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What is the World Wide Web?

The World Wide Web, also referred to as the WWW, the Web, the Internet, the Net, or simply on-line, is a technical phenomenon of unknown proportions. While the WWW is referred to as the Internet, technically the WWW in not the Internet.

The origins of the Internet can be traced back to 1962. The U.S. government was concerned that a nuclear attack on the United States would make military communications impossible. They proposed that a system of computer networks would solve this dilemma. In 1969, the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARAP), developed a network that linked four universities. This network quickly became widely used for academic and commercial research. What started out as a defense project thirty-five years ago has developed into a vast architecture of computers, cables, phone lines, and satellite dishes over which information can be exchanged at any time of day around the world.

HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is the basic language of the World Wide Web. Tim Berners-Lee, a software engineer at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN), created HTML in 1989 by modifying the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML). His original purpose was to make it possible to share documents created on one computer with entirely different computer systems without having to take into account all the idiosyncrasies of different hardware and software. His main interest was to share research information with others around the world and allow them to move from one document to another without difficulty. So basically the WWW is not a place, but the interpreter of a language that enables everyone to share information.

The WWW is an international information highway, providing data on every subject known to humankind. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the WWW is always open. There is no dress code, no distance to travel, and no dark parking lots to walk through alone. From the comfort of an easy-chair it's possible to talk to people from all over the world, find the best spot to take a vacation, or play games against other on-line gamers. There are mail-groups, news-groups and bulletin boards pertaining to thousands of subjects. Can't find a zip-code? The United States Postal service is on-line. Visit the Internal Revenue Service and download any form the I.R.S. has ever published. Interested in purchasing a car? Don't waste time driving from lot to lot. Car companies and dealer web-sites offer financing and leasing information, detailed photos and color schemes for every make and model they manufacture. Read the New York Times on-line. Find an apartment or job on-line. The scope of services that are available on the World Wide Web is mind-boggling.

The World Wide Web is more than a giant library, mall, and playground. It's also a place where people can meet others and develop long-term friendships. In a chat room people are not judged by their clothing, their car or their address. The Web transcends color barriers, handicaps and prejudices. It opens up a whole new world for persons who are house-bound due to medical problems. Deaf people can "talk" to anyone. It's a place where someone in a wheel-chair can interact on equal footing with others. The Web casually strides over age gaps as if they were mere pot-holes.

The Web is an archive of the planet Earth. People from all walks of life are busy coding html pages of information about anything and everything; creating an enormous amount of un-censored information available to anyone with a computer and a modem. It's far-reaching strands have enhanced the lives of it's cyberculture in ways too numerous to mention. The World Wide Web is our newest frontier. Perhaps Captain James T. Kirk's well known narration best explains humanities fascination with the Web today: "To boldly go where no one has gone before...".


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