Web philosophy and history

Vonnie (vonnie@asylum.sf.ca.us)
Thu, 27 Apr 1995 10:52:29 +0500

I'm writing an article about the Web for a magazine called
"Computers in Physics".

Sure I can talk about the different browsers and sites, but
I'd like to get some perspective on the historical attitude of
the Web's designers towards supporting physics on the Web:

As I understand it (and I'm hoping you all will tell
me if I'm wrong -- that's why I'm posting here) the Web was
originally designed to help the high-energy physicists at CERN to
collaborate with others across the net. The original browser
allowed annotation of documents, so that the Web was suited to
joint authorship of documents rather than publishing (two-way
communication rather than one-way).
But the first NCSA Mosaic didn't offer annotation. It
did offer a sufficiently spiffy GUI that use of the Web
for entertainment and tech support (and marketing) has exploded.
Which is fine, but the current version of HTML and currently
available tools leave some things to be desired for
disseminating physics information over the Web: like
support for tables, Greek letters, and math symbols.
Future versions of HTML may help, but meanwhile the
dominant Web culture seems to have other priorities (not
least of which appears to be turning HTML into a page
description language, and making secure connections). Also
HTML appears to be becoming Balkanized (I'm thinking about
the features supported only by Netscape and about Mathbrowser),
so who knows what'll happen to future development of HTML?

So what is a physicist to do? At the moment, I can
collaborate via e-mail and run latex2html to get in-line GIFs,
but that's really not optimal. I haven't tried Mathbrowser
-- I'd like to talk by email with anyone who has.

Also, I'd like to know what's cooking now that might
benefit physicists in general?

vonnie@asylum.sf.ca.us vonnie@tiac.net