Week 1 - The People Involved / Beginning HTML

The People Involved

If you've ever gone to a play, you know that one of the first things you get is a brochure which describes the parts and who will be playing them. It does not tell how the story will proceed or how it would end. Surprisingly, most every presentation of the Internet leaves the reader with the impression that there was this magical thing called TCP/IP, somehow a bunch of wire was laid out, and POOF! the Internet just shot up out of the ground.

This kind of report hardly gives an accurate portrayal, nor does it do justice to the people who put in the long hours to bring the Internet to fruition. To that end, I will attempt to introduce the Internet by describing the groups of people involved and the contributions they made. Following the descriptions of the various groups, some links to other sites are given which represent those groups.

If you are looking for a grand overview of the history of the Internet, I reccommend the following URLs:

The Military

It may be surprising to learn that the system of freeways across the United States began as a Military project with the goal of being able to transport goods, troops, and machinery all across the country in the event of a domestic war. The freeway system has since evolved into a network of mass-transit roads used not only by the government, but by private citizens and businesses as well. It was the kind of project that was so expensive and elaborate that it could only be proposed as a "half-baked" government program.

The Internet had a similar humble beginning. It began as a military project to create a communication network which would allow the various military stations across the country (and eventually across the world) to communicate with each other. One of the design goals was to build a system which would be flexible enough and robust enough to continue routing information even if a major metropolitain city should be destroyed.

So, very similar to the freeway system, the Internet began as a wild-eyed, half-baked government project whose costs were enormous and whose benefits were questionable. Also like the freeway system, the Internet has evolved into a world-wide network which is used not only by the government but by private citizens and businesses as well.

Research Organizations

After the military put the foundation in place, the development of the Internet was furthered by research organizations, most of which were also government-funded.

Research organizations found the Internet to be a useful way for scientists who were geographically dispersed to collaborate together and share discoveries. The Internet is still used extensively by these organizations and is a bastian of resources, both practical and esoteric.

The following are some examples of research organizations.

Colleges and Universities

Many universities also have research departments, similar but not quite as elaborate as the aforementioned research organizations. These schools also saw the benefits of being able to share academic information over the Internet and were therfore one of the early groups that got wired.

The Free Software Community

As we have already seen with the previous two groups, they followed the Western Academic Tradition of making discoveries and inventions fuled by curiosity or an "itch that had to be scratched", and then shared those discoveries with their peers in return for recognition and renown.

The Free Software Community followed in this tradition, but brought the notion of software development to individual hobbyists and enthusiasts. As a result, a great deal of Free software has been written, and much of it powers and runs the Internet.

Standards Committes

The development of the Internet was not accomplished with a great deal of top-down planning (possibly excepting the military, of course), but rather by convention and consensus. Over time, these conventions became traditions, and as the Internet scaled up in size people generally agreed that it would be necessary to codify these traditions into hard-and-fast rules. A number of committees and standards organizations have emerged to help define the standards for the Internet, and help to make interoperability over a large, heterogenous network a reality.

The Underground

Just like any society the Internet has its own "wrong side of the tracks". There are a number of folks on the Internet dedicated to finding security holes, defacing websites, pirating software, and in general, poking holes in things.

It may be a little difficult to imagine that these folks could make any positive contribution to the Internet but they have: They've dramatically raised our awareness of backdoors, weak encryption, and other exploits, and have made the Internet much more robust and secure.

The following are some notable groups.

Special Interest Groups

In the flesh-and-concrete world, there are numerous organizations which exist to promote a cause or defend someone's rights. Examples include the ACLU, Empower America, NAACP, etc. The Internet is no different. A number of groups exist to advocate or support acction on Net-related hot-button issues.



A 'Fansite' is a website, typically maintained by voluntary effort, which espouses and advocates some interest or hobby of the fanboy or fangirl that runs it. This can be a favorite TV show, a favorite activity, a favorite hunk of software, or some noble cause. Newsgroups exist for every hobby and TV show under the sun as well.

Many of the fansites you see on the Internet are somewhat esoteric and more than just a little, well, geeky. As such, there really isn't any other medium that would host "fansites". TV wouldn't, major newspapers wouldn't. Also, as people who share these quirky interests are somewhat graphically dispersed, it would be difficult to try to assemble them all together in a single, physical area.

Fortunately, the Internet overcomes these obstacles. And when I say "fortunately", I mean for ALL of us, because if you have an interest in some topic and want to find out more about it, chances are that someone else has already put up a site / mailing list / discussion group which addresses that topic where you can read more. If not, then maybe it's time YOU put one up.


On or around 1994, congress passed an act which made it legal to use the Internet for commercial purposes. Businesses, then, are the last entrants to the Internet. In the long-standing tradition of the free market, it is the mission (and contribution) of businesses to make it as convenient as possible for you to give them your money in exchange for their goods, services, or information. Home shopping has hit the wires.

Your First HTML Lesson

The Acronym

HTML stands for "Hyper Text Markup Language". A subset of SGML (Standard General Markup Language), HTML allows you to define the formatting and appearance of a document using markup labels (described below). Additionally, it allows you to embed links to other pages in the document, including multimedia things like sounds and images. Higher-level formatting such as lists and tables can also be constructed.

This marked-up text is transmitted over the wires and fed into a rendering engine which parses the HTML and displays it. An application which does this is called a browser. (Hopefully, this is not news to anyone.)

The Universal Medium: Text

One of the first things you should be aware of is that HTML, like many other transmission mediums on the Internet, is done as flat text. Due to the heterogenous nature of the Internet, any kind of binary format would be unacceptable. Differences in endianness, wordsize, and other system-dependant issues make binary transmission formats untenable. Therefore, the transmission medium of choice, is flat, ASCII text.

But how, you may be asking yourselves at this point, is a web page able to render text in different fonts? How does it apply typographic features like boldface, italics, superscript, and subscript? Simple: Through the use of tags.

What is a Tag?

A tag is simply this: A label which describes the text that follows it. Often, tags come in pairs, an opening and a closing tag--Think of these as being equivalent to begin/end blocks in programming languages. Tags are typically metacharacter-delimited to help the parser to interpret the HTML more easily. Those metacharacters in HTML are angle brackets: '<' and '>'. (The ampersand ('&') is also commonly seen, but not as a tag delimiter.) In general, an opening tag will be written as <tag> and a closing tag will be written as </tag> (note the forward-slash).

Not a Precise Language

A common criticism of HTML is that the language lacks the features to give web authors precise control over the display and layout of their pages. Many desktop publishing professionals are used to having a fine degree of control over their documents. Remember, one of the features of the Internet is to enable communications over a very large network of diverse computers. With that in mind, any precice-control features might work in some environments, but not work in others. HTML, after all, should be able to be displayed in anything (including text-based browsers). To that end, HTML is deliberately an imprecice language and you shouldn't fuss about it. Moreover, as a courteous web-author and Net-citizen, you should make efforts to avoid including tags or code which are non-standard or proprietary, with the intent of making your pages viewable by all.

Hello World!

There is a long-standing tradition that the first introduction to a new programming language should display the phrase "Hello World". While HTML is not a programming language (it is a markup language), I do not know what the penalty would be for breaking with this long-standing tradition, and in the interest of my own personal well-being, I think it would be better not to find out first-hand. To that end, the following example presents the infamous "Hello World" program adapted to HTML.


<title> The Hello World Page </title>

<p>Hello World!


Let's disect this little page briefly, shall we?

Be sure to look up these tags in the documentation and see what other options are available, and what else you can do with them. We will cover more sophisticated text formatting in our next class.

Assignment #1

Is right here. Look at it.


1/13/99 - Initial revision 1/14/99 - Added EPIC, Lurker's Guide, and Assignment #1 Link. 1/15/99 - Added Ethan's spelling / grammar corrections.