Internet or Web 12/13/18

By Richard E. Bleil, Ph.D.

Whenever somebody claims to be an “expert”, it often tickles me. I had a student once tell me that he could design any electrical circuit I could ever want. I said, okay, make a circuit to convert analogue signals to digital. He asked what “analogue” meant.

The reality is that I’ve been around to have seen some things. I have worked on analogue circuits, and although I’m not experienced to the point that I could design them (I never said I could), I can read a circuit schematic like a road map. When I was in college, we learned digital circuitry as well (“op-amps” or “operational amplifiers” was the term back then), but they were really just hitting the market. When somebody claims to be an expert in the web and/or internet, I like throwing out a simple little question, “which came first, the internet or the web?”

Often the reply is “they’re the same thing.” Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there is a distinct difference. Here’s the short answer; the internet came first, because it is the hard-wired network, in a similar fashion to the phone system.

See, originally, there were some people who thought it a good idea if scientists could collaborate and work together from great distances, and the internet was developed. Originally it was only used by the military, academia and government, and was kind of limited. There were mainframe computers that organized it, and dummy terminals for accessing it. They developed a new operating system, UNIX, to run it, although there are several “flavors” of this system (“Linux” is an example of a home-based unix-like operating system). This operating system was specifically designed for networking. Other operating systems, such as Windows, has been adopted for networking, but was not originally designed as such.

The primary operations of UNIX, and the internet, were fairly limited. Telnet allowed one to log on to a distant computer as if they were sitting there (like I did from Boston College when I had an account on the supercomputer in Johns Hopkins). FTP (“File Transfer Protocol”) allowed one to move files from one system to another (another lost term is “upload”, which specifically means moving files from your computer to another, and “download” which specifically means loading files onto your system). Other functions included email and a chat feature.

Email was eventually discovered by businesses, who saw it as a cost-efficient method of rapid communication. This broadened use of the internet to include businesses. Chat, as it turns out, would become popular probably fifteen years or so after the internet with “MSN Messenger”, quickly followed by other providers.

So, back to the internet, prior to the web. Academia utilized the web heavily. Eventually, somebody decided to use the internet, and specifically FTP, for their own nefarious purposes. Typically, for FTP, you needed to log on to gain access to the files, but somebody developed “anonymous” FTP sites (commonly referred to as “gopher” sites, where you “go for” files). There was no great way to advertise these (remember, this is still pre-web), so they were passed on by word-of-mouth.

Gopher sites typically specialized. One might be for song lyrics, one might be recipes, another jokes, and, of course, dirty stories. Of course, people got tired of reading dirty stories without having pictures to go along with them. Hence, the World Wide Web was developed.

The Web is really just a graphical browsing engine for the internet. Although they’re hidden, the original functions (telnet, ftp, email) are still used in the web, but they have pictures to click rather than needing to type in the command.

Maybe next we need to tackle the chicken or egg debate.

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