possible to build—like Xanadu—while
something like the Web with a simple
application-level pattern and related
technologies was the way to widespread
deployment and use.
Can an amateuristic design succeed?
History tells us the answer is yes. For the
Web, many would even argue that amateurism is the winning factor; few that
it is the sole possible one. The indisputable success of the Web, however, still
leaves the open-minded researcher wondering about what the world would have
looked like today if a hypertextually, semantically well-defined system of moving computational objects would have
succeeded instead. Would we have the
same issues of computational efficiency
and security? Would problems such as
data privacy and protection, copyright
management, and fake news be alleviated? And, most interestingly, would it
have been as successful as the current
Web is? History has not favored systems
that preceded or competed with the
Web. Xanadu, despite its thorough design, never gained any adoption, Gopher
succumbed to the simplicity and open-ness of the Web, HyperCard enjoyed a
temporary and confined success. Can
we conclude that amateuristic simplicity
always wins adoption over complex engineering? It is difficult to say. For sure,
the Web has had a transformational effect on society. Something similar to the
long-lasting effects of printed books;
something that could accompany us for
1. Aiello, M. The Web Was Done by Amateurs: A
Reflection on One of the Largest Collective Systems
Ever Engineered. Springer-Nature, 2018.
2. Berners-Lee, T. and Fischetti, M. Weaving the Web: The
Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide
Web by Its Inventor. Harper, San Francisco, 1999.
3. Binstock, A. Interview with Alan Kay. Dr. Dobb’s
Journal, online edition, 2012; http://www.drdobbs.
4. Kulwin, N. The Internet apologizes. New York
Magazine (Mar. 2018), https://slct.al/2GZ6hGr.
5. Saltzer, J.H., Reed, D.P., and Clark, D. D. End-to-end
arguments in system design. ACM Transactions on
Computer Systems ( TOCS) 2, 4 (Mar. 1984), 277–288.
6. Vardi, M. Y. How the hippies destroyed the Internet.
Commun. ACM 61, 7 (July 2018), 9.
7. Vardi, M.V. To serve humanity. Commun. 62, 7 (July
Marco Aiello ( email@example.com) is Professor of Service
Computing at the University of Stuttgart (D) and member
of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts.
Copyright held by author.
agreed RFC, called HT TP State Management Mechanism, in 1997. Similarly,
we saw the appearance of scripting languages, embedded virtual machines,
graphical rendering frameworks, and
so on. What I claim is the Web has undergone continuous patching that has
slowly and gradually brought it into
the direction of a computational infrastructure. These patches have diverse
origins, making the Web the result of
a collective engineering effort. It is in
fact thanks to the interested and volunteer effort of millions of people that the
Web has evolved into what it is today. In
my recent book, 1 I identify and discuss
five major patches that have to do with
the computational nature of the Web
or—better said—with the lack of it in
the original design.
One can similarly look at the evolution from the point of view of security
and content presentation patches. In
the book, I also reflect on the engineering consequences of starting from an
amateuristic design then collectively
patched; the end result being the empowering of global adoption. I identify
the crucial factors for the success of a
patched Web in an evolving landscape
of hypertextual proposals.
Why has the Web succeeded where
other similar, coeval systems failed?
The end-to-end argument may very well
apply here. 5 Based on a series of experiences with networked applications at
MIT, the authors suggest that even well-engineered layered architectures may
cause high inefficiency in development
and operation of systems. Working at
the application level is the most practical and effective solution. To bring the
argument to the Web case, the reasoning goes that a very well designed system would have been impractical or im-
It is thanks to the
volunteer effort of
millions of people that
the Web has evolved
into what it is today.
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