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Another history of the Web from its architecture

  1. 1. another history of the Web from its architecture heterogeneous assemblages and open futures Alexandre Monnin - Fabien Gandon (Inria, Wimmics) “Computer scientists have ended up having to face all sorts of unabashedly metaphysical questions. (…) More recently, they have been taken up anew by network designers wrestling with the relations among identifiers, names, references, locations, handles, etc., on the World Wide Web.” (Brian Cantwell Smith, On the Origin of Objects).
  2. 2. 25th anniversary, yeah! • Very happy to be here to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Web! • We tend to take the years 1989, 1990 and 1991 to mark its birth. • We celebrate the birth of the Web every 5 years • 1989: 20th anniversary, 2010 : idem, 2011 : idem • 2014 : 25th anniversary, 2015 : idem, 2016 : idem • 2019 will mark the 30th anniversary!  So that eventually we seldom abstain from celebrating the Web but maybe that’s a good thing and I wouldn’t have it another way.  Also shows the Web is a project and started as such
  3. 3. architecture of the Web? a naming system (UDI/URI/URL /URN/URC/IRL/IRI) communication / protocol (HTTP) GET /team HTTP/1.1 Host: representation language (HTML, XML, JSON,…) Fabien is a member of <a href="">Wimmics</a> F
  4. 4. architecture of the Web? • Those elements (defined by Christmas 1990) where originally designed by Tim Berners-Lee and still provide the basic building blocks of the Web. • A special group was formed inside the W3C to ensure that despite the evolution of the Web, these principles would still hold so that the Web « doesn’t break » (Henry S. Thompson). • Yet, these principles also have a history, and quite an interesting one – albeit rarely told we want to say a few words about it.
  5. 5. disclaimer: Internal history - more akin to STS than traditional history - “follow the actors” - more concerned with ontological question (the status of the entities that comprise the architecture for the web) than with « social » explanations - neither opposed nor incompatible with external viewpoints
  6. 6. is the Web a hypertext? F
  7. 7. Obviously! • Main protocol : “HyperText Transfer Protocol” (HTTP) • Main language : “HyperText Markup Language” (HTML) F
  8. 8. Obviously! « Web » presented at 3rd ACM Hypertext conference 1991 (San Antonio, Texas) F
  9. 9. Obviously! • “On 6 August 1991, Tim Berners-Lee posted a summary of the World Wide Web project on several internet newsgroups, including alt.hypertext, which was for hypertext enthusiasts. The move marked the debut of the web as a publicly available service on the internet” (excerpt from Cern timelines). • Berners-Lee and Cailliau have both acknowledged influence from early hypertexts creators. • Especially Bush and Nelson – despite Bush not having really produced a hypertext system (cf. Alexandre Serres, “Hyperexte”). • Berners-Lee met with Nelson and mentioned him in his account of the early years of the Web (Weaving the Web, 1999). • etc. F
  10. 10. the Web never was an hypertext
  11. 11. Nope! « Web » only demoed at 3rd ACM Hypertext conference 1991 (San Antonio, Texas) F
  12. 12. Nope! Systems connected to the Internet at the time where not hypertexts. What the Web purported to do might thus have involved something different (image ©CERN) F
  13. 13. Nope! The Web retained only a few functionalities from hypertext systems F
  14. 14. Nope! The Amaya browser developed by Inria did keep the “edit” functionality but only locally since it had become a client-side-only feature. F
  15. 15. Xanadu® did (purport to) support… • bidirectional links (links should never break!) • transclusion (Nelson: “A link connects two things which are different. . A transclusion connects two things which are the same”). • copyright, micropayment, and security • version-management features • content management features Xanadu® was never implemented to begin with… (up until very recently at least - 2014). The Web = Xanadu® in the wild!
  16. 16. Initial perception • “WorldWideWeb: Proposal for a HyperText Project” T. Berners-Lee, R. Cailliau, 1990 • Hypertext conceptual legacy “a distributed hypercard” • Documentary perception “the universal library”
  17. 17. Yet… • The use of the word was much broader than reflects in canonical stories. • First European Conference on Hypertext (INRIA, France, November 1990) attended by Berners-Lee a: heterogeneity of “hypertexts” and researchers profiles. • Helps understand the fact that the Semantic Web was first mentioned as early as 1994.
  18. 18. another history
  19. 19. enquire • Bidrectional links? “The links were bidirectional, in that having added it once, the reverse link automatically showed up. The relationships applied not, of course, to the cards, but to the people, things, documents and groups described by the cards.” • “He recognized that a system similar to ENQUIRE was needed, "but accessible to everybody."[4] There was a need that people be able to create cards independently of others and to link to other cards without updating the linked card. This idea is the big difference and the cornerstone to the World Wide Web.” (Wikipedia)
  20. 20. other systems known for their influence • System 33: (Steve Putz, Xerox PARC, early 90s) : basis of content negociation (conneg) a fundamental functionality fo the Web. • X.500 : the counter example of the “Directory Information Tree (DIT)” i.e. a hierarchical organization of entries F
  21. 21. post deployment evolutions: the case of security • 1990 : HTTP not secured • 1994 : HTTP + SSL for Netscape Navigator • 2000 : RFC 2818 “HTTP Over TLS” HTTPS = HTTP + TSL + adoption F
  22. 22. even more influences• Usenet : worldwide distributed discussion system. • UNIX : multi-users & TCP/IP networking protocols • Free Software Foundation & GNU General Public License (GPL) • etc. F
  23. 23. Other competitors of the Web: Internet-based information systems • Alex • Archie • Gopher • WAIS • Prospero • etc.
  24. 24. compatibility and extensibility • influence on URL/URI scheme “universal syntax” • interoperate and finally encompass rivals • proof of retro-compatibility and flexibility • becomes keystone F
  25. 25. the underlying programmatic approach • RPC Remote Procedure Call (70’s): • Since 1970, RFC 674, 707, 1058 • NODAL interpreter language for accelerator controls (argument) network of invocation • Declarative document languages (mid 80’s): • SGML and the documentarian culture • LATEX as a programing approach to documents (CERNDOC) programming the generation of representations • Object-Oriented technologies (90’s): • Object-centric • Class hierarchies resource oriented architecture F
  26. 26. The importance of assemblages
  27. 27. « Agencements? » (assemblages) « Ce qu’apporte la notion d’agencement (et de manière plus explicite que ne pourront jamais le faire les notions de dispositif, d’assemblage ou d’arrangement), c’est une réponse à la question des sources et des modalités de l’action. (…) Je propose, pour clarifier une terminologie qui n’est pas exempte d’ambiguïtés, qu’on réserve la notion d’agencement à la combinaison : arrangement + action spécifique, et que l’on qualifie l’agencement pour désigner le type d’action spécifique qui est en jeu. On pourra ainsi parler d’agencement technique, politique, scientifique, etc., chaque agencement donnant forme par les cadrages qu’il organise à un certain mode d’action collective. » (Michel Callon)
  28. 28. finding back the hypertext After the Web took off many hypertexts systems were designed to re- implement « lost » functionalities: - Hypertext systems (ex.: HyperG) - Search engines (esp. Google) - Web 2.0 platforms (towards a fragmented read-write Web: annotation, comments, backlinks on CMS and blogging platforms – trackbacks, etc.) - Languages (ep. XML for transpointing – a feature of Xanadu®, annotations, etc.) - Wikis (collaborative writing with content and version control) ! - Archives (Internet Archive to keep bits of memories from the Web)
  29. 29. XML “It might be fairer to say that many of the things Ted Nelson thinks are important tend to fall outside the scope of things XML is very good for. Certainly the question of the technically correct way to do persistent linking, annotations, etc. in XML documents (or the WWW in general, for that matter) is still open to debate, despite HyTime, TEI, Xlink, etc. ...” "Ted's place in history is secure because he asked more important questions than just about anybody. I think he usually offered the wrong answers, but questions are more important.“ (Tim Bray)
  30. 30. One exemple: Google • The assemblage produced by Google (which rests on measures, infrastructure, database tools, business models, etc.) partially transforms the Web into a hypertext. • When Google launches its crawlers which then invoke resources and dereference representations that are kept in it index. • These representations are treated as stables pages (ignoring content negotiation for example) bounded to one another through their incoming links. • Google « networks » the naming system of the Web thanks to its algorithms (the PageRank and all those that now support it).
  31. 31. • Once pages are inside an centralized index, one can safely establish relations among them by using links instead of just pointers. • Of course this is a very partial stabilization of the living Web in Google’s index but a very efficient one performed through the usage of tools such as MapReduce. Crédits illustration : Aurélien Bénel
  32. 32. multiple Web experiences • personalized answer and lost reference • machine learning and filter bubble • loosing the universality of the resource / multiplying representations
  33. 33. Beyond « agencements » : l’entre-capture • Concept borrowed from Isabelle Stengers: « [le] caractère non symétrique de toute entre-capture, couplage toujours latéral et partiel, (…) ne fonde aucune « logique » commune : les façons dont l'un compte, du fait de l'entre-capture, pour l'autre et l'autre pour l'un sont a priori parfaitement distinctes » (Cosmopolitiques, tome 7, Pour en finir avec la tolérance) • Strange mereology where the whole (Google + the architecture of the Web) is smaller that the parts (the architecture of the Web) thanks to the reductive action of the assemblage (the former only “captures” bits of the latter, assemblage reduces complexity as much as they add their own – see Latour’s paper “La société comme possession - la "preuve par l'orchestre"”).
  34. 34. REST fixing the a posteriori essence of the Web
  35. 35. standardization and the birth of the W3C • 1994 W3C to secure Web architecture • from implementations to standards through investments of forms (Laurent Thévenot). • First standards • between 1994 and 1995 URIs → URLs, URNs, URCs and IRLs • February 1996 HTTP 1.0 F
  36. 36. « Web resources » • But controversy on splitting of URIs into URNs and URLs. • Distinction between documents and things • What is « on » the Web and what is « outside » • Largely inconsistent and reactivated by Semantic Web • Standards revised as soon as 1997 (HTTP 1.1) and 1998 (on URIs - meaning there was a URL IETF RFC for barely three years).
  37. 37. toward REST • 1995: Roy Thomas Fielding to shed light on the principles behind the Web • Main editor of HTTP 1.1 standard (1997) and URI standard (1998) • REST (for REpresentational State Transfer : Fielding’s thesis 1995 - 2000. • REST made explicit the core design principles that were discovered in the Web (realist point of view). • He also made sure that such principles were to be found in modern Web implementations (constructivist point of view). • he actively participated to the rewriting of the standards so as to make them compliant with the said principles • principles which had been abstracted and refined from the existing standards and which were later rewritten due to their (from then on) insufficient RESTfulness!
  38. 38. chicken or egg? t1) Http – Model for REST t2) REST – Principles extracted from the model t3) REST – Refined, becomes a norm t4) Http – Partial instance of REST  Fielding strove to make the Web coherent with itself.
  39. 39. “> Logically, REST really had to predate HTTP 1.1 in order for HTTP 1.1 to be so RESTful. No? No. That is more of a philosophical question than a logical one. HTTP/1.1 is a specific architecture that, to the extent I succeeded in applying REST-based design, allows people to deploy RESTful network-based applications in a mostly efficient way, within the constraints imposed by legacy implementations. The design principles certainly predated HTTP, most of them were already applied to the HTTP/1.0 family, and I chose which constraints to apply during the pre-proposal process of HTTP/1.1, yet HTTP/1.1 was finished long before I had the available time to write down the entire model in a form that other people could understand. All of my products are developed iteratively, so what you see as a chicken and egg problem is more like a dinosaur-to-chicken evolution than anything so cut and dried as the conceptual form pre-existing the form. HTTP as we know it today is just as dependent on the conceptual notion of REST as the definition of REST is dependent on what I wanted HTTP to be today.”
  40. 40. Roy T. Fielding/ Tim Berners-Lee Credits Paul Downey
  41. 41. Saint Paul/ Jésus (?)
  42. 42. Open access/ Public domain
  43. 43. Abstract resource vs concrete representation What is a URI naming or designating? - the Web has neither version control system nor build-in archiving system (everything disappears of the Web by default) - content do change over time (diachronic changes) - content do potentially change every time a URI is queried (URI can identify service, be the result of many calls akin to mashups, « pages » contain counters, vary through content negotiation or personalization, etc. (synchronic changes) - pointers can no longer be dereferenceable (« links break »)
  44. 44. URI & time • • • http://mété • 2015&month=12&day=1&hour=7&min=0&sec=0&p1=181&p2=248& p3=224 F
  45. 45. Paris Wikipedia Article 2002 has a URI F
  46. 46. definitly a hierarchy in the core concepts URI > HTTP > HTMLuniversal scheme content negotiation F
  47. 47. “7.1.2 Manipulating Shadows. Defining resource such that a URI identifies a concept rather than a document leaves us with another question: how does a user access, manipulate, or transfer a concept such that they can get something useful when a hypertext link is selected? REST answers that question by defining the things that are manipulated to be representations of the identified resource, rather than the resource itself. An origin server maintains a mapping from resource identifiers to the set of representations corresponding to each resource. A resource is therefore manipulated by transferring representations through the generic interface defined by the resource identifier.” (Roy T. Fielding & Richard Taylor)
  48. 48. a network of resources • a network of potential invocation / network of interaction • indirection, disconnectedness, separation: is at the heart of the Web. • Deep Web, Dark, Web
  49. 49. There cannot be a map of the Web that doesn’t fix what is maps through interaction If a resource is an abstraction, then: - There are no links between existing pages but URI than can be dereferenced (or not) to representations - No central authority guarantees that representations are available making the Web a decentralized system - The same locus of computation will give simultaneously give birth to differing http-representations (accessible content) , more often than not, these representations will turn out to contain different URI thus drawing potentially as many graphs in parallel to one another.
  50. 50. a Web of amateurs? Noted computer scientist Alan Kay once said “the Internet was done so well that most people think of it as a natural resource like the Pacific Ocean, rather than something that was man-made. When was the last time a technology with a scale like that was so error-free? The Web, in comparison, is a joke. The Web was done by amateurs.” One Stack Overflow contributor, Stephen Crawley, gives this beautiful reply : “In a sense he was right. The original (pre-spec) versions of HTML, HTTP and URL were designed by amateurs (not standards people). And there are aspects of the respective designs ... and the subsequent (original) specs ... that are (to put it politely) not as good as they could have been. (…) However, the web has succeeded magnificently despite these things. And all credit should go to the people who made it happen. Whether or not they were "amateurs" at the time, they are definitely not amateurs now.”
  51. 51. Open futures for the Web
  52. 52. Web Web Want • The “infrastructure” (Susan Leigh Star, see also Jean-François Blanchette) by definition remains hidden. • As researchers we have a responsibility to draw attention through our work on unseen, little known or actively obfuscated (through assemblages) infrastructures. Be they material or quite abstract – made of standards for instance, turning them into “matters of care” (Maria Puig de la Bellacasa). • Potentialities are lying there and as they may help to perform different futures. • From the knowledge of the architecture of the Web some people, for example, are working to “re-decentralize the Web”.  See the SolID (Social Linked Data) initiative.
  53. 53. WebArch between abstraction and infrastructure • Since the beginnings of the Web HTTP-representations of resources could take many shapes from: - PDF files (whose access has to be maintained, they are much less durable than their paper counterparts!) - HTML « documents » or mashups, - Dynamic WebServices, - Compositions of Webservices, etc. • There is undoubtedly a tendency towards more abstractions and, at the same time, more infrastructure (see also “IaaS”, “Infrastructure as a service » = cloud computing) • More abstract resources actually translates into more infrastructure (more infrastructure is needed to actively maintain a Webservice than a PDF file).
  54. 54. Web of Resources & (meta)data: the way to distinguish resources and links data person document program metadata F
  55. 55. back and forth t-1) Internet – RPC t0) RPC – Http t1) Http – Model for REST t2) REST – Principles extracted from the model t3) REST – Refined, becomes a norm t4) Http – Partial instance of REST t5) Http – RPC t6) RPC – Internet Internet of Things – Web of Things F
  56. 56. a Web of calculus “We have the potential for every HTML document to be a computer — and for it to be programmable. Because the thing about a Turing complete computer is that … anything you can imagine doing, you should be able to program.” (Tim Berners-Lee, 2015) This is actually what Ethereum has been doing for a few years now and branded as genuine Web 3.0. F
  57. 57. Ethereum virtual machines
  58. 58. Docker
  59. 59. (real containers are much less eco-friendly!) Allan Sekula and Noël Burch, The Forgotten Space (2010). Still image from documentary film.
  60. 60. From the Web We Want to the Web We can Afford in the age of the Anthropocene • Two narrations : - That of untamed progress towards more technological development (DAO, AI, etc.). - The Anthropocene, climate change, new climate policy, etc.  Ever heard of COP 21? If you made it to this venue, I guess you did! • Not so much incompatible narration as too much compatible (tech industry is fostering social and climate collapse).
  61. 61. New media theorists (interested in the social sciences) have already noted the impact of digital infrastructure on the planet (see for instance the work of Jussi Parikka: A Geology of Media and The Anthrobscene).
  62. 62. Downscaling the Web How about computer scientists? Attempts are being made to provide Web access (in particular in Africa) without Internet connection (see the work of Christophe Guéret) a) since the Web is not just about connection but also disconnection, indirection, 404 errors, etc. how can we imagine a WWA (a Web We can Afford – at least for some time) without being blinded by the tech salesmen around us and the commodification of research? b) Can we go as far as to imagine a Web that would no longer rests on digitality and its unsustainable infrastructure?
  64. 64. Thank you very much!