|By John Eckman||
|November 18, 2006 08:00 AM EST||
I have always imagined the information space as something to which everyone has immediate and intuitive access, and not just to browse but to create." (Weaving the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee)
From the beginning, the World Wide Web that Tim Berners-Lee imagined was a place where the architecture of participation ruled. Berners-Lee's first application for accessing the information Web was both a browser and an editor, and throughout the early 1990s he worked diligently to encourage Web browser development groups to develop editors and servers as well as browsers. As early as the spring of 1992, the challenge was clear: "Although browsers were starting to spread, no one working on them tried to include writing and editing functions....As soon as developers got their client working as a browser and released it to the world, very few bothered to continue to develop it as an editor" (Weaving the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee).
Developers tended to defer the editing functionality for a number of reasons, mostly to compress development schedules and to get the browser out the door - because they felt many people, if they didn't need it, would at least use it - without the editor, which was more complex and useful to a smaller audience. Netscape Communicator 4.0, released in 1997, did finally include Netscape Composer, although its licensing terms only allowed free use for non-commercial purposes. Internet Explorer never contained an editor directly, though Microsoft acquired FrontPage from Vermeer in 1996; FrontPage 1.0 had been released in 1995 (www.seoconsultants.com/frontpage/history/).
It wasn't just the complexity of the editing functions themselves, of course, but also the fact that reading pages required a much simpler authorization model, in which the user either has access to the document or does not. In fact, the cluster of issues at hand - from version control of Web pages to multiple authors editing the same page, sometimes at the same time, to control over who should have access to change what pages - would busy the content management industry for the better part of the next decade.
While the early Web browser teams deferred creation of an HTML editor, they retained a key element of Sir Berners-Lee's original Web browser/editor:
The 'View Source' menu item migrated from Tim Berners-Lee's original browser, to Mosaic, and then on to Netscape Navigator and even Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Though no one thinks of HTML as an open source technology, its openness was absolutely key to the explosive spread of the Web. Barriers to entry for "amateurs" were low, because anyone could look "over the shoulder" of anyone else producing a Web page ("The Architecture of Participation" by Tim O'Reilly).
This "View Source" menu item, which was not buried in developer editions or professional versions but was part of the core browser, created a culture of easy access to knowledge.
The View Source Culture
From a narrow perspective, the decision to include a View Source option in the Web browser was an insignificant choice, perhaps useful for troubleshooting formatting issues, but of interest to a very small community. As Berners-Lee puts it, "I never intended HTML source code (the stuff with the angle brackets) to be seen by users. A browser/editor would let a user simply view or edit the language of a page of hypertext, as if he were using a word processor. The idea of asking people to write the angle brackets by hand was to me, and I assume to many, as unacceptable as asking one to prepare a Microsoft Word document by writing out its binary coded format" (Weaving the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee). What View Source did (and still does!) was let users who were interested in learning to create Web pages see what HTML source was delivered to the browser to produce the page currently being rendered. Perhaps because many of the early Web users were developers of one kind or another, it became an expectation that any reasonable browser would include the ability to View Source.
Viewed more broadly, however, the View Source command was nothing short of revolutionary. It set the expectation that users should be able to not only view the "rendered" document, but also the "code" that created it. Because early browsers often differed in their interpretation of HTML, this was critical. Significantly, though, the View Source option was not buried in a developer's edition but was part of the edition everyone used, which encouraged even neophyte users to view the source of pages, whereupon they would see the relative simplicity of (especially early) HTML. (An interesting discussion about the need for the View Source option can be found in this bug report: https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=256213 - which was a request to move View Source into a developer build of Firefox, and was ultimately rejected.)
|AJAXWorld News Desk 11/30/06 01:56:02 AM EST|
From the beginning, the World Wide Web that Tim Berners-Lee imagined was a place where the architecture of participation ruled. Berners-Lee's first application for accessing the information Web was both a browser and an editor, and throughout the early 1990s he worked diligently to encourage Web browser development groups to develop editors and servers as well as browsers. As early as the spring of 1992, the challenge was clear: 'Although browsers were starting to spread, no one working on them tried to include writing and editing functions....As soon as developers got their client working as a browser and released it to the world, very few bothered to continue to develop it as an editor' (Weaving the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee).
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