What is the World Wide Web?
The World Wide Web is perhaps best thought of as an immense library, made up not of books but of individual Web pages, and kept not in one place but all over the world on dedicated computers called Web servers. Web pages are read over the Internet by using a piece of software called a Web browser. A coherent collection of pages on a single topic or which are the work of a single individual, group or organization is called a Web site, usually accessed via a home page, a main page which has links to all the other pages on the site.
The reason it's called the Web is that individual pages can be connected in a way that lets the reader follow a link from one page to another: it's a network of interconnected pages that spans the entire Internet.
The key features of the Web that make it different from other publishing media are:
- It is a multimedia system
- It can deal not only with text, but with digitised images (monochrome or colour), sound, video, and animation. It can also be used to distribute computer files in any format, making them universally available.
- It is a hypertext system
- Web pages can contain links to other pages. When you select a link on a page (usually by clicking on it with the mouse) the Web browser automatically fetches the page linked to, wherever it is on the Internet. It's as if your library could immediately provide you with a copy of any other book mentioned in whatever you're reading (and turn to the right page for you).
- It is a public access system
- Although some pages on the Web are restricted to those who belong to a particular organization or have paid some sort of subscription fee, almost all Web pages are accessible to anyone who has access to the Internet.
- Likewise, anyone with their own Internet account can publish material on the Web at no cost. Hundreds of thousands of individuals are publishing on the Web without having to go through traditional publishers or bearing the expense of private printing.
- It is a searchable system
- There are special facilities on the Web called search engines which make it possible to find pages on the Web which cover particular subjects or include certain names. Although the indexing and coverage are far from complete, it is still the most comprehensive search system available for any body of general information. And you can immediately view the pages that your search turns up.
- It is a distributed system
- As long the elements of a Web site are accessible on the Internet, it doesn't matter where the individual parts are physically located. This means that it is easy for groups of people to collaborate on a single "publication" even if they keep their materials on different continents.
A good example of this Genuki, the "UK & Ireland Genealogy Server": to the reader it appears to be a single unified resource, but in fact it involves dozens of collaborators each making material available on his or her own local Web server.
- It is a dynamic system
- Information on a Web page can be updated as frequently as the author wishes, so it's easy to ensure that it is always current and as complete as possible. It is easy to add information at any time. This means that a Web site can function as an electronic noticeboard, as well as offering competition to traditional publishing.
Also, Web pages can be interactive and readers may be able to use a Web page to submit a surname to a site listing surname interests, for example.
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