HTML && the World Wide Web


What is Code? Like all human languages, coding languages are multipurpose. In the same way that the English language can be used to write history, laws, love letters or poems, coding languages can be used to express more than just software. Today we'll be learning the basics of HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Stylesheets) in order to better understand the nature of the most influential online platform in the history of the Internet, the World Wide Web. The metamedia application we'll be using to both create and view the Web is "the Browser":

You can review the core HTML and CSS coding concepts we covered in class with netnet. The notes below provide a bit more history and background for the World Wide Web and it's associated concepts. If you'd like to know why are these particular histories are important to us as artists, consider watching my short (5mins) video (an "aside" to the Browser video above) on "how/why we do history as artists.


In 1945, an American engineer/inventor/thinker named Vannevar Bush wrote an article in the Atlantic entitled, “As We May Think,” where he described a theoretical machine for storing and retrieving information based on associations (which he argued would be more akin to the way we think than the way information was typically organized in catalogs, categories, libraries, etc) he called it the “memex.” This article influenced lots of radically minded engineers and futurists who followed including an experimental writer and filmmaker turned software designer Ted Nelson. Who, in the late 1960s, coined the term “hypertext” and created one of the first applications with linked documents, Xanadu:.


The video below by Douglas Adamn (author of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy") is a 1990 documentary called "Hyperland" (1hr) highlights the hypermedia scene at it's peak, just before the explosion of the World Wide Web.

The World Wide Web

Hypertext + Metamedia + the Internet

To learn a little bit more about how the Web works you can watch the PBS digital studio's Crash Course Computer Science episode on "the World Wide Web" below (11mins)

The Web is an open and globally decentralized document and application distribution platform. Documents (ie. web pages) and software (ie. web apps), written in HTML, CSS, JavaScript and other languages, are stored on computers (connected to the Internet) all around the world running applications called servers, which wait for HTTP requests (small packets of data asking for specific files or resources) coming from other applications known as "clients" or "agents" (which are typically web browsers or web crawlers).

Anyone can create a website or web app and host their files on their own server running on their own computer connected to the Internet, and anyone else can use any number of web clients to request (ie. access) that website or web app over the Internet. As a platform, the Web has no central server, it's a collection of servers running on computers all over the world, which is what we mean when we say that the web is a "decentralized" platform. You don't need to ask anyone for permission or approval to run a server on the Web, all you need is a computer with an Internet connection, this is why we say the Web is an "open" platform.

While no one owns and operates the Web (the platform) itself, the protocols (like HTTP), core languages (HTML and CSS) and JavaScript APIs are designed and maintained by an internatoinal organization called the W3C, or the World Wide Web Consortium which consists of businesses, nonprofit organizations, universities, governmental entities, and individuals (anyone can join). The W3C don't own or control the Web (again, it's an open and decentralized platform), instead they're in charge of describing how it should work. These descriptions take the form of documents known as "specifications" (or "specs" for short) which are used as blue-prints for anyone interested in writing their own web server or web client software, as well as anyone interested in creating their own websites or web apps. If you don't follow the spec, then your client, server, site or app won't be compatible with the platform (ie. it won't work).

Despite hypertext's (and hypermedia's) potential for revolutionizing media, most software designers in the years that followed "imitated the conventional media of the past" as Ted Nelson put it, "paper documents (.doc, .pdf), phonograph record tracks (.mp3s, .wav) and sequential movies (.mov, .mp4), Why?!", that is until a British scientist (and his collaborators Nicola Pellow and Robert Cailliau) created the World Wide Web, a globally distributed and open hypermedia platform built on top of the globally distributed infrastructure of the Internet.

But is today's web living up to it's full hypermedia potential? Or have we regressed back into "imitating the conventional media of the past"? Where do we draw the line between conventional/traditional media and hypermedia? Which characteristics of the media you consume today (Netflix, podcats, TikTok, Twitch, etc) resemble those of hypermedia and which of traditional media?