Tuesday, May 19, 2009

All About Links

Some of you have asked about those techspeak "links" that appear in my columns and are a mystery to some of you.

Here is one:


What is it, and why is it there?

Well, links are simply places to go for more information. You click on them and another document appears on your computer. Or you search for a page (a link) which has some of the key words in it that you expect to find in a document.

But is there a spook which will come out from them and jump at you, worse a virus, or someone who will steal your identity, or cause physical harm? Maybe. Neither you nor the computer may know exactly what you will find until you find it. Even after you find it, it may change.

But relax, links are basically our friends. There is no danger unless you respond to a questionable link.

Links are the building blocks of the WorldWideWeb. They are the spiderweb threads which connect the web together.

So how did they came about?

Back in the early days, some 20 years ago (wasn't that a long time ago?), the tech people at CERN, the nuclear accelerator in Switzerland, and (boy is that tech) had a problem.

Some tech people were doing things that other tech people knew nothing about. Or duplicating work. Very inefficient. CERN tried indexes and table of contents, but the information problem was so great that these solutions did not work. There was just too much information to handle and no efficient way to get what you wanted.

The problem was handed to Tim Berners-Lee.

Tim tried everything and finally came up with a nontech idea. Why not let the computer goes through ALL the information in all the computers and check it out. After all a computer can go through huge amounts of information in seconds. An absolutely enormous amount of info was called a "google"---(no, there was no Google then).

The computer would then come back with links to information of POSSIBLE interest. Was this like a footnote? Absolutely not. No, the computer had no idea what was relevant or not, but it could narrow down to a very few possibilities. We call the computer capability nowadays a search engine. We call the place to ask this question a "browser". The computer browses the "library" of information.

The links would link to other links and these to yet others. That was the idea.

Well, curiously possibly nobody had thought of this before. A browser (reader) was then created to look at information.

The first browser was actually called "Lynx". Get the idea? The WorldWideWeb is simply a totally unorganized database connected by links. A new kind of library or database or encyclopedia. The browser browses links just like a reader browses books in a library.

Crucially, Sir Tim found a way to build links into documents themselves, so that information could be connected together, rather than viewed as separate and distinct pieces of data. Goodbye to tables of contents and indexes. You could almost instantly go anywhere, find anything.

All this solved the problem at CERN. Done. An unbelievably simple idea worked, and Tim was knighted for it by the Queen of England. Tim is still quite a young man; all this was less than 20 years ago.

In a word, my links here are to sources of information of possible interest. That's all.

Here is a link:


from the creator of the WWW, Tim Berners-Lee in the early days.

Here is another, Tim's basic proposal from 1990


Then, way back (??) in 1945 Vanevar Bush almost foresaw what was needed, though he did not know how to get it.


Links are a way to keep us connected. Just the thing for seniors. A good way for all of us to keep connected.

Can you get a virus from links? No. But you can get a virus if you respond to anything foreign and unknown and invite them in, just like letting a stranger in your front door.