A Condensed History of HTML
Once upon a time ... publishing meant carefully hand-crafting manuscripts in, of necessity, small numbers. When Johannes Gutenberg re-invented movable type in 1436, and applied them to a feasible printing-press, this all changed. Literally over night it became possible to set a document once, and print it an untold number of times.
Over the next couple of centuries, an entirely new profession emerged, complete with its own nomenclature and standards - typograhy. Early on, copy editors added commands to manuscripts which instructed typesetters on how various parts of the document should be set.
By the mid 1950ies this technique saw use also in electronic documents, and word-processing files were soon riddled with control codes dictating precise formatting. This practice is known as "specific coding".
In September 1967, William Tunnicliffe - chairman of the Graphic Communications Association's (GCA) Composition Committee - held a presentation to the Canadian Government Printing Office in which he is widely acknowledged as having started the generic coding movement.
In generic coding, descriptive tags are used in place of specific commands. Instead of instructing a typesetter - human or machine - that a section of a manuscript is to be set "120 points wide, 12 point line height, 11 point lead", the same section is labelled as being "a paragraph". This technique is called "markup".
Some obvious advantages can be gained from using generic coding methods -
- There is no need to embed binary code in a text document, which in turn make the format robust and network-neutral.
- Even low-level editor software can be used to make updates to both structure and content of documents.
- Layout and style of documents can be attached to the generic names, and thereby both shared and easily updated across both documents and collections of documents.
- The meaning of names can be agreed on, so that documents can be interpreted in terms of semantics - this means that different software can read the document and present the content in consistent manners for different physical realities, such as in speech, in Braille, and on paper.
- With descriptive tags in use, information can be automatically extracted from documents. This makes it easy to, for instance, build tables-of-contents, glossaries and indexes.
- As the tags used are plain text, documents become more future-proof and more easily interpreted even if the original specification has been lost in time.
The concept soon gained support in the printing business. By 1969 a team at IBM led by Charles F. Goldfarb had begun work on the Generic Markup Language, proving that a generic system can be used to mark up documents from various fields and with different content. By 1980, a first working draft of a standardised language - SGML - was presented.
When Tim Berners-Lee suggested his hypertext project to CERN in May 1990, nothing much was said on the topic of document formats, but SGML was already in wide use internally and the choice was, presumably, an easy one. A new language was created, based on the SGML application "GUID", and by December 1990 the very first HTML document was written. At that time the browser in use ignored tags it didn't know, and so already existing SGML documents could also be parsed.
The rest is history.
Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg Born c. 1395 Mainz, Germany — died probably Feb 3rd 1468, also Mainz.
|History of the Web||Oxford Brookes University||2002|
|HTML “1.0”||Dan Conolly and CERN||1992|
|HTML+ (draft)||Dave Ragget||November 1993|
|HTML 2.0||MIT/W3C||November 1995|
|HTML 3.0 (draft)||W3C||March 1995|
|HTML 3.2||W3C||January 1997|
|HTML 4.0||W3C||April 1998|
|HTML 4.01||W3C||December 1999|
|Johannes Gutenberg and the Printing Press||About.com and Mary Bellis||—|
|First published:||24th of May 2007|
|Last update:||6th of October 2008|
|Maintained by:||Tina Holmboe|