The cascade brings order to the web. Through a simple set of rules, multiple parties—the browser, the user, and the website author—can define the presentation of HTML in separate style sheets. As rules flow from one style sheet to the next, the cascade balances one rule against another and determines the winner. It keeps design for the web simple, inheritable, and embraces its natural unstable state. It has changed over time, but the cascade has made the web adaptable to new computing environments.
In a prescient moment capturing the spirit of the room, Dan Connolly described a future when the language of HTML fractured. When each browser implemented their own set of HTML tags in an effort to edge out the competition. The solution, he concluded, was an HTML standard that was able to evolve at the pace of browser development.
Over the next couple of years — a full generation in Internet time — this is how design would work on the web. It would not be a deliberate, top-down process. The web design field would form from blurry edges focused a little at a time.
Revolutions, as it were, do not happen overnight, and they don’t happen predictably. Quittner would not be the last to forecast, as he describes it, the sea-change in publishing that followed the birth of the web. Some of his predictions never fully come to fruition. But he was correct about voice. The writers of the web would come to define the voice of publishing in a truly fundamental way.
If not for Stanford University, web search may have been lost. It is the birthplace of Yahoo!, Google and Excite. It ran the servers that ran the code that ran the first search engines. The founders of both Yahoo! and Google are alumni. But many of the most prominent players in search were not in the computer science department. They were in the symbolic systems program.
Kunz and Addis were both enthusiastic purveyors of research at SLAC. They each played their part in advancing information discovery. When Kunz told Addis about the web, they both had the same idea about what to do with it. SLAC was going to need a website. Kunz built a web server at Stanford — the first in the United States. Addis, meanwhile, wrangled a few colleagues to help her build the SLAC website. The site launched on December 12, 1991, a year after Berners-Lee first published his own website at CERN.
That’s where Nicola Pellow came in. An undergraduate at Leicester Polytechnic, Pellow was still an intern at CERN. She was assigned to Berners-Lee’s and Calliau’s team, so they tasked her with building an interoperable browser that could be installed anywhere. The fact that she had no background in programming (she was studying mathematics) and that she was at CERN as part of an internship didn’t concern her much.
It was hard to explain, difficult to demo, and had overly lofty ambition. It was created by a man who didn’t have much interest in marketing his ideas. Even the name was somewhat absurd. “WWW” is one of only a handful of acronyms that actually takes longer to say than the full “World Wide Web.”