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2022-01-14 18:30:03

"It often happens that the mind of a person who is learning a new science, has to pass through all the phases which the science itself has exhibited in its historical evolution." - Stanislao Cannizzaro, Italian chemist, 1826 - 1910

I think the most truly seminal moment in the history of the internet and the World Wide Web occurred on that fateful day in 1990 when the decision-makers at CERN Institute in Switzerland accepted a proposal written by Tim Berners-Lee regarding a new networking scheme and commissioned him to begin working on this project, and provided him with a black, cube-shaped computer with a NeXT editor and other related software on it. Or perhaps it was that day not long after that Mr. Berners-Lee, using that computer, constructed the first working http server and web page featuring an inter-document hyperlink. Though hyperlinks had been mathematically speculated upon for decades, this was the first working instance of one capable of linking assets even across a computer network. Per his proposal, his concern was to provide a way to index and connect a large and growing number of academic papers being authored by the various scientists at the CERN Institute, and other scientists around the world with whom they were in communication through the small but growing internationally-spread computer network.

Anyone familiar with peer reviewed academic papers knows that one common motif within virtually all of them is the footnote, providing a reference to some other previous academic paper, usually by someone else, to provide some quote or basis for the subject matter being discussed at that point. In conventional research as it was known back then, if a reader of such a paper wanted to know about something being quoted or referred to, he would look up its title in the footnote, and then go to a library and have the reference clerk there track down the cited article. This could take hours (if the library has on hand the desired article), or days, or even weeks (if they don't). Already, things were improving in that computers were already being connected up in a small but rapidly expanding network, and that most current academic papers of significance were being made available over that network. But even there it could take hours to find what you are looking for, and if a paper is large, to find the desired quote or reference within that paper.

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