Quotes from Weaving the Web

Weaving the Web is a book written by Tim Berners-Lee about the original design of the World Wide Web. Below are some quotes that I really enjoyed.

Interoperability of the first browser:

The least common denominator we could assume among all different types of computers was that they all had some sort of keyboard input device, and they all could produce ASCII (plain text) characters. The browser would have to be so basic that it could even work on a paper Teletype. We therefore called it a line-mode browser, because Teletype machines and the earliest computer terminals operated by displaying text one line at a time. (p.30)

The Web's existence would mark the end of incompatibility:

Incompatibility between computers had always been a huge pain in everyone's side […]. The computers simply could not communicate with each other. The Web's existence would mark the end of an era of frustration. (p.35)

The Web is a "space":

What was often difficult for people to understand about the design was that there was nothing else beyond URIs, HTTP, and HTML. There was no central computer "controlling" the Web, no single network on which these protocols worked, not even an organization anywhere that "ran" the Web. The Web was not a physical "thing" that existed in a certain "place." It was a "space" in which information could exist. (p.36)

The URI is the most fundamental innovation of the Web:

If the Web were to be universal, it should be as unconstraining as possible. […]The key to resolving this was the design of the URI. It is the most fundamental innovation of the Web, because it is the one specification that every Web program, client or server, anywhere uses when any link is followed. Once a document had a URI, it could be posted on a server and found by a browser. (p.39)

Separating structure and presentation is the only way to target any screen:

There were some basic design rules that guided HTML, and some pragmatic, even political, choices. A philosophical rule was that HTML should convey the structure of a hypertext document, but not details of its presentation. This was the only way to get it to display reasonably on any of a very wide variety of different screens and sizes of paper. (p.41)

The primary principle behind device independence, and accessibility, is the separation of form from content. When the significance of a document is stored separately from the way it should be displayed, device independence and accessibility become much easier to maintain. Much of this is achieved with a style sheet – a set of instructions on how to present or transform a printed page. (p.168)

On the difference between URI and URL:

At the IETF meeting […] I presented the idea of a universal document identifer […] and said I was interested in it being adopted as an Internet standard.


Even though I was asking for only a piece of the Web to be standardized, there was a strong reaction against the "arrogance" of calling something a universal document identifier. How could I be so presumptuous as to define my creation as "universal"?


I tried to explain at the session how important it was that the Web be seen as universal, but there was only so much time, and I decided not to waste my breath. I thought, What's in a name?


I was willing to compromise [so] universal became uniform, and document became resource. As it turns out, it had been important to nail down the name because behind the name was the fundamental philosophic underpinnings of what the Web was trying to be. Ultimately the group did decide to form a uniform resource identifier working group. However, they decided that identifer wasn't a good label for what the Web used. They wanted to emphasize that people could change the URIs when moving documents, and so they should be treated as some sort of transitive address. Locator was chosen instead, like a branding, a warning mark on the technology. I wanted to stick with identifer, because though in practice many URIs did change, the object was to make them as persistent as possible. We argued, but at the IETF the universal resource identifier became URL, the uniform resource locator. In years ahead the IETF community would use the URL acronym, allowing the use of the term URI for what was either a URL or something more persistent. I use the general term URI to emphasize the importance of universality, and of the persistence of information. (p.61-62)

On the origin of Lynx:

Meanwhile, the University of Kansas had, independently of the Web, written a hypertext browser, Lynx, that worked with 80x24 character terminals. More sophisticated than our line-mode browser, Lynx was a "screen mode" browser, allowing scrolling backward and forward through a document. It had, like Gopher, been designed as a campus-wide information system, and the team joked that Lynxes ate Gophers. Lou Montulli, a student, adapted it to the Web and released a Web browser, Lynx 2.0, in March 1993. Developing browsers had become a good vehicle for students and engineers to show off their programming skills. (p.68)

On the origin of Mosaic:

Marc Andreessen, a student, and Eric Bina, a staff member, decided to create a browser for X. […] The resulting browser was called Mosaic. (p.68-69)

The Web was released into public domain:

It was just about this time, spring 1993, that the University of Minnesota decided it would ask for a license fee from certain classes of users who wanted to use gopher.


"Is CERN going to do the same thing with the WWW?"


During the preceding year I had been trying to get CERN to release the intellectual property rights to the Web code under the General Public License (GPL) so that others could use it. The GPL was developed by Richard Stallman for his Free Software Foundation […]. In the fallout of the gopher debacle, there were already rumors that large companies like IBM would not allow the Web on the premises if there was any kind of licensing issue, because that would be too constraining. And that included the GPL.


CERN had not yet made up its mind. I returned from Columbus and swiftly switched my request, from getting a GPL to having the Web technology put in the general public domain, with no strings attached. On April 30 Robert and I received a declaration, with a CERN stamp, signed by one of the directors, saying that CERN agreed to allow anybody to use the Web protocol and code free of charge, to create a server or a browser, to give it away or sell it, without any royalty or other constraint. Whew! (p.72-73-74)

The danger of fracturing:

With Mosaic picking up the ball and running single-handedly for the goal line, and more and more gopher users considering the Web, evidence was mounting that "the Web" could splinter into various factions – some commercial, some academic; some free, some not. This would defeat the very purpose of the Web: to be a single, universal, accessible hypertext medium for sharing information. (p.76)

On the origin of Netscape:

As the talks ensued, Marc Andreessen, who had left NCSA to join Enterprise Integration Technology (EIT), had met business man Jim Clark. Together they founded Mosaic Communications Corp. The two rapidly hired Lou Montulli of Lynx fame, hired away the core Mosaic development team from NCSA, and set out to commercialize their browser. They'd soon relocate to Mountain View, California, and in April 1994 would rename themselves Netscape. (p.82)

Netscape's business plan:

Andreessen and Clark set out aggressively to conquer the entire market. To do so they used an unprecedented marketing policy: they released their product for free, so it would be picked up widely and quickly; all someone had to do was download it from the Internet. They also seemed to follow the unprecedented financial policy of not having a business plan at first: they decided not to bother to figure out what the plan would be until the product was world famous and omnipotent. (p.83)

Well-used taxpayer money:

The American government could congratulate itself on successful research funding that led to the Internet, and Europe could congratulate itself on taxpayer money well spent on CERN. (p.89)

On the origin of Internet Explorer:

The Web was becoming a business. Rather than develop its own Web code, Microsoft licensed browser code from a small NCSA spin-off called Spyglass. The cost was $2 million – more money than any of us involved from the early days would ever have dreamed of. (p.93)

Netscape was the largest IPO in history:

The stock was set to open at twenty-eight dollars a share, already a high price, but demand rapidly pushed it to seventyone dollars. Morgan Stanley, the investment house managing the offering, could not issue shares fast enough. Scores of large institutions wanted large percentages of ownership. They kept buying more until, at the close of trading, 38 million shares were on the market. Netscape, after a single day of trading, was worth $4,4 billion. It was the largest IPO in history, and the company had yet to show a profit. (p.106)

Making a lot of money from the Web?

People have sometimes asked me whether I am upset that I have not made a lot of money from the Web. In fact, I made some quite conscious decisions about which way to take my life. These I would not change – though I am making no comment on what I might do in the future. What does distress me, though, is how important a question it seems to be to some. This happens mostly in America, not Europe. What is maddening is the terrible notion that a person's value depends on how important and financially successful they are, and that that is measured in terms of money. (p.107)

The Web is a social creation:

The Web is more a social creation than a technical one. I designed it for a social effect – to help people work together – and not as a technical toy. (p.123)

PKC is trust:

A key technology for implementing trust is public key cryptography (PKC), a scheme for encoding information so no one else can read it unless he or she has the key to decode it. (p.126)

On domain names:

It is essential that domain names be primarily owned by the people as a whole, and that they be governed in a fair and reasonable way by the people, for the people. It is important that we not be blind to the need for governance where centralization does exist, just because the general rule on the Internet is that decentralization makes central government unnecessary. (p.128)

The DNS structure vs The Trademark Law:

Technically, much of the conflict is due to the mismatch between the domain name structure and the rules of the social mechanism for dealing with ownership of names: the trademark law. […] There can be a Toe & Sons hardware company in Bangor, Maine, and a Joe & Sons fish restaurant in San Francisco. But there can only be one joeandsons.com. (p.128)

On the Semantic Web:

This creates what I call a Semantic Web – a web of data that can be processed directly or indirectly by machines. (p.177)

Avant Quotes from The Backbone: A History of the Internet Après Fundamentals of React

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