tim berners-lee, sir tim berners-lee
AP Photo/Mike Groll
Tim Berners-Lee speaks during an interview
at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy,
N.Y., Wednesday, June 11, 2008.

Slash Slash: Web’s Creator Admits to Early “Mistake”

October 15, 2009 06:00 PM
by James Sullivan
Sir Tim Berners-Lee has apologized for adding the two “unnecessary” slashes to the beginning of URLs. On the heels of his confession, explore the origins of the Web and learn how it works.

What a Difference a Slash Makes

Did Tim Berners-Lee envision the implications of those two slashes while writing the code for the World Wide Web in the early ’90s? During a talk at a technology conference in Washington, D.C., he confessed that the answer is no. Berners-Lee admitted that it wouldn’t have been too difficult to create URLs without the superfluous punctuation, and in his “light-hearted apology,” cited the “wasted time, printing and paper” the double forward slashes have created, the BBC reports.

“People are having to use that finger so much,” Berners-Lee was quoted as saying by The Economic Times. “Look at all the paper and trees that could have been saved if people had not had to write or type out those slashes on paper over the years—not to mention the human labour and time spent typing those two keystrokes countless millions of times in browser address boxes.”

Berners-Lee’s apology offers an interesting window into the humble beginnings of a technology that would irrevocably change the way people communicate and share information.

Key Player: Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Tim Berners-Lee graduated from Queens College, Oxford, in 1976. In 1990, while working at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, he invented the World Wide Web.

The Web was originally conceived as a resource to enable CERN scientists to share information stored on separate computers. Information would be navigated using “hypertext”—the method of linking between documents still used today. An early advocate of hypertext was a CERN systems engineer named Robert Cailliau, who would become the first Web surfer. The first Web site was, which now offers a brief historical account of Berners-Lee’s creation of the Web.

The conceptual precursor to the World Wide Web was a never-published program created by Berners-Lee called “Enquire,” designed for “storing information including using random associations,” according to his biography on the W3C Web site.

Berners-Lee was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2004.

Reference: The World Wide Web

The Internet itself is a worldwide network of interconnected computers that allows users to access and transfer information remotely. The information viewed on the Net is actually not on the Net at all, but rather on other computers, and viewed via the Net. A useful analogy would be to think of the Internet as a phone network: Just as a telephone provides people with the ability to contact distant locations and exchange information verbally, the Internet allows users to contact faraway locations and exchange information electronically.

The physical composition of the Internet is the system of wires, fiber-optic cables, routers and circuits that make this connection possible. Many people view the Internet as an abstract body of information floating around in cyberspace. This is not the case at all. The Internet is a worldwide network of computer networks, and the information accessed resides on the connected computers themselves.

The most popular service accessed through the Internet is the World Wide Web (WWW). The Web and the Net are often considered to be synonymous but actually represent two different things. Whereas the Internet is the means for accessing information, the Web is composed of the visual display of the information being accessed. Web pages are collections of files and documents stored on computers around the world, formatted in a programming language called HTML (hypertext markup language). This permits users to move between them by clicking on highlighted areas, called hyperlinks, or links for short.

The Web is navigated using a technology called hypertext. Hypertext is a name for documents containing embedded pathways that, when clicked, direct users to other documents. These “links” can come in the form of words, phrases, icons or graphics, and create interconnectedness between files and documents, giving character to the image of the World Wide Web as a “web.”

A Web browser is a computer program that allows users to access the Internet and view information on the Web. They accomplish this by interpreting HTML files, and displaying them as “pages” on a user’s computer. Browsers are designed to facilitate an ease of navigation through the Web’s pages, by taking advantage of its many benefits afforded by hypertext.

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