In my last column, I made an off-hand comment about the possibility that the web could one day be obsolete.
To get a better idea of why this might happen, we need take a little closer look at where the web came from and what it has become.
As we talked about last week, the Internet and the web, though closely related, are not the same thing. The Internet was developed as a communications technology that employed packet routing rather than circuit switching to transfer information from point ‘A’ to point ‘B.’
The primary motivation for this development was to create a more robust communications network in the event of a nuclear war.
In the 1950s, the U.S. Department of Defence saw a need to have reliable communications between military facilities even if major parts of the communications infrastructure were destroyed.
And then came the World Wide Web. A few universities and other research institutions realized that they could use the Internet technology developed by the DoD to more easily share research data.
The alternatives at the time were fax and mail—the one being extremely expensive because of long distance charges; the other very slow.
With the ARPANET technology (the name given to the Internet before it was really the Internet), though, researchers could send share greater volumes of data more quickly and more cheaply.
To fulfill this need for data sharing, the Hyper Text Transfer Protocol was developed (the http:// bit that you see in your web browser), which we already discussed a little previously.
The primary interest of these researchers was, of course, to transfer mostly static textual data with some information about formatting and styling. To handle this formatting bit, they came up with HTML: the Hyper Text Mark-up Language.
You probably will notice in all of this that there is a lot of talk about text and nuclear wars, and not much of anything to do with real-time video, or MP3 downloads, or much of anything else that most people use the web for today.
One of the biggest changes on the web has been a shift from transferring static text to providing dynamic, real-time media on demand.
This speaks to the flexibility of HTTP and HTML in their ability to persist into these new realms, but ultimately they are fulfilling a number of tasks they never were intended to serve.
The benefit of this flexibility is that it allows us, as users, to get access to these new media formats while still being able to capitalize on the vast repositories of information collected on the web as textual information.
The cost of this flexibility, though, has been inefficiencies and limitations in how and what we can provide on the web, especially when it comes to real-time media.
As we push further into new media, and as we demand more real-time interactions with people and digital entities over the Internet, it will be interesting to see if the web continues to dominate how we utilize the Internet—or if something new will arise to better fulfill our needs.
Troy L’Hirondelle is a programmer and systems administrator at Times Web Design.