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Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 13:26 GMT
Small, ugly and first
First Page, Slac
By Maggie Shiels in California

America's first site on the world wide web celebrates its 10th anniversary on Wednesday.

To mark this milestone in the www's relatively short life, a two-day symposium was held at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (Slac), near Palo Alto, where the site's creator, scientist Dr Paul Kunz, still works.

I saw it as a way of making [the Slac] database easily accessible to the world community of particle physicists

Dr Paul Kunz, Slac
Dr Kunz's first page would make modern-day web designers recoil in horror; it had all the graphic sophistication of a shopping receipt.

It contained just three lines of text, thick with acronyms. It also had two links. One took the surfer to e-mail addresses; the other went to a search of Slac's huge scientific database.

Not surprisingly, for something so basic, there was no colour, no pictures, no movement and no sound. How things have changed.

Shared interest

The symposium, which was entitled The Once And Future Web, took a step back to look at the creation of that first site and a step forward to examine just where the web is heading.

Kunz, BBC
Dr Kunz: The web is now familiar to all
Dr Kunz told an audience of scientists, academics, and the just plain curious that he came up with the idea for the Slac page when he visited the Geneva laboratory of the web's "inventor", British programmer Tim Berners-Lee, in the September of 1991.

"The first part of his demo wasn't very interesting," Dr Kunz now admits. "But the second part was him doing a query on the mainframe of the computer they had at the laboratory into their help system and getting information back via the keywords he punched in.

"That immediately gave me the idea that we had a very important database at my lab and this would be a much better interface than the existing one. So, I saw it as a way of making that database easily accessible to the world community of particle physicists."

'Real cool'

A month later, Dr Kunz said, the web had passed a more important test when it was demonstrated in front of a group of 200 physicists in France.

"The grand finale of the demonstration was Tim Berners-Lee connecting into the Slac database, which was well known world wide. This really stunned people.

"So, when they went home, they had to tell their colleagues, 'hey, there's this new interface to the Slac database and it's called the world wide web, and it's real cool'. And that was the first big push to get the web accepted and taken seriously."

The web has come a long way in 10 short years, and at the symposium, experts were predicting that it would become so ubiquitous it would be almost invisible.

The man with the crystal ball was Paul Saffo, the director of the Institute for the Future, a Silicon Valley think-tank that advises businesses and the US Government.

Come together

Mr Saffo said: "The future of the web will be machines talking to other machines on our behalf, freeing us from the tyranny of our desks and our cell phones.

The silver lining here is that the web got 500 million people online worldwide and they're still there

Tiffany Shlain, International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences
"This decade is being shaped by cheap sensors - devices that very inexpensively allow us to hang eyes, ears and sensory organs on our computers and our networks."

As an example of how the web will change our world, Mr Saffo cited the application of video cameras used in surveillance as one potential growth area.

"Instead of humans watching the cameras, a computer will watch them and alert a human when something is wrong," he said.

Of course to many in the dot-gone bay area, the web no longer looks like the nirvana it did just a year or two ago. However, Mr Saffo believes it has a very robust future as more and more machines connect to one another through the web.

Still there

Mark Pesce, author of The Playful World: How Technology Is Transforming Our Imagination, said the medium was evolving into an ever-present sea of information that would surround us as we conducted our daily lives.

Echoing Mr Saffo's vision, he said: "Access won't just be limited to computers or cell phones, as more and more machines and applications become plugged in."

For those assessing the cultural impact the web has had, Tiffany Shlain, co-founder of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, had these words: "The web got reduced to commerce - and the hype around the commerce sites and their failure has blinded us. The silver lining here is that the web got 500 million people online worldwide and they're still there - they haven't left."

And Dr Kunz reminded all at the symposium that it was only seven years ago that the first company emerged trying to sell advertising on the web.

"Ninety per cent of the company's time was spent explaining what the web was. Well, today everyone knows what it is and it's not going away."

Meeting, BBC
The symposium: Looking to the future and the past
Paul Saffo
The nature of the web will change
Dr Paul Kunz
The web drove interest in the internet
Tiffany Shlain
11 September was a shining moment for the web
See also:

11 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Digital snapshot of history
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