Some early ideas for HTML

The Web owes its origins to many people, starting back in medieval times with the development of a rich system of cross references and marginalia. The basic document model for the Web was set: things in the page such as the text and graphics, and cross references to other works. These early hypertext links were able to able to target documents to a fine level thanks to conventions for numbering lines or verses.

Vannevar Bush in the 1940's, in his article As we may think, describes his vision for a computer aided hypertext system he named the memex. His vivid description of browsing the Web of linked information, includes the ability to easily insert new information of your own, to add to the growing Web. Dr. Bush was the Director of the US Office of Scientific Research and Development, and coordinated war time research in the application of science to war.

Other visionaries include Douglas Engelbart, who founded the Augmentation Research Center at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in 1963. He is widely creditied with helping to develop the computer mouse, hypertext, groupware and many other seminal technologies. He now directs the Bootstrap Institute, which is dedicated to the development of collective IQ in networked communities.

Ted Nelson has spent his life promoting a global hypertext system called Xanadu. He coined the term hypertext, and is well known for his books: Literary Machines and Dream Machines, which describe hypermedia including branching movies, such as the film at the Czechoslovakian Pavilion at Expo `67.

The ACM SIGWEB, formerly SIGLINK, has for many years been the center for academic research into hypertext systems, sponsoring a series of annual conferences. SIGLINK was formed in 1989 following a workshop on hypertext, held in 1987 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Bill Atkinson best known for MacPaint, an easy to use bitmap painting program, gave the world its first popular hypertext system HyperCard. Released in 1987, HyperCard made it easy for anyone to create graphical hypertext applications. It features bitmapped graphics, form fields, scripting and fast full text search. HyperCard is based on a stack of cards metaphor with shared backgrounds. It spawned imitators such as Asymmetrix Toolbook which used drawn graphics and ran on the PC. The OWL Guide was the first professional hypertext system for large scale applications, it predates HyperCard by one year and followed in the footsteps made by Xerox NoteCards, a Lisp-based hypertext system, released in 1985.

Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Caillau both worked at CERN, an international high energy physics research center near Geneva. In 1989 they collaborated on ideas for a linked information system that would be accessible across the wide range of different computer systems in use at CERN. At that time many people were using TeX and PostScript for their documents. A few were using SGML. Tim realized that something simpler was needed that would cope with dumb terminals through high end graphical X Window workstations. HTML was conceived as a very simple solution, and matched with a very simple network protocol HTTP.

CERN launched the Web in 1991 along with a mailing list called www-talk. Other people thinking along the same lines soon joined and helped to grow the web by setting up Web sites and implementing browsers, such as, Cello, Viola, and MidasWWW. The break through came when the National Center for Supercomputer Applications (NCSA) at Urbana-Champaign encouraged Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina to develop the X Window Mosaic browser. It was later ported to PCs and Macs and became a run-away sucess story. The Web grew exponentially, eclipsing other Internet based information systems such as WAIS, Hytelnet, Gopher, and UseNet.

We hope to extend this summary and are interested in getting hold of screen shots and feature lists for early browsers. This is your chance to help! You may also be interested in Marc Weber and Kevin Hughes' Web history site, and Shahrooz Feizabadi's short history of the Web and the Internet. We would like to add links to other sites dealing with the history of the web, so please let us know.

The WWW Project Proposal (1989)
This document was an attempt to persuade CERN management that a global hypertext system was in CERN's interests. Here is a description of the Web in 1992.
The first version of HTML
This is the description of a very early version of HTML. This text dates from 1992.
Screen shot of Tim Berners-Lee's browser editor as developed in 1991-92.
This was a true browser editor for the first version of HTML and ran on a NeXT workstation. Implemented in Objective-C, it, made it easy to create, view and edit web documents. Adding a new hypertext link was a breeze!
HTML+, HTML+ Reference or as PostScript (222,417 bytes)
This was a proposal by Dave Raggett for extending HTML, first published as an Internet Draft in 1993, and in summary form at the WWW'1 Web Conference in 1994.
HTML 3.0 or as plain text (381,229 bytes)
An extended version of HTML+, this was submitted as an Internet Draft in 1994. Like HTML+, it was never standardized, but helped to stimulate further work on features such as tables and math.