World Wide Web

I like to consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about the Internet. I know where to go online for cheap theatre tickets, cheap flights, and even two-for-one deals at TGI Fridays. I am using the Internet for all of these but, of course, I am using only a part of it, the World Wide Web.

These days the terms Web and Net are used almost interchangeably, but there is actually rather an important difference between the two. The Internet (or Net) is a series of interlinked computers and networks that allow the accumulation access and transmission of data. The World Wide Web (or Web) is a collection of interlinked documents, accessed by hyperlinks and URLs.

The Net predates the Web by quite some margin, and was originally developed by the US Department of Defense as a way a transmitting data securely in the form of dispersed packets. This had many advantages in that the data would have a greater survivability rate in the event of hostilities taking place and destroying networks and mainframes.

The Web is a service that is offered on the Internet, in many respects, similar to the way that email is offered. The Web is based on hypertext protocol and doesn't encompass everything that is on the Net by a long way.

I had no idea at the time, but when I was at college I was in fact an Internet pioneer. Being unaware of the fact, I didn't feel it was mandatory to drink buzz cola, or wear Grateful Dead t-shirts, though the odd tin might have passed my lips from time to time.

My college was in fact connected to jaNET, the Joint Academic Network

Here you could do amazing things, like emailing your friend in Salford at 11pm and seeing if he was still in the computer room, usually receiving an email back the next day saying, no, he'd had to go to the laundry instead.

We were quite advanced for a college back in the 80's. My geography course even had a fundamentals of computing course, where we could sit around and bother an old Vax/VMS.

Whilst sitting in the computer room, I could make primitive versions of instant messages appear on my co-students workstations. The primitive messaging, when applied to female co-students, would quite often contain primitive messages, and was probably part of the reason why I managed to avoid getting ensnared in anything like a relationship until my final year.

This early exposure desensitized me to the wonders of technology to a degree, and I didn't feel the same kind of awe that my co-workers did when we got our first Internet service email in about 1994. It was the next year that I experienced the Web for the first time, navigating the surf at the helm of a Netscape browser.

I saw all sorts of possibilities back then. I saw that I could waste 1/2 an hour trying to download the home page for Yahoo!

Working on a technology title I immediately made a prediction about advertising on the Web. Waste of time I said, it would be like trying to advertise within the pages of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Yet another successful prediction.

These days the Web and the Net are so intertwined, and the Web so much in the public eye, that it's natural that they should be viewed as one and the same thing. They're not, but perhaps the distinction is becoming more subtle.