The Web turns 20

Posted by Dan on Mar 13, 2009 @ 10:07 AM

While HTTP/HTML isn't quite 20 years old, Tim Berners-Lee first released his Information Management: A proposal dissertation in March 1989—which would later come into full fruition when he put together HTML over HTTP. Berners-Lee idea was simple, create a way to share information at CERN so that information wouldn't get lost with the high turnover. See, the average stay of scientist/researchers at CERN was just 2 years, so lots of ideas and projects would get lost when researchers would leave. He proposed a way for researches to store their documents online in a format that would be easily viewable by everyone.

Who would have thought this paper would have turned out to be what it is today.

I remember when I first started doing HTML development for a living in early 1995. I was working at a company called Midwest Micro doing support work. I was doing work with our BBS systems and faxback systems, but we had just started our web presence. I started off handling e-mail questions and perusing usenet for customers having problems with our products to offer support. I soon discovered we need to start placing articles on our web site. While we had one person working in our company doing the HTML, I soon found it took way to long for him to get stuff our site. I took a little initiative and learned to write the HTML myself, hoping this would speed up the process of getting support articles on our web site. Soon after that, they just decided to give me full access to the servers so that I could update the support sections of our web site myself. A few months later, I was doing web-related work full time.

While I wish I had the foresight to save the first revision of the site I worked on, there's still a version of one of our first redesigns on The Wayback Machine. The version online was a ColdFusion 2.0 site. We must have gone live with this version after upgrading from ColdFusion v1.5. There's still some signs of .dbml pages, but the key new pages appear to be .cfml based.

I've always been proud of some of the work we did back then. While the designs may have stunk (especially compared to today,) we actually were pretty ground breaking back then. We were one of the first, if not the first, computer company to allow you to custom build a PC online. We had it before Gateway, Dell, etc (which were all our direct competitors at the time.)

The "Technician's Almanac" was the first project I built from the ground up. I came up with the concept and I built the code. The "Almanac" name came from the fact that my company was really using the farming theme at the time. This was the same time that Gateway was pushing the whole "Cow" theme. I'm not sure whether they started marketing the cow theme first, or if we were pushing our farm theme first (I think Gateway was first.) Anyway, the Technician's Almanac was the first intelligent troubleshooting tool on the web. It would walk you through series of questions in which you'd respond to the answer that best matched your answer. It started off asking you a question like:

What is wrong with your computer?

o I can not see my screen
o My computer is not making sound
o I can not connect send faxes with my computer
o When I try to play a game, my computer freezes

If all went well, you'd eventually be given the answer to your problem. While the system was no were near as complex or intelligent as some of the solution today (since it was essentially a static tree of questions/answered) it worked very well and did reduce our tech support load. The only problem with the application, is I never got around to build a tool to easily map questions and answered. You basically had to do the scripting by hand—which could be pretty tedious with long logic trees.

So, I solute Tim Bernes-Lee and his revolutionary idea of creating the World Wide Web. If it weren't for this little idea of his, I have absolutely no idea what I would be doing today. All I know is I'd be doing something that I probably won't be enjoying nearly as much as I do!

Categories: HTML/ColdFusion

3 Comments

  • Weird timing. I am preparing for a workshop and I just went over the history of the internet and some of the same topics you mentioned. I too, started with CF 2.0 after migrating from building websites for the DOE with Visual FoxPro believe it or not. Seems like such a short time ago.

    And while I am at it, would like to express my appreciation for all you have done with qForms and jQuery. You have made my life easier.
  • @Jeff:

    Thanks! I appreciate the kind words. When you throw code out there, you do it with the intention you're helping your fellow developers by in some way making their job easier--so thanks again!
  • Oh, and not that it matters, but I actually started working on CF 1.5--it's just the site I posted was the first 2.0 site I worked on.

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