Web Fundamentals
A Bird’s-Eye View of the Web

Ruben Verborgh, Ghent Universityimec

Web Fundamentals
A Bird’s-Eye View of the Web


Ruben Verborgh

Ghent University imec IDLab

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the content of these slides is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

[Mozilla advertisement: “Food. Water. Shelter. Internet.”]
©2016 Ruben Verborgh
[Tim Berners-Lee and Vint Cerf at the W3C20 Anniversary Symposium]
©2014 W3C
[Tim Berners-Lee and Vint Cerf at the W3C20 Anniversary Symposium]

Tim Berners-Lee

Vint Cerf

©2014 W3C
[Ted Nelson, Aaron Swartz, and Doug Engelbart at the 2001 International Semantic Web Working Symposium]

Ted Nelson

Aaron Swartz

Doug Engelbart

©2001 Eugene Eric Kim

Web Fundamentals
A Bird’s-Eye View of the Web


Web Fundamentals
A Bird’s-Eye View of the Web


[Ted Nelson at at Keio University in 1999]
©1999 Belinda Barnet

Ted Nelson: computer pioneer
and technology philosopher.

By hypertext I mean non-sequential writing—text that branches and allows choices to the reader, best read at an interactive screen. As popularly conceived, this is a series of text chunks connected by links which offer the reader different pathways.

Ted Nelson, Literary Machines (1980)

Nelson’s ideas were bigger than the Web,
but not necessarily as realistic.

[Douglas Engelbart in 2006]
©2006 Robert Holmgren

Douglas Engelbart: visionary inventor,
human–computer interaction pioneer.

Web Fundamentals
A Bird’s-Eye View of the Web


The world before the Web
was highly heterogeneous.

[Tim Berners-Lee’s original proposal for what would become the Web]

Tim Berners-Lee invented
the World Wide Web.

[The first Web server at CERN.]
©2005 Coolcaesar

The Web strives to be universal
through independence of many factors.

CERN decided to make the Web
available royalty-free in 1993.

This is for everyone #london2012 #oneweb #openingceremony @webfoundation @w3c

Tim Berners-Lee July 27, 2012

Web technologies are standardized
by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Communication evolved together
with the Web.

Education evolved together
with the Web.

Business evolved together
with the Web.

The Web brings freedom of expression
to everyone across the world.

A generation of social platforms
helped people interact and share.

The Web brings permissionless innovation
at a global scale.

Permissionless innovation has brought
unprecedented creativity to the world.

Web Fundamentals
A Bird’s-Eye View of the Web


The Internet is a communication network between different machines in the world.

The Web is a layer of interlinked resources accessible through the Internet.

Which is the Internet
and which is the Web?

The Internet is to Web what
the telephone network is to fax.

The Internet contains more
than just the Web.

Most people don’t understand or care about the difference… but you should!

©2015 Quartz / LIRNEasia

Web linking is decentralized, implemented
as one-way links embedded in documents.

The Web was the only hypertext system
simple enough to scale to the world.

Individual links are allowed to break
so the entire Web does not.

Tim Berners-Lee

The Web’s universality
helped accelerate its growth.

The number of websites started
growing at an explosive rate.

year number of websites

websites founded before 1995

The Web evolved together
with technology (and bandwidth).

text (and links) only
proposal for the <img> element
video through the Flash player
HTML5 <video> element

Web Fundamentals
A Bird’s-Eye View of the Web


The Web’s architecture makes it hard
to locate specific content.

Feeds let you discover new content
on websites you already know.

Machines have only limited possibilities on the “human” Web.

Web APIs expose functionality
to an automated client.

The number of Web APIs has
grown tremendously since 2000.

number of Web APIs
indexed in ProgrammableWeb

Web APIs let machines execute scripts,
but not explore and process content.

[Cover of Scientific American, May 2001]
©2001 Scientific American

Tim Berners-Lee and others proposed
vision of intelligent Web agents.

The Semantic Web is a layer
on top of the existing Web.

The Semantic Web layer is integrated
into the existing Web.

Linked (Open) Data aims to bootstrap
the Semantic Web vision.

Billions of Linked Data facts
are currently published on the Web.

Who needs the Semantic Web when
we have a smartphone in our pockets?

[an iPhone running Siri]

Web Fundamentals
A Bird’s-Eye View of the Web


Native apps essentially undo
all progress on device-independence.

Centralization from multiple angles
is threatening the Web.

Technological decentralization can differ from practice:

The current massive centralization
hurts diversity, innovation, and choice.

[Illustration from the blog post “The Web We Have to Save”]
©2015 Tim McDonagh

Is this the Web
I went to jail for?

Ironically, permissionless innovation
even allows platforms that prevent it.

The Facebook founder has no intention of
allowing anyone to build anything on his platform
that does not have his express approval.

Having profited mightily from the Web’s openness,
he has kicked away the ladder that elevated him
to his current eminence.

John Naughton, The Guardian
[photo of a ladder]
© Vinayak Shankar Rao
[Indian prime minister Narendra Modi with Mark Zuckerberg at Menlo Park in 2015.]
©2015 Bloomberg

Facebook tries to replace the open Web,
which enabled Facebook in the first place.

[A billboard advert for Facebook’s Free Basics initiative in Mumbai.]
©2015 Danish Siddiqui / Reuters

We must continue to say no
to a caged version of the Web.

[Aaron Swartz speaking at an anti-SOPA rally.]
©Daniel J. Sieradski

Do we give governments
the power to censor the Web?

[picture of Donald Trump]
©2017 Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

In December 2017, US regulators
voted to repeal Net Neutrality.

Web Fundamentals
A Bird’s-Eye View of the Web


[Ted Nelson, Aaron Swartz, and Doug Engelbart at the 2001 International Semantic Web Working Symposium]
©2001 Eugene Eric Kim
[Photograph of Aaron Swartz]
©The Verge


The Internet’s Own Boy

Aaron is dead.

Wanderers in this crazy world,
we have lost a mentor, a wise elder.

Hackers for right, we are one down,
we have lost one of our own.

Nurturers, carers, listeners, feeders,
parents all, we have lost a child.

Let us all weep.

Tim Berners-Lee
[Douglas Engelbart in 2006]
©2006 Robert Holmgren


[Tim Berners-Lee at his desk in CERN, 1994]
©1994 CERN

The Web as I envisaged it,
we have not seen it yet.

The future is still so much bigger
than the past.

Tim Berners-Lee