13 June 2005

On a Foray into HTML

Some terms of art for the web:

Some of you are going to hear some technical language used here that is quite intimidating. A case in point is the jargon associated with web pages, the internet, and so on. The fact that many of these terms have multiple meaning doesn't make it easier, but let us hope this does.

First, many people surfing the internet may be a little confused by the terms, "internet" and "web." These are almost, but not quite, synonyms. The internet is a network of networks that is connected (at least initially) through the telephone lines, using signals much like voice transmission. Modems used a universal standard for exchanging data through the phone lines, called TCP/IP. This format was developed in 1969 though the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), a branch of the Department of Defense. Much later, a protocol called HTML was developed that allowed web browsers to treat data sent over modems and convert this into graphical images, such as a web page. At the same time that HTML was invented, web browsers were also invented by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). It's easy to see why browsers and HTML had to be invented concurrently: a browser had to be able to translate data from a modem into an image that could be displayed, and there had to be a standard that allowed browsers to speak to each other.

The internet was initially useful to computer terminals connected to mainframes, running arcane software like FTP, Usenet and Gopher. I recall having a lot of friends who were familiar with these services and talked about them a lot, and finding it inconceivable that these things would ever amount to anything but costly nerd toys. In 1992, however, Mosaic emerged as the first graphical browser, thereby creating--in a stroke--the world of interconnected hypertext we know as the "Web."

(To be continued.)

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