Thanks for asking!
"Ultimately, I'm asking what commercial possibilities lay before Tim
once he had created html?"
In short, the creation of HTML and the NEXUS browsers ultimately
enabled the commercialization of the WWW, however, at the time of
creation, the purpose of the inventions were so non-commercial that
development wasn't driven by those possibilities. The commercial
possibilities -existed- of course, however the hardware and computing
power then available, plus the composition of the Internet community,
did not lend itself to initial development -for the purpose- of
"Berners-Lee's creation was fueled by a highly personal vision of the
Web as a powerful force for social change and individual creativity."
Weaving the Web - Overview
I'll use a few of Tim Berners-Lee's own words to explain his future
hopes in context of the times and early hardware capabilities.
Berners-Lee vision: "W3 was originally developed to allow information
sharing within internationally dispersed teams, and the dissemination
of information by support groups. Originally aimed at the High Energy
Physics community, it has spread to other areas and attracted much
interest in user support, resource discovery and collaborative work
areas. It is currently the most advanced information system deployed
on the Internet, and embraces within its data model most information
in previous networked information systems."
Note: "Historical interest: This document dates from around 1991 and
1992 and has not been updated"
A Short History of the WWW - Tim Berners-Lee
"The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we
communicate by sharing information. Its universality is essential: the
fact that a hypertext link can point to anything, be it personal,
local or global, be it draft or highly polished. There was a second
part of the dream, too, dependent on the Web being so generally used
that it became a realistic mirror (or in fact the primary embodiment)
of the ways in which we work and play and socialize. That was that
once the state of our interactions was on line, we could then use
computers to help us analyse it, make sense of what we are doing,
where we individually fit in, and how we can better work together."
A Short History of the WWW - Tim Berners-Lee
The government bowed out of the early Internet in 1989, leaving behind
very little Internet infrastructure, under mostly academic ownership
The World Wide Web was conceived as a replacement information sharing
environment, to give the scientific, academic, and government users of
the Internet the method and means for access to the same information
over a wider network. Industry did not take much notice of the WWW
until approximately 1993, after the invention of the early browswers
(Erwise, Viola, Cello and Mosaic, in addition to Nexus.)
Let's look at your questions individually. I'll offer you my own
insights as a long time (since the early 1970's) user of the WWW, the
Internet and it's predecessor forms.
Q. Could Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of html programming language,
father of the World Wide Web and creator of the first internet
browser "nexus" - previously known as "worldwideweb") have kept the
invention of the browser to himself?
A. Yes, but that would have nullified his entire purpose for creation.
In order to share information, the means for doing so must also be
Q. Could there have been a world with only one internet browser?
A. I seriously doubt it. The history of invention is rift with
parallel inventions, and beyond that, it is human nature to compete,
to find a better and/or different way of doing things. Many different
paths can lead to inventions which perform the same functions in
differing ways. Remember the U.S. government attitudes of the 1980s.
Prior to deregulation, breakup of the Bell communications monopoly was
a priority. This diversification alone fueled a competitive breeding
ground for technical innovation.
Q. Or could there have been a world in which microsoft was prevented
from bundling their browser with other software? I mean a reason
other than a judge just happily decreeing that microsoft could not
bundle their software with explorer.
A. Barring legal intervention, why would Microsoft -not- wish to join
the fray? Microsoft gave Internet Explorer away. Still does, even to
individual users of competing operating systems, though not truly as
altruistic as it sounds. The costs have been subsidized by licensing
to the creators of those operating systems, which in turn lead to the
lawsuits of the past several years, But in the beginning of the WWW,
the aims and financial aspects of infrastructure development were yet
so unclear, that Microsoft's contribution of the browser, and it's
"natural" tie-in to their OS, was deemed no more 'dangerous' than
Netscape's. Development at almost any cost was not only allowed, but
encouraged as commercial entities awakened to the commercial
possibilities of the Web. Microsoft emulated the time-honored strategy
employed by Gillette for the introduction of the safety razor.
Q. Could Tim have gone further, and found a way to charge royalties or
licence each and every webpage?
A. Charge whom? The purpose of both the language and the early
browsers were to share information freely, among a very small (in
comparison to today's user figures) number of individuals working on
the same projects. While dreaming of a future universality, such
vision was certainly not assured. The hardware and infrastructure took
ten years to catch on, a short time in human and business history,
yes, but "forever" in terms of computer development timelines.
Q. Or was the fact that it was all free the reason the technology was
adopted in the first place?
That's a good portion of the answer, yes. HTML and the web browsers
were -a nice thing- however the majority of the community they were
intended for needed to be won over to their use. Free was good, in
fact, free was probably the only way that the web would have grown so
quickly into a commercially viable "ready to exploit" structure.
Would the webpage have become as ubiquitous if there had been some
sort of pricing structure?
Jakob Nielsen discusses the Case for Micropayments in a 1998 article.
I think you'll enjoy reading about his proposal and the reactions and
resistance to it. Charging for use of webpages was not possible until
the development of a user interface which would both allow secure
payment and ease of use.
Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, January 25, 1998
The Case for Micropayments
Q. What if Tim had used the marketing approach that marc andreesen
used to sell mosaic/mozilla/netscape (as I understand it, anyone
could download netscape, but if they used it for their own business
they had to pay for a license)?
At the time Nexus evolved, there were no business users interested in
its use, to drive the development of a pay model. Berners-Lee's work
was underwritten by CERN, an organization devoted to the facilitation
of free sharing of information through the development of a common
protocol or conduit for sharing.
Q. Could tim have charged a small, or even no fee at first, but later
begin to start charging more money for every webpage?
Not in the beginning. Payments were not possible until an interface
was developed to handle such payments. Nexus never supported the
necessary level of encryption.
Berners-Lee's Weaving the Web is perhaps the best source of insight
into the visions which fueled Tim Berners-Lee's vision of the World
Wide Web and creation of tools to allow its exploration by those
without a high level of technical expertise.
Time Magazine (quoted by Harper in the bookjacket) said: "Unlike so
many of the inventions that have moved the world, this one truly was
the work of one man... the World Wide Web is Berners-Lee's alone. He
designed it. He loosed it on the world. And he more than anyone else
has fought to keep it open, non-proprietary, and free... It's hard to
overstate the impact of the global system he created. It's almost
Gutenbergian. He took a powerful communications system that only the
Úlite could use and turned it into a mass medium."
Weaving the Web
The original design and ultimate destiny of the World Wide Web, by
Tim Berners-Lee with Mark Fischetti
Additional Internet History Resources
The WorldWideWeb Browser (Berners-Lee)
History of Internet and WWW:
The Roads and Crossroads of Internet History
by Gregory R. Gromov
World Wide Web Seminar (Berners-Lee 1991/92)
Internet and World Wide Web History
Google Search Terms:
Berners-Lee +html creation nexus
Should you have any questions about the materials or links provided,
please, feel free to ask.
Request for Answer Clarification by
14 Jul 2003 17:28 PDT
Hi! Thanks for your answer. Five stars. I'd tip you but I'm from
australia (dollar exchange rate is better than it's been in years, but
it still sucks), I'm a poor uni student, and getting paid research
really is a huge indulgence - but who can quench the thirst for
knowledge? ; )
In one part, you said:
Barring legal intervention, why would Microsoft -not- wish to join
Microsoft's browser was purchased (licenced, -then- purchased, right?)
from spyglass, which had developed their software from mosaic,
licenced by nsca. If Marc had kept the proprietary rights to mosaic,
then he could have decided not to allow microsoft to use a
mosaic-based browser. But then I suppose microsoft would have just
developed another browser, which brings me back to the rumination that
tim berners-lee, who unleashed this upon the world, really had little
say in its direction. I mean he created w3, but as I understand it, in
the heady days of netscape vs microsoft, it was the commercial
organisations setting the standards, rather than w3.
I suppose if netscape wanted to survive, it should have merged with
aol earlier, perhaps, to become AOL's default browser.