The Achiever Newsletter
What in the World Is the World Wide Web?
The World Wide Web (WWW) is the newest route to travel through the scattered information segments of the Internet, the network of networks originally developed in 1969 by the U.S. Department of Defense for communication in case of a nuclear attack. Through the years, the Internet expanded and became a network connecting researchers in business and education.
However, maneuvering the massive information bases of the Internet remained a problem for the general public who didn't have time to learn the complicated commands needed to find information. As a result, accessing information via the Internet did not gain popularity until the development of gopher menus and the World Wide Web.
When Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau of the European Particle Physics Laboratory proposed a system for organizing and documenting text, the menu-based gopher had been under development and became the main way to tour the Internet; however, the new system used hypertext instead of the gopher's menu hierarchies.
Hypertext is text which contains "links" to other texts. By clicking on a highlighted section of text with either a mouse or arrow keys, you are taken to another document in another computer anywhere in the world. The second document may also contain links to other documents. You don't need to know where the referenced document is, and no command is necessary to display the linked information. This structure allows information providers to connect information in an infinite number of combinations from one document, unlike the simple, tree-shaped hierarchy of the gopher menu system.
Although the WWW started in 1990, only the high-energy physics community used the system. Then, in 1993 students at the University of Illinois designed software, called Mosaic, which browsed, retrieved and interpreted documents on the Web. The term browser now refers to programs like Mosaic that allow you to navigate and view documents on the Web.
Yet hypertext isn't the only advantage of the World Wide Web. Depending on your computer's capabilities and connection, you may be able to access documents with audio, still graphics, and movies.
How to Access the World Wide Web
Users activate the WWW by a client called a browser. These browser are either text- or graphic-based. Access is dependent on the connection you have.
Since it doesn't require any special software, the text-based (line-mode) browsers such as Lynx allow a user with a basic computer and modem to navigate the Web in text mode. Since it only deals with text, it ignores big graphic files. As a result Lynx is popular as a high-speed way to access the Web. Using hypertext, this browser allows you to click on a highlighted word with the arrow and Enter keys. Lynx then automatically moves to that document on the Internet.
Web documents using a graphic browser, such as Mosaic or Netscape Navigator, look like pages from a book and thus are referred to as "pages." The text usually has large titles and indented or bulleted items. In contrast, a text browser shows letters in only one size. The graphic browser also provides photographs or graphics in line with the text since these files are downloaded with the text. In addition, compressed audio files and movie clips are available with a graphic browser.
The best way to learn about the World Wide Web is to try it out for yourself.
Since this article was originally written in 1995, many changes have occurred in the evolution of the web. Originally this article pointed to two search engines, but with the explosion of competing search areas, it's necessary to add a few more to this page. I have chosen my current favorite search engines/portals. Each has strengths and weaknesses, but time and time again, they have provided me with the information I've needed.
Publication Date: Spring 1995
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