Aug 232016


Today is Internaut Day celebrating the anniversary of the launch of the World Wide Web on this day in 1991. Sorry, I’m going to get a bit geeky for a while. I celebrated the birth of the Internet in April but today is a different birthday. If you’re into metaphors you can think of these two – Internet and World Wide Web – as father and son. Colloquially people use terms like “Internet” and “Web” interchangeably, but they are not the same. The Web sits on top of the Internet and was a later development. The geeks among you can ignore what follows and go straight to the whisky bottle for a cheery celebration.

In April I spoke a little about how, starting in the 1960s, the Internet was built to link up computers – eventually internationally. All well and good. Using the Internet originally was not for the faint of heart. Via my (then) brother-in-law, I had access to the Internet back in the late 1980s. He controlled a university mainframe which he let me dial into, and, by a painful process, I exchanged my research data with a few colleagues. It was arduous, but a lot more efficient than mailing floppy disks back and forth, and allowed a very fruitful collaboration. Then the World Wide Web came along, and my life improved immensely.

Let me try to put things in simple terms. The Internet allowed people to transfer data globally, but sender and receiver had to actively do something to make the system work. There were no browsers and no websites as such. In March 1989 Tim Berners-Lee, working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland, wrote a proposal for “a large hypertext database with typed links.” Although the proposal attracted little interest, Berners-Lee was encouraged by his boss, Mike Sendall, to begin implementing his system on a newly acquired NeXT workstation. He considered several names, including Information Mesh, The Information Mine or Mine of Information, but settled on World Wide Web.


Berners-Lee’s breakthrough was to marry hypertext to the Internet. In his book Weaving The Web, he explains that he had repeatedly suggested that a union of the two technologies was possible to members of technical communities of the time, but when no one took up his invitation, he finally assumed the project himself. In the process, he developed three essential technologies:

  1. a system of globally unique identifiers for resources on the Web and elsewhere, the universal document identifier (UDI), later known as uniform resource locator (URL) and uniform resource identifier (URI);
  2. the publishing language HyperText Markup Language (HTML);
  3. the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP).

Let me break this down into simple terms. The Internet had been like an electronic postal system. One person (the sender) encapsulated data electronically in a package and gave it to an electronic mailman who delivered it to another person (the receiver). The receiver picked up the package and read it. These data were mostly text based, and, just like regular mail, we’re talking about mail that goes from just one person to another (or possibly to a group of people). Then the Web came along. Now instead of just sending packages, people could build websites – let’s say this was like opening up parts of their houses for other people to enter and look around. They could look at pictures on the wall, read books there, play games, or whatever. In turn, other people, instead of just sending packages, could get in their cars and visit any house that was open to them. This is the Web that we know now. All you need is a browser (a car) and you can go anywhere in the world and you can stop off anywhere. You don’t need senders and receivers any more. You don’t have to be home when someone stops by to visit. You just have to have enough security in the house so that they don’t touch anything (or leave muddy footprints) – just look.


The first effective browser was Mosaic. I remember it well. It was clunky and very slow. But it was a step forward. It might take 20 minutes to load a site that was text only, and an hour or more to load an image. Like many people, I used Netscape Navigator for browsing initially but moved up the food chain a long time ago (“long” in cybertime).


“Internaut” is a portmanteau word combining “INTERnet” and “astroNAUT” and refers to a designer, operator, or technically capable user of the Internet. Beginning with participants in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), it gradually expanded to members of the Internet Society (ISoc) and the larger community. Now an internaut is often used in English to describe someone who is online savvy, typically through years of online experience, with a thorough knowledge of how to use search engines, Internet resources, forums, newsgroups and chat rooms to find information. So the more someone knows about the Internet, its history and politics, the more likely the term internaut fits. The less he or she knows the more likely a different term would be more fitting. Other terms roughly analogous with internaut are cybernaut and netizen (Internet + citizen), though each has its own connotation. In other languages “internaut” just means anyone who surfs the Web, and that’s the connotation most apt for today, the Web’s official birthday – 25 today. Happy Birthday !!!

IT specialists use a conceptualization of the movement of data around the Internet known as the OSI (Open System Interconnection) 7 Layer Model. The actual physical structure of the Internet — wires, hubs, etc. – along which data is transmitted in the form of electrical pulses is layer 1. The top layer, layer 7, is the software in your computer, such as your browser.  Altogether there are 7 layers as follows:


You surf the Web using layer 7 and the information you input goes all the way down to layer 1, travels along the Internet, then pops up to layer 7 at the other end. This way the hardware and software do all the work for you, and it is these layers that marry the World Wide Web to the Internet. Since it is the Web’s 25th birthday today, a 7-layer birthday cake seems in order. The best I know of is the Dobos torte or Dobosh, a Hungarian sponge cake layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel. It is named after its inventor, Hungarian confectioner József C. Dobos, who aimed to create a cake that would last longer than other pastries in an age when cooling techniques were limited. The round sides of the cake are coated with ground hazelnuts, chestnuts, walnuts, or almonds, and the caramel topping helps to prevent drying out.


Since we are celebrating the Web I will leave it to you to find a recipe of your choice on the Web. Or go here: