David Trinko: Marking 25 years of the World Wide Web

First Posted: 5/17/2014

Sometimes, when you get really busy, you realize you’ve missed the birthday of an important friend.

You feel horrible about it, trying to find the perfect belated birthday card. I hope my dear friend accepts this week’s column as my belated birthday wish.

Happy 25th birthday, World Wide Web!

The World Wide Web marked 25 years of existence back in March. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist, created the language used for documents to be communicated over the Internet. He wrote that proposal March 12, 1989.

At the time, scientists couldn’t figure out how to share their findings with one another in an efficient manner. They needed an on-demand system to transmit information over the Internet network that had already unfolded.

Scientists tested it in December 1990, and it went live on a NeXT Computer. The world has never been quite the same.

As baffling as it might be for people born after 1989 to realize, information wasn’t always readily accessible. You couldn’t just pull out a smartphone and Google something. You had to seek out that knowledge.

That’s right, you whippersnappers. We had to go out to a library and look things up in an encyclopedia. Now get off my lawn.

Despite the abundance of gray in my hair, I’m fortunate to have been young enough to adopt the Web early. I got my first email account 20 years ago, and I was finding information via Gopher, a predecessor of the Web, shortly afterward.

I saw the power of the Web when I was in college in the mid-1990s, even getting my first high-speed connection in a dorm room. I spent way too much time surfing the Web, in awe of the abundance of information out there, available to anyone who wanted to learn.

The beauty in those days was the Web was primarily an educational tool. Most of the pages I found belonged to colleges and universities. It seemed easy to trust what you read online.

We continue to search out knowledge online today. There were at least 4.73 billion Web pages online Saturday morning, according to WorldWideWebSize.com, which uses index estimates by Bing, Google and Yahoo. About 40 percent of people on the planet use the Internet today, mostly in Europe, Canada and the United States, according to the International Telecommunications Union.

It’s harder and harder to trust what you see online, though. The evolution of the Web made it easier to share information, but it made it harder to tell what is true and what is fiction.

I’m no longer amazed when I see otherwise intelligent people passing on disproven falsehoods online. Weather maps from epic storms are often recirculated as if they’re happening today. Heartbreaking scenes of devastation get pushed around as if they’re fresh.

It’s so common, sites exist simply to disprove online myths. Sites such as snopes.com, urbanmyths.com and truthorfiction.com exist simply to help people tell what’s true or what’s not.

Still, people believe what they want to believe, including the conspiracy theorists who believe there’s a Federal Emergency Management Agency concentration camp in Lima. One gentleman who called the newspaper refused to believe me when I told him I’d toured the building he saw on Google Maps. It’s housing at Allen Oakwood Correctional Facility, a state prison, not an illegal holding place for American citizens rejecting a one-world government.

Still, I’m happy to see my old friend the World Wide Web hit 25 years. Sure, it does some crazy things now and again, but there’s no doubt that it’s taught us a lot through the years.

It’s up to us to figure out what the next 25 years online might look like. Will there be an exponential increase in funny cat videos? Will conspiracy sites take over the world? Will social media, full of people’s perceptions of what happened, displace all gatekeepers of information?

Only time will tell. After all, 25 years ago, just the notion of sharing information worldwide still seemed ludicrous.

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