[SIGCIS-Members] The double meaning of "home page"

Thomas Haigh thaigh at computer.org
Mon May 7 20:02:30 PDT 2012

[Here's a reply I sent when this message was cross posted to the internet
researchers' list a few days ago - looks like it was held up on its way to


This one I know the answer to. As I wrote in a footnote to "The Web's
Missing Links: Search Engines and Portals" in *The Internet and American
Business*, edited by William Aspray and Paul Ceruzzi, MIT Press,


The idea of a home page went back to Tim Berners-Lee and the origin of the
Web. Berners-Lee had imagined that browsers would include integrated editing
capabilities, so that each user would have a personal home page that he or
she could edit to include links to pages of interest as well as public
messages for other visitors. (Something rather like a blog). This explains
the dual meaning of the term home page as both "the default start page for
someone's browser" and "the main page holding information about a person or
company." James Gillies and Robert Cailliau, How the Web Was Born: The Story
of the World Wide Web (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 193-4.


Remember that TBL's original browser could edit web pages as well as display
them. (This was easy to implement on his NeXT computer because of its
library of powerful, reusable object tools). In his original scheme the home
page would fulfill the same function that bookmarks were used for in later
browsers, but would be shared with everyone on the web. Thinking about how
the web would have developed if this integrated editing capability had been
retained is an interesting exercise.

In fact the edit capability vanished from Mosaic, the first widely used
browser. Browsing and editing were done with different tools, and bookmarks
were private. Browser makers configured home page defaults to point to their
own websites.

Many early personal home pages really did include a mixture of links to
recommended sites and information about their owners. You could argue that
making this list of favorite pages public prefigured more recent social
media innovations such as the "like" button.

TBL discusses his original browser at
http://www.w3.org/People/Berners-Lee/WorldWideWeb.html, including a
screenshot at
http://www.w3.org/History/1994/WWW/Journals/CACM/screensnap2_24c.gif. He


The "Link" menu you can see. "Mark all" would remember the URI of where you
were. "MArk selection" would make an anchor (link target) for the selected
text, give it an ID, and remember the URI of that fragment. "Link to Marked"
would make a link from the current selection to whatever URI you had last
marked. So making a link involved browsing to somewhere interesting, hitting
Command/M, going to the document you were writing and selecting some text,
and hitting Command/L. "Link to new" would create a new window, prompt for a
URI (ugh - it should have made one up!) and make a link from the selection
to the new document. You never saw the URIs - you could of course always
find documents by following the link to them.


However the ability to save the edited page directly to the web server was
not implemented.


It would browse http:space and news: and ftp: spaces and localfile: space,
but edit only in file: space as HTTP PUT was not implemented back then.


More on the history of web browsers in Thomas Haigh, "Protocols for Profit:
Web and E-mail Technologies as Product and Infrastructure" in *The Internet
and American Business*, edited by William Aspray and Paul Ceruzzi, MIT
Press, 2008: 105-158 (preprint
http://www.tomandmaria.com/tom/Writing/ProtocolsForProfitDRAFT.pdf) and on
the history of web navigation in "The Web's Missing Links: Search Engines
and Portals" [in the same volume]:159-200 (preprint
http://www.tomandmaria.com/tom/Writing/WebsMissingLinksDRAFT.pdf). Also, of
course, in *How the Web Was Born* cited above. 

Best wishes,

Tom Haigh

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