Conceptualizing the InternetWhere does an idea start? The truth is, that most ideas are built off of previous ideas. Consequently, there are no tidy lines to separate who thought of what when it comes to the theoretical groundwork of the Internet. But there are three men who brought important – although not necessarily unique - ideas to the forefront at the right time. (Confused by Internet and WWW? Learn more in What is the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web?)
Vannevar Bush’s MemexVannevar Bush falls purely on the theoretical side when it comes to the creation of the World Wide Web. Although he did important work in computing, Bush was not born in an era where he could carry through on his ideas about information.
In a 1945 essay entitled “As We May Think,” Bush outlined his concept of Memex. Memex was a collective memory storage system that Bush envisioned people navigating through using associative trails that linked relevant information, rather than a central index.
This is, of course, exactly how much of the Web works. On this page, for example, there are several links for any words we have in our dictionary. Should you be unfamiliar with one, you can click it to go to the definition page and then explore more related terms from that page. By clicking these links and reading the content, you’ll have a better understanding of the original term that caught your eye.
Memex was also meant to allow the user to log the main reading paths for further reference (like bookmarking), and share beneficial trails with others (similar to social media sharing). Bush also introduced the idea of an information repository that others could use to enhance their everyday professional activities.
Most importantly, Bush’s essay influenced many individuals, some of whom would get to see these concepts brought to life in the form of hypertext.
Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider’s Intergalactic Computer NetworkJ.C.R. Licklider wrote a 1960 paper, “Man Computer Symbiosis,” wherein he described a network of computers linked by wideband communication lines that could handle information storage and retrieval in the same manner as physical libraries did. Licklider was convinced that the future would revolve around people using networked computers to find all the information they needed.
Although he did little direct work on networking computers, Licklider was instrumental in convincing people to focus on creating an all-purpose network. In 1962, ARPA recruited Licklider to be the head of the Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO). He used this position to further his concept of a networked future, granting funding to projects in this field and helping fund the people that created the Internet – allowing for the later creation of a World Wide Web.