25 years ago Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the Web. Which were the competitors? Why the web won?

web-17be2f144637eb54f93735131c7d09d5d6c7904b-s900-c85Before the Web became the most used Hypermedia in the world there has always been need of a non-sequential way to consume the information. Under-standing the history of the Hypermedia, from the futuristic project of Memex by Vanner Bush, going through the Xanadu hypertext, is an important step to under-stand the evolution of the concept behind the Hypertext. Furthermore it will be critically explained the differences between the most famous systems that during the beginning of the 90s could have become the benchmark as hypermedia system. It will be evaluated which features allowed the Web to become the actual standard. With all the information gathered it will be possible to trace a possible scenario for the future of the hypermedia.

1 Introduction
Hypertext has a long and rich history behind it, and despite it was named with its proper name just in the middle of the 60s, something strongly related to the Hyper-media was already present in the Vannevar Bush’s essay named “As We May Think” published in “The Atlantic” in the 1945.

2 Story
It seems to be clear that what we have today it is the result of the work of those visionaries that laid the basis of the modern hypertext systems. In the next sections will be showed briefly a recap of the major aspects of the Hypertext history.

2.1 Memex
In “As We May Think” the American technologist and scientist Vannevar Bush in-troduces “Memex”, an analogic proto-hypertext system with a mechanical storage system widely regarded as the precursor of the personal computer and Hypertext[1].
Bush suggested that the use of Memex would have created a new professional figure: “the trailblazers” a person specialized in tracing new paths or trails association in great mass of existing information.
In his essay “As We May Think” Bush shows the impressive description of a work session with Memex, similar to that of a search on the internet, with almost fifty years in advance[2].

2.2 NLS
The on Line System (NLS), inspired by Memex, was a software system designed by Douglas Engelbart and considered the first example of groupware explicitly dedi-cated to the support for cooperative work[3].
The purpose of NLS was to simplify the cooperation between scientists and professionals on solutions of complex problems. In fact for this purpose NLS introduced a rich set of mechanisms for the information sharing. But NLS was innovative for other reasons, it introduced a series of concepts intended to acquire a great importance in modern computers.
One of these feature was the journal, it was a means of information sharing that used associative memory and links similar to those of modern hypertext. It was designed as an electronic version of a journal and composed by a base of permanent data that constituted a set of published articles, to which users could access for the consultation. The NLS facilitated the organization and tracking of items through a system of indexes, catalogues and cross-references. Users used the e-mail system integrated NLS to send contributions to the journal[4].

2.3 Xanadu
Ted Nelson coined the word Hypertext in 1965. Xanadu project was the first project of hypertext. It was started in 1960, the basic idea of Xanadu was to have a repository containing everything that has been produced by anyone creating a universal hypertext.[5] Nelson strongly believes that everything has to be intertwingled and must be on line. In this way an user could highlight words, accessing to more information, without having to read and understand the text in sequential order[4].
Ted Nelson was creating an innovative way to explore the information providing the reader with an intuitive access to a number of insights, directly from the page of consultation. Practically Nelson’s Xanadu project aimed at the time to realize the utopian project of Memex, it was the first concrete attempt to implement an open structure modifiable by the user that included an apparatus of hypertexts supported by an electronic editing system[6].

2.4 Other Relevant Hypermedia Works
HyperCard is a hypertext software that includes a simple programming language marketed by Apple Computer in 1987, it became very popular because apple decid-ed to embed it in every Macintosh sold[4].
The application closely resembled a database, since it was able to record infor-mation, but unlike traditional databases HyperCard was a hypertext system based on concepts graphics, very flexible and very easy to modify. In addition, it contains the programming language HyperTalk, simple but powerful, to manipulate data and graphic interfaces[7].

3 Hypermedia
Hypermedia is a term, inherited from hypertext; for Hypermedia system we define a platform that incorporates a collection of heterogeneous information, such as graphics, audio, video and text connected together in a non-sequential way[8].

3.1 Microcosm
The Microcosm development started in 1989 by the department of Electronic and Computer Science at University of Southampton. Microcosm is a research project of an open hypermedia architecture which provides a storage system and navigation through a large amount of information. Microcosm handles and saves all the information about links, anchor and node component data, and as a result of the capability to separate the link data from the document data, Microcosm can be classified as “Open Hypermedia System”[9].

3.2 Hyper-G
Hyper-G was the hypermedia system developed and proposed by the Graz University of Technology. It was used the experience in the field of the Computer Aided Instruction Systems in order to develop it. Hyper-G is a distributed Hypermedia system which utilizes the client-server paradigm and that provides both access control and data model. It differs from the other hypermedia system in that it is session based and that approach ensures to maintain the state of connections to servers[8].

3.3 The Web
The World Wide Web was developed by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 and before to become a de facto standards it received both criticisms and good evaluations by the scientific world.
In the Tim Berners-Lee vision the Web should be a system where the sharing of information should have been easy, allowing people to work together. The system had to help the user to connect to each document online. In fact, the main feature was to allow everyone to create links to any document[10].
Its flexibility and the easy way to be accessed made the Web the modern hyper-text standard.

3.4 Comparison
There are several reasons for the overwhelming success of the Web compared to Microcosm and Hyper-G. Firstly the World Wide Web is ease to use, allowing anyone to be connected, in fact it provides anybody who wants to build and publish a web page to do it easily. This was strongly in contrast with the functions provided by the other two systems which, in the early stage of development, were local systems. Secondly the Web was thought to be a public domain products, whereas for both Micro-cosm and Hyper-G were not clear which parts were supposed to be free for use[10][11].
Despite the implementation of the Web of a simple linking model leads to incon-sistent and broken links, its simplicity could be considered a major strength. Furthermore, the Web has been provided with a simple linking model embedded in the code, whereas Microcosm and Hyper-g supported more kind of link models using database in order to store them[12].
Finally another economical reason for the success of the Web is that it was developed at CERN, that unlike the other two candidates that was developed by universi-ties. It obviously advices that the possibility to be financed by CERN was at the time higher respect the possibility of an university[10][13].

3.5 Future
Probably next stage in the hypermedia future will be the development of an enhanced version of the Web, in order to transform the World Wide Web in an environment where the published documents (HTML pages, files, images, etc) are associated with information and data (metadata) that specify the semantic context in a format suitable for the querying and the automatic interpretation.
With the interpretation of the content of the documents that the Semantic Web requires, will be possible much more advanced research of current, based on the docu-ment for keywords, and other specialist tasks, such as building networks of relation-ships and connections between documents[14].
The most important idea suggested by Bush in his work was the associative indexing, basically each element can be reached through the selection of another element, today with the linked data and the Conceptual Hypermedia could be possible to achieve that was the essential characteristic of the Memex process[1].

4 Conclusion
Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, theorized in 2001 the creation of a “Semantic Web”, defining it as a Web in which we will focus on the computer interpretation of the information. After more than ten years, the futuristic vision of Berners-Lee, although still far from a complete realization, pervades more and more the Web as we know it, and aims to be one of the most important lines of develop-ment for the future, thanks even to the Open Data technologies.


[1] V. Bush, “As We May Think,” Atl. Mon., no. 176, pp. 101–108, 1945.

[2] M. K. Buckland, “Emanuel Goldberg, electronic document retrieval, and Vannevar Bush’s Memex,” J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci., vol. 43, no. 4, pp. 284–294, 1992.

[3] D. Engelbart, “A History of Personal Workstations,” A. Goldberg, Ed. New York, NY, USA: ACM, 1988, pp. 185–248.

[4] J. Nielsen, Hypertext and Hypermedia. Academic Press, 1990.

[5] T. H. Nelson, Literary machines 93.1. Mindful Press, 1993.

[6] N. Woodhead, Hypertext and Hypermedia: Theory and Applications. Sigma Press, 1991.

[7] R. R. Nelson, “Using HyperCard for content analysis,” Lit. Linguist. Comput., vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 185–93, 1992.

[8] D. Lowe and W. Hall, Hypermedia and the Web: an Engineering Approach. 1999.

[9] W. Hall, H. Davis, and G. Hutchings, Rethinking Hypermedia: The Microcosm Approach. Springer US, 1996.

[10] T. Berners-Lee and M. Fischetti, Weaving the Web: The Past, Present and Future of the World Wide Web by Its Inventor. Orion Business, 1999.

[11] R. T. Fielding and R. N. Taylor, “Principled design of the modern Web architecture,” ACM Trans. Internet Technol., vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 115–150, 2002.

[12] D. E. Millard, “Hypermedia interoperability: Navigating the information continuum,” University of Southampton, 2000.

[13] B. Hassan, N. Gibbins, and S. Qader, “Analysis for the Overwhelming Success of the Web Compared to Microcosm and Hyper-G Systems,” Int. J. Multidiscip. Curr. Res., vol. 3, no. Sept/Oct, pp. 988–991, 2015.

[14] L. Carr, W. Hall, S. Bechhofer, and C. Goble, “Conceptual Linking: Ontology-based Open Hypermedia,” Proc. 10th Int. Conf. World Wide Web, pp. 334–342, 2001.