Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Technology transitions -- the early days of the Web

Today's freshman cannot remember a time before the Web, but, at first, HTTP and HTML were just newly proposed protocols without users. In the early 1990s, email, file transfer, network news, and remote login were important Internet applications. We also read documents from Gopher servers, and found them using search services like Veronica, WAIS, and Archie or a directory called "Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web," which was maintained by two graduate students and later renamed "Yahoo!".

Gopher sites had tables of contents with links to documents, but no links within documents. The text could not be formatted (as we do with HTML today), and there were no images, only text. Web files were larger than Gopher files, but that became less important as communication speed -- faster modems -- improved.

As with all technology transitions, the Web protocols co-existed with Gopher and related search engines for some time. John December, a graduate student at the time, documented this transition period and his outlook for the Web in a book and in this article.

Can you give an example of another emerging application that depends upon increased communication speed? Increased storage capacity? Increased computation speed?