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AUTHOR: Davis, Philip
TITLE: Welcome to the World-Wide Web. by Philip Davis
APPEARS IN: Computers in Libraries 1041-7915 Jan 1995, v15, n1,
PAGING: ill. (table)
ANNOTATION: The World-Wide Web (WWW) is a hypertext system that
facilitates access to the Internet from a variety
of platforms. It includes Gopher, telnet, ftp,
WAIS, Usenet news and many other useful tools. In
addition to text, WWW documents contain images,
sounds and movies. The system is easy to use and
is capable of drawing data from nearly every
OCLC #: 16712168(IAC)
Davis, Philip. Welcome to the World-Wide Web. In Computers in
Libraries Jan 1995, v15, n1, p51(5).
What do Internet gurus, librarians, students, captains of private
enterprise, and Al Gore all have in common? They're all talking about
the World-Wide Web. Everyone is talking about it, and whether you
call it WWW, [W.sup.3] or just the Web, it is the most flexible and
intuitive way to navigate the Information Superhighway.
The World-Wide Web (WWW) originated at the European Center for
Particle Physics (CERN) laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland. It was
conceived in 1989 as a hypertext-based system to facilitate worldwide
information sharing among the high-energy physics community.(1)
The idea behind the WWW is that everyone, irrespective of computer
platform (DOS, Macintosh, Unix, OS/2) should be able to access
information on the network.
In 1991, it became available for the rest of the Internet community.
The Web's popularity is due largely to its simplicity and ability to
incorporate data from almost any source with little effort, making it
an excellent front end to the Internet.(1)
World-Wide Web information resources are a step beyond the world of
pure ASCII, and into the world of multimedia. In addition to plain
text, documents can contain images, sounds, and movies, creating a
world rich with possibilities. The WWW is not exclusive of other
Internet resources, but incorporates Gopher, telnet, ftp, WAIS,
Usenet news, and other resources, making the Web a place for one-stop
The Web is undergoing unprecedented success. In 1993 the Web grew by
350,000 percent. By March 1994 at least 100,000 pieces of information
located on 26,000 computers were accessible to the millions who use
it. In May alone, 800GB of information--the equivalent of 2,300
Encyclopaedia Britannicas travelled over the Web.(2) As of June,
there were more than 7,000 WWW servers on the Internet, and about
thirty to ninety new servers are added daily, according to Henry
Matthes, an analyst with Dataquest Inc., in San Jose, California.(3)
According to statistics gathered from the NSFnet, WWW traffic over
the NSFnet backbone (in megabytes) had exceeded gopher traffic in
The World-Wide Web is a globally distributed information system based
on hypertext. Using Web client software (like Mosaic), browsing the
information available on the Web lets users view that information as
part of an enormous document of interlinked pages. These pages
contain hypertext links to other documents providing access to almost
all of the information available on the Internet.(5)
You can also think of the WWW as a huge global spider web (with the
documents as the nodes and the hypertext linkages as the silk that
connects them). Encapsulated in the link which connects two documents
is the name of the document being referenced, the address of the
computer where it can be found, and the method required to access it.
End-users need not concern themselves with the technicalities of
hypertext; they only need to point-and-click on hypertext links, and
the software contends with linking them with the right document.(2)
The WWW is unique from all other Internet resources in that it
supports multimedia. Any document on the Web can incorporate text,
graphics, sound, and even video.
An excellent example of incorporating multimedia into the Web is Le
WebLouvre (http://mistral.enst.fr/at pioch/louvre/). Le WebLouvre is
a virtual tour of Paris, world-class art museum, which incorporates
stunning images, art critiques, and classical musical clips together
into a set of interlinked documents. It is no wonder why Le WebLouvre
won the Best of Web '94 contest for the best use of multiple media.
The Web's ability to work on a multimedia platform makes it a perfect
venue for publishing as well. Travels with Samantha
electronic travelogue about Philip Greenspun's journey across North
America, incorporates over 250 stunning photo images embedded in
nineteen chapters of text. Click on highlighted place names and you
are instantly transported to the Xerox Map Server which displays his
location on a map. Hypertext makes this electronic travelogue more
flexible and innovative than any paper-bound copy could hope to be.
It Takes Two To Tango: How the WWW Works
The WWW is a client/server information system. Client/server systems
consist of two separate programs (the client and the server), which
communicate with each other using a standardized protocol called
Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP).(6)
Documents are marked up with a standard language called hypertext
markup language (HTML), which contains information about the
document's format, such as its title and paragraphs, as well as
character format like bold and italics. There are several guides and
tutorials on the Web for those interested more in the workings of
HTML. (See the sidebar "HTML Documentation" for a list of sources.)
A document can also contain embedded links to other documents. These
links must also be written in a standard format called the Uniform
Resource Locator (URL), and provide four required pieces of
information: the protocol required to retrieve the document, the
location of the server, its directory location, and the name of the
For example, the appropriate URL link to retrieve the document A
Beginner's Guide to HTML, would be:
The first part of the URL, http, is the protocol for document
transfer. www.ncsa.uiuc.edu is the location of the server--in this
case at the National Centre for Supercomputing Applications. demoweb
is the name of the directory, and html-primer.html, is the name of
In this example, the above document being retrieved is a hypertext
document. URLs can point to other types of documents as well:
ftp:// is the protocol for transferring a file.
gopher:// will link the client to a Gopher.
telnet:// will invoke terminal emulation with a
As mentioned earlier, it takes two to tango on the WWW--one partner
is the client, and the other is the server. Clients work at the
user's end and send requests for information. The server works on the
other end and transmits the reply. Information is sent and received
this way as packets of data. This type of client/server negotiation
continues until all of the requested information is sent.
Depending on whether the document contains graphics or other complex
elements, the client and server negotiate over formatting. For
example, a graphics file can be in GIF, JPEG, EPS, or TIFF formats,
depending on how the client phrases its request for the
information.(5) Thank goodness that this negotiation is hidden from
the end-user] If you use NCSA's Mosaic browser, you should only see a
small icon of the globe spinning round and round, and possibly some
comments about the status of transfer.
WWW browsers are the client software that you use on your computer to
navigate the Internet. Browser software interprets the hypertext data
sent to you by the host server, along with its pictures, text
formats, and assorted multimedia effects, and displays the document
(also called a page) on your screen.
There are a number of browsers available free on the net including
Mosaic, Cello, and Samba (which are graphical browsers), and Lynx
(which supports only text). Those still using dial-in terminal
emulation are not completely exiled to the ghettos of Web-less
cyberspace: both line-mode and full-screen text WWW clients can
access the Web.(7) NCSA's Mosaic is the most popular of the graphical
browsers, possibly because it is freely distributed over the Internet
to encourage use of the Web.(1) Mosaic is available for Macintosh,
MS-Windows, and X-Windows. Alternative graphical browsers have been
springing up recently, providing the end-user with a variety to
choose from. Netscape by Mosaic Communications Corp., has been dubbed
the "coolest" browser, and may soon joust for first position with
NCSA. The easiest way to get a copy of Mosaic is to use an existing
Internet connection to ftp (download) a copy of Mosaic to yourself
from ftp.ncsa.uiuc.edu. (See also the sidebar "Anonymous FTP Sites
for WWW Client Software" for a list of where to get other types of
New updates of Mosaic are released faster than the speed of light, so
make sure to have a copy of the most recent update. The most recent
update as of September 1994, was version 2.0 alpha 8. Mosaic is far
from a bugfree application--sequential updates deal with making it
fully functional. It is also sold commercially as part of several
Internet access products, including Spry's Internet in a Box.
Mosaic's popularity lies not only in its intuitive layout, but in a
robust number of functions that allow even the most inexperienced
users full access to the Web's resources.(8) Tedious and cryptic
navigational commands, like typing in the full address for a resource
link, are giving way to a point-and-click environment.
Mosaic can be run from an Internet-connected network or from a
dial-up connection to an Internet service provider. The latter route
requires either a SLIP (Serial Line Internet Protocol) or a PPP
(Point-to-Point Protocol) connection.(9)
A Bandwidth Hog
The bad news about Mosaic is that it is a bandwidth hog. Multimedia
is extremely data-intensive. Images and sound files can require
transfers of several hundred thousand bytes across the Internet, and
short movies can run up to several megabytes. It is so
data-intensive, that Rob Raisch, president of The Internet Company,
claims that less than one quarter of Internet users have access to
the bandwidth that can support it.(8) Even with a good data
connection, Mosaic can appear to run as slowly as molasses.
Brave New World of Commerce
Although the Web is still a testing ground for young academics
sporting ponytails and tennis shoes, private industry is awakening to
the Web's commercial benefits.
The same hardware and software required to publish on the Web can
also be used to set up company-wide information services. The servers
available today have fairly sophisticated security, allowing
companies to provide separate information for both internal and
external use (the latter for users connecting over the Internet).(5)
A company may want to provide internal information such as training
manuals, personnel management resources, and other pertinent
resources to employees. To the rest of the world they could offer
product catalogues, order forms, public stock information, and
CommerceNet (http://www.commerce.com) is the first market trial of
electronic commerce on the Internet. It is a consortium of Northern
California high-technology companies and organizations whose goal is
to create an electronic marketplace on the Internet. CommerceNet
hopes to stimulate the growth of a communications infrastructure that
will be secure, easy-to-use, oriented for commercial use, and ready
Because the Web supports multimedia, it becomes an ideal platform for
setting up "virtual storefronts." Company logos, product images, and
descriptions can easily be set up like a brochure. In fact,
publishing company information on the Web has many advantages over
their paper-based counterparts--they can be readily and cheaply
updated, and distributed at nearly the speed of light. On the Web,
there is no such thing as an outdated electronic brochure. Companies
like Mecklermedia, (http://www.mecklerweb.com) have already set up
shop with a virtual storefront and intend to provide virtual
locations for other businesses.
Resource Sharing and Participation
Because documents can be linked together in a hypermedia environment,
the world's information resources can theoretically be shared. This
presents a unique opportunity for libraries which duplicate many of
the same information resources at each location. The library would
benefit from sharing resources as an alternative to building up many
of its own collections. This becomes even more apparent when special
collections get put on the Web and made available to other libraries
which lack the financial means to dc, the same.
Many libraries have already established a presence on the Web, and
many more are yet to follow. The Library of Congress has been at the
forefront. and has launched its own virtual library located at
The Library of Congress currently offers photographic and sound
collections from the American Memory Project, an African-American
Culture and History online exhibit, and Country Studies from the
Federal Research Division.
The federal government has also been active in resource sharing on
the WWW. Welcome to the White House (http://www.whitehouse.gov),
personally endorsed by President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore
was recently established in October 1994 to enable those linked to
the Web to retrieve government documents and other information from
various federal agencies. Currently, about 3,000 electronic documents
produced by the administration on topics such as how to start and
finance a small business, learn about Medicare, or government-funded
child care programs are now available online, and more services are
Searching and Serendipity: You Can Get There from Here
Because the WWW is based on hypermedia, users are able to browse from
one site to another along the links. In the same way that users
browse library shelves, hypertext allows serendipity to play a role
in navigating the Internet. The only trouble is that there is no
standard way to link information--a click on a highlighted word may
take you elsewhere in the document, to another document at the same
site, or half-way around the world] When the Web was a much smaller
place, this type of navigation worked well. The trouble in a huge
interwoven web is that there might not be a direct link from where
you are to where you want to be (the classical You Can,t Get There
>From Here] problem).
All is not lost because there are numerous services on the Web which
help weary travellers reach their destination. There are several
Virtual Libraries which organize Web information by subject. Others
maintain searchable catalogues which accept user-provided keywords.
Many WWW servers also support a WAIS server which returns a list of
ranked results based on the relevance of each document to the user's
search string. (See the sidebar "Catalogues and Indexes on the Web.")
Searching the Web does not eliminate browsing through related
hypertext documents, but in fact encourages it. After locating an
appropriate site, you can continue your search by exploring some of
its links. Most of us do this in a library anyway--the catalogue
sends us to the right place on the shelf, from which we begin to
browse for related titles. Serendipity allows us to discover
unexpected and related resources we did not previously consider. It
becomes a venue for discovery and learning.
RELATED ARTICLE: HTML Documentation
Several guides and tutorials are available on the Web for those
interesed in the workings of HTML. NCSA's "A Beginner's Guide to
Style Guide to Writing HTML
HTML Quick Reference
Pointers to Miscellaneous WWW Technical Information
RELATED ARTICLE: Anonymous FTP Sites for WWW Client Software
Graphical User Interface (GUI) Clients
Mosaic (developed by CERN)
Mosaic Netscape (Mosaic Communications Corp.)
nscape09.zip (PC only)
mac.archive.umich.edu/mac (Mac only)
AIR Mosaic demo version (Spry Inc.) (Windows only)
Cello (developed at Cornell)
Samba (developed at CERN)
ASCII-based WWW Clients
Lynx (University of Kansas)
Demo available. Telnet to: ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
(log-on www, no password required)
RELATED ARTICLE: WWW Glossary
Browser. Browsers are the software which navigates the World-Wide Web
from the user (or client's) end. They send requests in the form of
hypertext transport protocol (HTTP) to a WWW server.
Client. A client is the computer which sends a request for
information to a WWW server.
File Transfer Protocol (ftp). A protocol that defines how to move
files from one computer to another.
Gopher. (1) A menu-based system for exploring Internet resources. (2)
American burrowing rodent.
Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). A simplified text-based markup
language that creates standardized text presentations for client
software. Contains formatting information about the document, as well
as links to other documents. HTML is a subset of standard generalized
markup language (SGML).
Hypertext Transport Protocol (HTTP). A standard protocol used to
transfer information between client and server over the WWW.
Protocol. A set of rules that are used to communicate requests and
replies over a network.
Server. A computer which maintains electronic documents, and sends
them by request to client computers.
Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML). A standard markup
language used to communicate information about the structure of the
document, including text formatting and links to other documents.
Telnet. A terminal emulation program that allows you to log on to
other computers on the Internet.
Usenet. A group of systems that exchanges news on the Internet.
Wide Area Information Server (WAIS). A server which can search
databases and provide relevant feedback to user-entered search
RELATED ARTICLE: Catalogues and Indexes on the Web
This list is anything but complete. New tools for navigating the WWW
are rapidly appearing on the net.
Searchable catalogues require that your client software can work with
CUI W3 Catalog http://cuiwww.unige.ch/
The Lycos Home Page: Hunting WWW Information http://lycos.cs.cmu.edu/
Yahoo: A Guide to the WWW http://akebono.stanford.edu/yahoo/
WWWW: The World-Wide Web Worm
Browsable indexes are suitable for those clients that don't support
forms, or for text-based clients like Lynx.
The WWW Virtual Library:Subject Catalog
Internet Resources Meta-Index
The Whole Internet Catalog http://www.digital.com/gnn/wic/index.html
Yahoo: A Guide to the WWW http://akebono.stanford.edu/yahoo/
(1.) Porterfield, Keith W. "WWWW (What's a World Wide Web?),"
Internet World, 5(3) (1994): 20-22. (2.) Kleiner, Kurt. "What a
tangled Web they wove," New Scientist, (July 30, 1994): 35-39. (3.)
Patch, Kimberly. "Businesses spin Web for distribution; server
options are expanding rapidly," PC Week, 11 (25) (1994): 73-75. (4.)
Calcari, Susan. "A Snapshot of the Internet," Internet World, 5(6):
54-58. (5.) Sullivan, Eamonn. "HTTP eases access to Internet info,"
PC Week, 11(4) (1994): 71-73. (6.) Powell, James. "Adventures with
the World-Wide Web: creating a hypertext library information system,"
Database, 17(1) (1994): 59-66. (7.) Notess, Greg R. "Lynx to the
World-Wide Web," Online, 18 (1994): 78. (8.) McBride, James.
"Marketing Mosaic," Internet World, 5(7) (1994): 40-43. (9.) Gralla,
Preston. "NCSA Mosaic; untangling the World Wide Web," PC-Computing,
7(7) (1994): 113-114.
COPYRIGHT Meckler Corporation 1995