Saturday, October 2, 2010

What did I mean, "web before the web"?

I badly mis-titled my previous post.

The point I was trying to make was that the ability to sit down at a computer and do many of the things we now associate with the web, and the idea that there was good money to be made in providing that ability, both predate the Web As We Know It.  Fair enough, but calling that "the web before the web" is just wrong.  There was very little webby about it.

What makes the web the web?  The ability to link from one site to another, that is, the good old http:// link we all know and love.  In the 80s you could connect to a remote site.  With some applications (for example HyperCard, though it wasn't the first) you could chase links between and within documents on the same computer.  UUCP and Usenet also predate the web, allowing email and news to flow between systems (including some BBSs).  And, of course, the internet itself was around, so some people at least could connect to more than one system without signing off and dialing in again.

Nonetheless, the essential feature of the web, the idea that you could seamlessly follow a link in one online document to an online document hosted by a different system, had not yet arrived.  Without that, no web.