed out what HTML should look like: hypertext protocol, HTTP; the idea of URLs, these names for things which started with HTTP. I wrote the code and put it out there.
Why did I do it? Well, it was basically frustration. I was frustrated — I was working as a software engineer in this huge, very exciting lab, lots of people coming from all over the world. They brought all sorts of different computers with them. They had all sorts of different data formats, all sorts, all kinds of documentation systems. So that, in all that diversity, if I wanted to figure out how to build something out of a bit of this and a bit of this, everything I looked into, I had to connect to some new machine, I had to learn to run some new program, I would find the information I wanted in some new data format. And these were all incompatible. It was just very frustrating. The frustration was all this unlocked potential.
In fact, on all these discs there were documents. So if you just imagined them all being part of some big, virtual documentation system in the sky, say on the Internet, then life would be so much easier. Well, once you’ve had an idea like that it kind of gets under your skin and even if people don’t read your memo — actually he did, it was found after he died, his copy. He had written, “Vague, but exciting,” in pencil, in the corner.
What are your frustrations and play projects that your boss says are “vague, but exciting” ideas?
Now 24 years ago, Tim Berners-Lee, driven by frustration and a vision of making life easier for himself and his community, created the World Wide Web.
Think about that for a few moments. How has his frustration-turned-creation affected you, personally?
So, what frustrates you? Do you have any side play projects that you want to pursue to make life easier for yourself and others?
You just might be able to do it, starting with HTTP’s GET and POST. Like Tim, maybe you write the code and just put it out there. Think about it. Maybe your project can be the next node in the Linked Data diagram?
In the next article, you’ll learn about Roy Fielding, the Apache Web Server, and REpresentational State Transfer (REST), and why it is so widely embraced today for Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).
Just like Tim, Roy has at times been an angry, frustrated man. See how he calmed himself, and the rest of the web down, and how you can relax now too at PUT yourself in a State of REST — How to GET the Web’s Architecture.