This is the children's version
of David Weinberger's "loose pieces loosely joined" -the story of what the web is for. Reproducable not for profit as long as you mention his web site and don't re-edit it
What Is the Web For?
Chapter 1: What Things Are For
When you want to know what an invention is, you ask what it is used for. For example, if you didn't know that telephones are used for calling people, you might think that they are just funny shaped plastic things that make beeps when you press their buttons. And if you didn't know that highways are for going places, you might think that they are just way-too-long basketball courts or good places to rollerblade.
So, what is the Web for?
You probably use it to do research for school papers. So that is one thing that it's for. In fact, the Web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee to make it easier for scientists to use the Internet to find research papers written by other scientists. So you're using the Web just the way its creator intended.
But you probably use the Web in ways Berners-Lee didn't have in mind. Do you use the Web to send email? Email is what the Web is for.
Do you use the Web to talk through Instant Messaging with friends? Instant Messaging is what the Web is for.
Have you or your parents bought anything over the Web? Shopping is what the Web is for.
Have you ever played a game like checkers or chess over the Web? Playing games is what the Web is for.
Have you ever listened to music over the Web? Listening to music is what the Web is for.
Links to ExploreTim Berners- LeeHistory of the InternetKids' Web SearchInstant Messaging (AOL)History of EmailPlay checkers on the WebPlay chess on the Web
*Listen to the radio on the Web
*You have to register in order to play
Have you ever been tricked by a Web site? You thought you were entering an easy contest - for example, trying to click on a moving cartoon of a monkey - but it turned out to be just a way to get you to come to a page selling junk? Or maybe you clicked on a link that said it would take you to a page about your favorite singer or TV star and it took you to a page about trying to sell you phony "weight loss" pills instead. You were tricked. So, yes, tricking people is what the Web is for.
Every day it seems, someone thinks up something new you can do with the Web. Two doctors in different cities can look at a patient's X-rays together and talk about what they think the X-rays show. Families can share their photographs and even have them displayed in a special electronic frame that sits on a bookshelf. There are already some refrigerators that can send you an email if they notice that you are running out of milk! There is no predicting what will be invented tomorrow and the day after that. All those future predictions are also what the Web is for.
Links to ExploreTV Stars' scheduled programs Music MagazineBrain AtlasThe human skullFamily photos from the Civil War A refrigerator on the WebInfo about refrigerators on the Web
That makes the Web into a strange sort of thing. It's for email, for instant messaging, for shopping, for playing, for listening to music, for tricking people, and for doing things not yet invented.
Yes, the Web is a strange sort of thing. In fact, it is in some ways more like a place than like a thing. Just like you can do things in a place, you can do things on the Web. What you can do in a place depends on the type of place it is. If it's a schoolroom, you can learn. If it's a schoolyard, you can play. If it's a space station, you can tumble around in zero gravity and play a very odd game of pick-up-sticks.
So, if we want to understand the Web, we should ask what type of place it is. And that's a very good question.
Links to ExploreInternational Space Station
Chapter 2: The Web and the Real World
There are billions of pages on the World Wide Web. They would just be a big pile of pages if they weren't connected.
What connects them? In the real world, a page is next to another page because the pages are held together by the cover of a book. But on the Web, two pages are only "next" to each other if they are linked. As you know, a link is some text or picture on a Web page that you can click that takes you from that page to another. Links turn the billions of separates pages of the Web into a web.
These links are called "hyperlinks" to show that they're not like links in the real world. In the real world, if I want to link together two dogs by connecting their leashes, the two dogs have to be very close to each other. It won't work if one dog is in Cleveland and the other in Rome. On the Web, though, you can link a page in Cleveland to one in Rome as easily as you can link a page you've created with a page your next door neighbor created. That's what puts the "hyper" into "hyperlink."
Links to ExploreSearch 3 billion pagesClevelandHistory of RomeHow to make a cat leash
Links turn loose pages into a web. Links also make the Web the type of place that it is. Since we started this chapter by asking what type of place the Web is, we now know to look at the way hyperlinks hold the Web together.
Hyperlinks are weird.
Take a fact so obvious that we don't even think about it: In the real world, if your friend's house is 3 blocks from your house, your house is 3 blocks from his. Of course!
But that's not how it works on the Web. Let's say my hobby is collecting sea shells. I build a Web site about the sea shells I've found. On my page I put links to other pages I think readers might be interested in. One of those links is to the site built by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I don't need the Museum's permission to do this. All I need to know is the Museum's web address, which happens to be www.amnh.org. So, now anyone who comes to my site about shells is only one click away from the Museum's site. But, if you go to the Museum's site are you only one click away from my site? No, because the Museum site doesn't have a link to my site.
So, my site can be right "next door" to the Museum's site but the Museum's site is not right next door to mine.
Links to ExploreSea ShellsAmerican Museum of Natural HistoryThe Museum's exhibit of pearlsThe Museum and sea shells
That's just the first way the Web is different from the real world. Here are some more:
There are limits in the real world to how many next-door neighbors you can have. On the Web, your can have as many "next-door neighbors" as you want: your page could have hundreds of links and no one will complain that the neighborhood is getting too crowded, or that the house in front of them is blocking their view.
Here's another difference. On this planet, there's just so much land. Every time someone builds a new building, she or he has used up some of the land. But when someone builds a new site on the Web, not only doesn't it use up anything, it actually makes the Web bigger: if the Web had 20 billion pages, now it has 20 billion and one pages. There's no limit to how big the Web can get, but there is a limit to how big your town can get.
Another difference is that in the real world, when you move to a new neighborhood, it already has people living there. You have to take the good neighbors with the bad. On the Web, you make your own neighborhood by linking your site to the sites that you like. If there's a site about shells that says that turtles and pasta shells are shellfish, you just won't link to it because you know it's wrong. You get to pick all your own neighbors on the Web.
Links to ExploreThe Visible EarthSatellite photos of "urban sprawl"TurtlesTypes of pasta
But the most important way the Web differs from the real world has to do with why sites use hyperlinks. In our example, I put in a link on my page to the Museum because I thought the people coming to my site would find the Museum site interesting. Every link on the Web was created by someone on purpose. Usually it's because the person thinks visitors will find the other site worth their time - perhaps because it's informative, or entertaining, or funny.
This is a most peculiar thing. The Web is a web because of hyperlinks that connect the pages. But every hyperlink expresses someone's interests and recommendations. If you were to make a map of the Web, showing all the sites and all the links, you would be making a map of things the 500 million people on the Web find interesting.
That's a lot different than a map of the real world that shows where the mountains are and where the oceans end and land begins. The real world map shows what we humans have been given to work with. The Web shows what we have chosen to care about.
And that's exactly what's so special about the Web place. It is made not out of mountains, oceans, deserts and forests. It is made out of humans caring about things together.
Links to ExploreThe Science of MapsMaps of the WebA Map of the Web
Chapter 3: Being Together
The Web place is made of humans caring about things together. That last word is important: "together." The Web is in fact a new place for us to be humans together. On the Web, we can be together in new ways.
In a sense that's obvious. The Web gave us email, which is a new way for us to connect with one another. And it gave us chat rooms, and instant messaging. You and a friend could even set up web video cameras and wave to each other online. These are all new ways of connecting.
But that's not what's so exciting and important about the Web.
Links to ExploreFind a "webcam" for kids
Let's make up an example. Say you're in the school Sea Shell Collectors Club that meets every Tuesday after class. Every Tuesday, 30 kids show up. At the beginning of every meeting, someone stands up and shows a shell that she or he has found. Then everyone gets to ask questions, point out interesting things about the shell or tell how that shell is like shells in their own collection.
Now let's say you join a Sea Shell Collectors club on the Web. Let's say this club "meets" by having a mailing list. A mailing list is a simple idea, which is why there are millions of them. If you want to say something to the club members, you send an email not to a particular person but to the list itself. Its email address might be something like SeaShells@mail_lists.org (I made this example up so don't try it!). Your email gets sent to everyone on the list. If someone wants to reply, she can send it to the list also, and everyone on the list gets that email, too. It's like a meeting of your school's Sea Shell Collectors Club carried on through email.
But look at the differences between the real world club and the mailing list version of it.
Links to ExploreSea shellsA mailing list for and by kids Mailing lists for kids
Some of the differences are obvious. For example, the real world club meets once a week while the mailing list "meets" whenever someone has something to say. And to join the real world club, you have to live near your school while anyone anywhere can join the mailing list.
But, you may find that you sound like one type of person in the Sea Shell Club and like a different type of person on the sea shell mailing list. When you talk to your real world club. you can see people nodding in agreement, or maybe they start doodling in their notebooks which would be a sign that they're bored. You can't see any of that when you send an email, so sometimes people on mailing lists say things just to get someone to react. While you might have said to your real world Club: "In some cultures, people blow into conch shells like this to make music," on the mailing list you might find yourself saying, "The sound of a conch is the most beautiful sound in the world and makes a violin sound like a cat with a stomach ache!"
That happens a lot on the Web. Maybe in the sports chat room your enthusiasm for a team leads you write in all capital letters and to say things that you know aren't perfectly true, such as: "THE RED SOX ARE A GREAT GREAT GREAT TEAM THAT WILL WIN THE WORLD SERIES NEXT YEAR AND ANYONE WHO SAYS OTHERWISE IS JUST A DUMB SACK OF POTATOES." Meanwhile, in a chat room talking about dance moves, perhaps you find yourself not shouting but trading puns as quickly as you can type. Someone reading your comments in the sports chat room might not even recognize you as the same person in the dance chat room. It's much easier to let yourself sound one way instead of another on the Web than in the real world because no one knows who you are on the Web.
ExploreThe Red SoxPuns
If you think about the differences we've looked at, they're actually differences in time, space, and who we are.
Time. If it's Wednesday and you just found an exciting shell, you'll have to wait a week to tell the real world Shell Club about it. But, if you were on a mailing list, you'd send out an email on Wednesday afternoon. People would read it whenever they wanted. People would respond when they wanted. The conversation isn't confined just to Tuesday afternoon. It's always there, going on with you or without you. You can jump in when you want.
Space. In the real world, you live here and I live ten miles away, so we don't see each other very much. And Paolo lives thousands of miles away in Italy and Indira lives another few thousand miles away in India. Real-world space separates us. On the Web, we are not separated by space. We are joined ... by email, chat, instant messaging and by hyperlinks.
Who we are. Because space makes it hard to move around, we live in one place and are pretty much the same person day after day. But we can duck in and out of the Web, trying out being different types of people. The self we sometimes feel stuck with in the real world gets unstuck on the Web.
If time, space and who we are is different on the Web, then it is a most remarkable place.
Links to ExploreA History of TimeWorld history and maps
Chapter 4: The Web Place
The Web is a different sort of place. But why has it kicked up a fuss like nothing else in 50 years?
Ask yourself: When are we humans at our best? When are you proudest of being who you are? If you wanted human beings to make a really great impression on Martian visitors, what would you take the Martians to see?
Links to ExploreTimeline of inventionsThe Search for Extra-terrestials
I think I'd take the Martians to see us taking care of one another. I might show them parents walking with a new born baby on their shoulder late at night, trying to get the baby back to sleep. Or volunteers hammering together a house for someone whose life will be changed by it. Or the way we automatically stop for someone who has tripped and ask if they're ok. Or perhaps how an entire nation gives food and medicine to a country across the ocean. It's when we're caring for one another that we're at our best.
When we're at our best we're also the most human. You wouldn't understand us if you never saw us at our best, any more than you could understand a basketball if you only saw it deflated and flat.
We are only human because we're connected to other humans. If you were brought up on a desert island, you would grow up and hardly be human at all. You'd have no words and no ideas beyond which plants taste good and which bugs taste bad. You would be perhaps the worst example to show a Martian trying to understand us humans.
We are human because we are connected to other humans. And why do we connect? Because as humans we care about each other and about our world. Statues don't care what happens to them. Robots don't care. Humans do. We care together.
Links to ExploreLegend of Kaspar HauserPlaces to Volunteer
It can be hard to connect in the real world because space keeps us apart. Until the invention of the telephone, the only people you could connect with were the people who lived near you. You could write letters, but usually you were writing to people you already knew. And the same is true for the telephone: we almost always call people we know. In the real world, our connections have usually been to the people who happen to live around us: our family, our neighbors, the people who go to our school or to where we worship.
There's obviously something very important about living among the people who are near us. We get to know our family and our neighbors very well because their nearness means that we run into them every day or every week. And the fact that you can walk down a sidewalk and bump into someone you like can turn a chore into fun.
Nevertheless, the real world makes it hard to connect and generally limits us to the people near us.
Links to ExploreHistory of the TelephoneSix Degrees of Separation
The Web makes it insanely easy to connect. We can meet someone from the other side of the world literally as easily as a neighbor down the street. Of course, we probably won't get to know our Web friend as well as we know our real world friends. But the connections we make on the Web are valuable to us in a different way.
In the real world, we meet people who happen to live nearby. On the Web, we meet people because they share an interest. For example, we may be searching the Web for information about a particular sea shell because that's something we care about. In our search we find a Web page that talks about how to make jewelry out of shells. At that site, there may be a place where you can write a question and other people around the world can respond. Everyone who writes in cares about shells. That's why they're at this site. You have instantly found a group of people who are interested in what you're interested in. You have connected based not on the fact that you happen to live in the same place but because you both care about the same thing.
Links to ExploreWampanoag Shell JewelryMake Your Own Shell Jewelry
So, here we have two worlds. In the real world, people are kept apart by distance. Because of the vastness of the earth, different cultures have developed. People live in separate countries, divided by boundaries and sometimes by walls with soldiers and guns. On the Web, people come together - they connect - because they care about the same things.
The real world is about distances keeping people apart. The Web is about shared interests bringing people together.
Now, if connecting and caring are what make us into human people, then the Web - built out of hyperlinks and energized by people's interests and passions - is a place where we can be better at being people.
And that is what the Web is for.
Links to ExploreUNICEFDiscuss this book with other kids and the author on a public discussion board