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Analysis: The World Wide Web -- Past, Present, And Future

In just 15 years, the World Wide Web has gone through many iterations: document-sharing tool for researchers, key source of news and information, shopping mecca, multimedia playground, and incredibly popular means of socializing and self-expression. How did the Web get so far so fast?

Well, it didn't, exactly. As with many inventions, in order to understand how today's Web developed, you have to look farther back than its official introduction. The seeds of the Web were planted much earlier than 1991.

Amazingly, a very early version of the World Wide Web was floating around in at least one person's head way back during World War II. In an essay entitled "As We May Think" that appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in 1945, Vannevar Bush, an American engineer and scientific administrator, argued that as society emerged from World War II, our scientific efforts should become centered around preserving and collecting all previous human knowledge.

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To collect and display all this information, Bush even devised a system he named Memex. A combination of broadcast television and microfilm, in theory this device would allow researchers to rapidly access microfilm from remote locations as well as quickly link from one microfilm version of a book to a related topic in another via electromagnetic means.

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