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The World Wide Web

Figure 3.1:  An example of browsing the World Wide Web

So, what is the World Wide Web?

From the user point of view, the World Wide Web is information, a great tangled web of information. The user doesn't care anything (well, almost anything) about where the information is stored, about how it's stored, or about how it gets to her screen - she just says ``Oh, that looks interesting'', clicks the mouse, and (after a short timegif), the information arrives.

We could talk all day about what the web is like to surf, but would never give the right impression. Instead, here's a short example:

A researcher is coming to London for a conference, and she needs information on hotels to stay in. Starting with the `` Internet Starting Points'', which is available directly from the `` Navigate'' menu on the screen, she might follow the a sequence like this:

Selecting `` Internet Starting Points'' fetches a list of possible sources of information. See the top left corner of figure 3.1

She sees that there's a highlighted phrase which says `` Web Servers Directory'', and she thinks ``aha - maybe there's a WWW server in London''. She clicks on `` Web Servers Directory'', and after a short delay the page arrives...

...On the Web Servers Directory, she searches down the list of countries until she finds the entry for the United Kingdom. One entry listed is `` Country Info'', and she wonders what info is provided. She clicks on it and...

...`` Country Info'' turns out to be an active map of the UK. She clicks on London ...

...and gets a guide to London, including an entry labelled `` Hotels in central London''. She clicks on this and finds the information she was looking for.

She didn't need to know very much information, other than where to start, and on most browsers there are a few suggested starting points built in. There are hundreds of other paths she could have followed to get to the same eventual destination.

However, this book is not about finding things in the Web, but about what happens behind the scenes in order that our researcher can find her hotel. Without high quality information in the web, the web is of no interest, but without the technology that comprises the web, the information is unavailable. Browsing the Web is sometimes known as surfing. But what actually happens beneath the surf?

next up previous contents
Next: Beneath the Surf Up: The World Wide Web Previous: A Note on

Jon Crowcroft
Wed May 10 11:46:29 BST 1995