On this day, way back on August 6, 1991, Tim Berners-Lee posted a short summary of the “WorldWideWeb Project” while working at CERN. In it, Berners-Lee wrote, ”To follow a link, a reader clicks with a mouse (or types in a number if he or she has no mouse). To search and index, a reader gives keywords (or other search criteria). These are the only operations necessary to access the entire world of data.”
Looking at the summary twenty-one years later, I was struck by two things: how far the Web has come and how well that initial, elegant vision holds up.
Today, as people across the globe access documents and data; as they rely upon the information in the web for their personal and professional lives; as they interact with web content on a myriad of devices and platforms; as the amount of content continues to grow exponentially; as an increasing number of human beings use this amazing system for — well — just about everything, we still struggle to grasp the vastness of this system and the information contained within. Berners-Lee predicted this in his summary:
“The WWW browsers can access many existing data systems via existing protocols (FTP, NNTP) or via HTTP and a gateway. In this way, the critical mass of data is quickly exceeded, and the increasing use of the system by readers and information suppliers encourage each other.”
And we have certainly been encouraged! Whether we refer to “Big Data,” a “Data Deluge,” “information overload,” “drinking from the firehose,” or some other catchy phrase, we have a lot of data in our lives and much of it lives in the system described in that summary document. Fortunately, in that initial proposal, Tim also gave us some wonderful clues about how we might manage it all: with links and unique identifiers. I am reminded of the post Richard Wallis wrote for us a few months back, “The Simple Power of the Link.”
Yes, we, the members of the Semantic Technology community have a long way to go. Yes, there is much work to be done in the area of standards, tools, training, and education as we move from a “web of documents” to a “web of data.” Yes, the system of the Web will continue to evolve and improve, but as we take a moment to look back twenty-one years, I think it’s safe to say that we are making great progress and when it comes to the Web, things are at least a little less “vague” and remain wonderfully “exciting.” [The proposal that led to the summary that inspired this post was sent by Berners-Lee to his boss at CERN, Mike Sendall, seventeen months earlier (in March of 1989), and received the brief comment, "vague but exciting."]