SSZ Bookshelf: 100 Ideas that Changed the Web

Us twenty-somethings have grown up alongside the web. We accept it; we embrace all that it offers but we do take it for granted. Have you ever offered a thought to those internet-deprived souls before the 90’s? No internet? What is this, the freakin’ dark ages!?

And when we speak about the evolution of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee always wriggles in there. He’s somewhat of a poster child for it and is known the world-over as its father, however he was just one cog in the machine. Jim Boulton’s 100 Ideas that Changed the Web unearths the individual steps which led to Sir Tim’s invention. He also explores the social influence of the web; both how it has shaped our behaviour and how human behaviour has shaped it.

So what’s the point?
The web is like no other communication medium in existence. While the printed word achieved a global presence through the ubiquitous printing press, that journey took hundreds of years. In comparison, the internet and the web have enveloped the globe in a matter of decades. We’re so committed to moving forward that the roots of the web are becoming forgotten and have to be rediscovered (Jim is the curator of ‘Digital Archaeology’). The book’s values lie in the preservation and sharing of this history.

I find irony in the fact that the timeline of the world’s most expansive information-sharing tool has being documented in lovely ink on paper (it’s even wrapped in an Pentagram-designed cover). Maybe that in itself suggests that the web isn’t quite ready for the long-time preservation of information.

Who would want to read it?
Anyone, really.

When I was first asked to review ‘100 Ideas that Changed the Web,’ the title conjured memories from my teens of MSN Messenger, boxy CRT monitors and floppy disks. My first impression was that this book was going to take a trip down memory lane and reminisce on the old times. While Jim does revisit old internet sub-cultures, he does so in an informative and retrospective way.

Anyone with an interest in the evolution of technology (and our society) through the past thirty years would find this interesting. The timeline—from early, unsung pioneers like Theodor Nelson to internet business celebrities like Sean Parker—is covered chronologically and thoroughly. It’s definitely more than a sentimental reflection of our misspent youth.

Did it teach you anything?
It certainly did—even more so that I was expecting. As a developer, I’m immersed in the current technical landscape of the internet. We never really give thought to our digital heritage because we’re too busy enjoying the tools currently available. Little of the old web is taught in education either, and I found myself piecing together old tidbits of information. Jim’s writing gave me a more rounded understanding of what drove the development of the internet and the web.

Did it miss anything?
Umm, yeah. There’s no mention of ShellsuitZombie’s role in the evolution of blogs for young creatives. Way to go, Jim…

Apart from that, it’s covers many, many ideas. Well, 100 of them, including why smilies became popular :)

I spent a week’s worth of commutes reading this book and as far as I know, no weird looks were exchanged. So to sum up, this was a socially acceptable and interesting read. But on a more analytical note, Jim displays an in-depth knowledge of the web. Is it useful from a technical perspective? Not really, but his collated history of the internet is quite original. You’d be hard pressed to find such a well-written and concise evaluation of the web to date.

If you’re interested in reading it for yourself, you can buy the book from Amazon (it’s part of Lawrence King’s 100 Ideas that Changed… series).

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