What is the World Wide Web?

The World Wide Web is a global information system that utilises the infrastructure and diverse technologies of the Internet to provide access to information and media resources in a variety of electronic formats. It also provides the interface to many Internet services, such as online banking, e-commerce, social networking, online gamming, and Internet TV. Web documents or pages can be linked to one another using hypertext links, allowing the user to navigate seamlessly through a series of related documents, each of which could be located on a different server somewhere on the Internet, anywhere in the world. All that is needed to access the Web is an Internet connection of some kind, and an Internet-enabled device such as a personal computer, laptop, netbook, tablet or mobile phone. You can even access the Web on your television!

The Web started life in 1989 as a research tool for academics and scientists. Now, thirty years after its relatively humble beginnings, it has become as much a part of our everyday lives as television. While it is not possible to provide precise figures, the number of websites currently in existence (as of August 2019) exceeds one and a half billion (1,500,000,000). To put this in perspective, it should be stated that an estimated 85% of those websites are either inactive or are "parked" domains (i.e. domains that have been registered by someone, but are currently not providing any content or services). Even so, that still leaves approximately two hundred and twenty-five million (225,000,000) active websites.

How many individual web pages are out there? A research project undertaken by Tilburg University in The Netherlands suggests that there are currently in the order of 4.26 billion indexed web pages (i.e. web pages that are indexed by search engines). Some experts believe there may be a far greater number of documents that are not indexed by search engines. These documents form part of what is commonly referred to as the deep web (not to be confused with the dark web, although that does form a part of the deep web).

The World Wide Web offers opportunities for both businesses and individuals to engage in e-commerce, access a global network of information, publish their own websites, and take advantage of a vast array of web-based services. It also presents its own unique set of challenges. Stories about individuals who have become the victims of online fraudsters, or who have been subjected to cyberbullying, have sadly become commonplace. Many large organisations have found themselves vulnerable to malware attacks, or have had large amounts of data stolen by hackers. Nevertheless, for better or worse, the World Wide Web continues to evolve. The only thing we can say with any certainty is that it's probably here to stay.