Media Technology
Research Centre
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  How We Invented the Web!
  The web brought together the following features:
  • A graphical browser.
  • Retrieval of pictures and text, independently of detailed file-system address.
  • Links: just click to retrieve.
  • Arbitrary linking, to make a web.
  • Network-wide addressing of machines.
  • A text mark-up language.

In truth each of these had been developed by computer scientists before they were put together by the CERN physicists. For example, Bath had earlier demonstrated a browser (that is what we called it) for picture and text retrieval which had all the above features except CERN's simple text mark-up, though it did have free-form text retrieval. We additionally supported several features which were still well in the future for the web: higher-than-screen resolution pictures; support for a range of compression methods; and progressive-resolution image retrieval. We recognised and addressed the colour palette problem, including having reserved colours for the browser interface. We proposed that the browser should have a history mechanism and emphasised its likely importance. We proposed that clicking could run a program, rather than just retrieve a picture; and that this gives a network-wide desktop, especially with folders on remote machines (recall the plans for the Windows 95 desktop). And we had our system running three years before CERN!

You might also like to look at recent developments, such as flickr.

Here is our timeline, which you might like to compare with CERN's, below. Essentially we had finished our work, and demonstrated a working system before Tim Berners-Lee started. We published in our externally-available Technical Report series before their prototype was available; and in a refereed journal at about the time CERN put their software on limited release to part of their internal community.

  • 1986-1989. SERC grant for "A network colour picture archive browse system". This supported Andy Hunter who developed the system. Andy deserves wider recognition for very effective work done with limited resources.
  • October 27th 1989. Outline proposal to British Library Research and Development Department, summarizing our current state of play and proposing to extend it to massive archives with multimedia support. Subsequently (1Q 1991) reworked by Dr Stephen Roberts, Ealing College, as a joint proposal to investigate usability issues. (The British Library did not seem to know what to do with it and eventually turned it down in mid 1991. Apparently it wasn't the kind of thing they did ...). I can't blame them. Our national funding agency for research also turned down a proposal (to extend it to include proper text retrieval) because this was "too incremental", though at least this recognised that we had addressed a wide range of issues.
  • April 1990. Computing Group Research Report #90-38: "Browsing colour pictures in a network distributed archive system"; (252 pages: Andy Hunter's PhD thesis in full).
  • 1Q 1991. "A picture archive browser" A Hunter & P J Willis; Computer Graphics Forum 10, Issue 1, 1991, pp 49-59.

Other similar image-based systems at the time include one involving Jim Murphy at UCSC (around 1990) using XWindows, Athena and Motif widgets.

Later web developments include:

  • October 1990 Tim Berners-Lee starts to write code to create the web.
  • December 25th 1990 First client-server connection, between WorldWideWeb and
  • March 1991 Tim Berners-Lee releases his WorldWideWeb client to a limited number of CERN NeXT users.
  • April 30th 1993 CERN releases its web protocol and code, without restrictions.
  • Early 1994 Mosaic Communications formed. Renamed Netscape in April.
  • May 25th 1994 First WWW Conference, at CERN.
  • 1994 Decision to include web browser in Windows 95. MSN to be launched and software to access it to be part of Windows.
  • October 1994 Netscape releases Mozilla.
  • December 14th 1994 First Web Consortium meeting.
  • December 15th 1994 Netscape releases its first commercial browser, Navigator, a free download.
  • May 1995 Sun releases Java.
  • August 1995 Netscape initial public offering values the 18-month old company at $4.4 billion.
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