Tim Berners-Lee’s most important decision

British Library digitised image from page 161 of '1763. Combined History of Shelby and Moultrie Counties ... With illustrations, etc'
A handshake, from the British Library on the Flickr Commons

Of the dozens of design decisions that TBL made during 1989, all of which continue to shape the way we build and use the web twenty-five years later, the most important was not requiring permission to link. Seems obvious now – a non-feature in fact – but it’s the reason you’re not reading this on Xanadu (or Prestel or on an X500 terminal or something). The logic of the times – embedded in those other systems – was that documents and data sources had owners and that you couldn’t just link to them without some kind of formal permission. Permission was defined as a system-to-system, technical handshake kind of thing or a person-to-person interaction, like a phone call, or, God forbid, a contract and some kind of payment. TBL’s judgement was that the community he was building his system for – the academics and engineers – wouldn’t want that and that the spontaneity of the hyperlink would trump the formality of permission. And, of course, he was right. It’s the spontaneously-created hyperlink that triggered the marvellous, unstoppable promiscuity of the World Wide Web. It explains the web’s insane rate of growth and the profusion of web services. It’s the root of all this.

All the world’s a blog

Ravings of a recent convert

When you think about it, everything’s a blog. Blog-form seems to be very basic – large parts of the web can be neatly analysed down to blog-form. It (obviously) took me years to figure this out but the original bloggers understood it instinctively. Once you remember that the web is and was always meant to be a post and publish medium, that TBL’s first web client was a combined editor-browser (who first took the editor out? Was it Andreesen? Microsoft?), you can begin to imagine the whole web refigured as a blog.

My day job (cult favourite another.com) easily decomposes into a dozen or so discrete blogs – Robin even thinks you could present the email itself in blog format (is that stretching it a bit?). I can see a toggle on every page: blog view-standard view. Logging in essentially opens your editing interface. When you’re composing an email you’re just posting to our mailblog. Your inbox becomes a threaded, reverse-chronological web site – a blog. Very few web sites are not amenable to this way of thinking. Very few don’t meet the ‘post and publish, new posts at the top’ entry qualification. Can you imagine the entire web remade in blog-form? Have I lost it entirely?

(Incidentally, TBL’s Weaving the Web is a thrilling read and a useful reminder of the web’s founding principles).