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MIT, CERN to cooperate on improving World Wide Web

An international initiative to further develop and standardize the World Wide Web was announced last week by MIT and the European Union, following an information policy conference at MIT involving European and American leaders in government and education.

The World Wide Web is a collection of protocols that permits communication across the Internet and allows access to that information by means of hypertext, whereby multimedia information is linked and accessed by clicking on highlighted keywords with a computer mouse. Making the Web's architecture more standard will remove barriers to the growth of the network. The cooperative venture between MIT and the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) aims to make the information on the Internet easier to use for research, commercial use and future applications. A number of private firms are also assisting in the effort.

The Web was initially developed at CERN in 1989 for high-energy physicists by Tim Berners-Lee, who will join MIT as a research scientist in the Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS) in the fall.

"Right now, it takes a great deal of time and patience to browse through the Internet. An incredible amount of information is available, but it is not easy to find," said Professor Michael L. Dertouzos, director of the LCS. "The key to tomorrow's information market is to make it possible for machines to talk to each other and relieve us of the painstaking details of doing the work ourselves. We aspire to enhance the Web by developing the `bulldozers and backhoes' of the information age, that will work for us-not the other way around, as is often the case today."

"There are a number of things one would like to do using the Web that would be useful for commerce or instruction that the [Web] protocol doesn't address fully," said Albert Vezza, associate director of the laboratory. "The idea is to broaden the protocol so it more fully addresses the needs of society."

"We envision an information market where information and information services can be purchased, sold or exchanged freely so as to improve the economic well-being and the quality of life of people throughout the world, and as a medium for education and the nurturing and integrating of different cultures," Dr. Dertouzos said.

"It is of the utmost importance that these computer frameworks be worldwide frameworks," said Dr. Martin Bangemann, the Commissioner of the European Union in charge of industrial policy, information technologies and industries, and telecommunications. "The European Union intends to support this cooperative activity as an important step toward the global information society." Dr. Bangemann headed a five-month study on the global information society that was accepted by the European heads of government at the June 24 European Council meeting in Corfu, Greece.

MIT President Charles M. Vest said, "This is a significant leap, not just a small step, for the global information society that is at an expert's fingertips today. The World Wide Web creates world-circling information bridges connecting Europe, America and the rest of the world. It will mean that whatever brand of computer you use, wherever you live, you can have easy access to information services from all over the world."

The Web's Internet navigation capability "is an illustration of the sort of interoperability that the global information infrastructure will require," Dr. Bangemann said. "This interoperability should be independent of particular hardware, operating system and network technologies, and of where the information is held. It is this independence that allows users to interact freely with information. Moreover, information navigation tools like the World Wide Web must have an unrestricted capacity to evolve and adapt with changing technologies.

"The proposed approach combines European and American strengths and will provide a concrete case for understanding the nature of future common needs and how to address them," Dr. Bangemann said.

Among the government and educational leaders participating in the conference were Dr. Thomas Kalil, director to the White House's National Economic Council; and Dr. Duane Adams, deputy director of the US Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA); Dr. Bangemann; Dr. Metakides, director of the European Strategic Program for Research and Development in Information Technologies (ESPRIT), which reports to Dr. Bangemann; other officials from the European Commission; Dr. Vest; Dr. Dertouzos, and faculty members from MIT and Oxford University.

A version of this article appeared in the July 20, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 39, Number 1).

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