I learned something new today. I’ve been involved with the Internet since before the World Wide Web as everyone knows it, and yet I didn’t remember or even realize that the original browser has a “read/write” feature. Amazing.
Tim Berners-Lee (TBL), in his first blog post, reminds us of a very important bit of web history. He writes: “The first browser was actually a browser/editor, which allowed one to edit any page, and save it back to the web…” TBL might also have noted that the Enquire program that he wrote in 1980 (10 years before the WWW) supported an edit mode.
The idea of a read/write web had been motivating the work of many hypertext developers like TBL long before the web was born. But, the last 10 years experience with the largely “read-only” web has caused many people to forget that the original idea was to create a writeable, creative space — not just a network of things to be read. Fortunately, the growth of blogging is finally causing the renaissance of the read/write web. What we don’t understand, I think, is how the original idea of the read/write web could have been “lost” — even temporarily.
Of course, when TBL refers to the “first browser”, he’s talking about the first browser for his wonder-filled creation, the World Wide Web. There were many hypertext “browsers” before TBL’s and many supported read/write operation – although virtually none were networked. (e.g. see the pre-WWW Hypertext 1989, and Hypertext 1987 conferences which had many papers that assumed read/write and collaborative hypertext use.) The odd thing about the TBL’s WWW is that while it has done a fantastic job of popularizing Vannevar Bush’s idea of associative links (later renamed “Hypertext” by Ted Nelson), it took us far away from the idea of the read/write collaborative web that we’ve only recently begun to re-discovery through the “invention” of Blogs and Wikis. As TBL says: The “web took off very much as a publishing medium, in which people edited offline”. Clearly, while the web is something much grander than anything of which TBL could have dreamed, it is also still somewhat less than what he and other early hypertext developers hoped it would be.
It is somewhat a mystery how, why and when we could have temporarily lost such a powerful idea as the read/write web.
I can personally understand the decision to go with a “read only” browser. I certainly wouldn’t want people to edit my website or blog. That’s “my business”. They can make recommendations and suggestions on things that should be changed or corrected, but keep your editing fingers out of my code and content. Still, I like the idea of a wikified browser, making editing for the authorized person much easier.
This is a great article. I hate that so much information about the early days of computers is being lost in the plethora of information and articles on the latest and bestest computer thingy or game. We still need to remember our roots to know how far we have come, and how far we have left to go.