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[ontolog-forum] Early Browser History and the Origin of Semantic Tools

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: John Bottoms <john@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sun, 08 Apr 2012 21:21:39 -0400
Message-id: <4F8239A3.50502@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>

I have not said much about this. Maybe it's appropriate now. For this, I need to relate my view of the critical path to the current state of the industry. Your mileage may vary.

I have tried to get this put into wikipedia but it was removed on a few occasions. The rational was that it could not have occurred because it is not on the web. Later, I appealed to Jimbo, sending him 25 pages or documentation and early history on Silversmith, and he added a brief account into the history of the web browser and locked the page.

Browser History
1.      Silversmith, 1986
2.      Erwise browser, 1992
3.      (unknown CALS browser) probably a beltway vendor, 1988
4. Viola browser, 1993
5.      Mosaic, 1994

Silversmith was the first modern browser based on tags. It was created as an a
ccess method for ontologies and large documents. Contrary to popular opinion, TimBL's browser was not the first. As indicated below, he has noted that it was the first "graphical web browser". I had been inspired by "Literary Machines" by Ted Nelson and his Xanadu project. I later asked him when was the first time he saw the term "web" applied to documents and he indicated it was earlier than his work, perhaps from Nolan Bushnell.

At the time we were doing standards work for CD-ROM's, and were the first company to put images on a CD. I was chairman of the Rockridge committee, and I also sat on the ANSI CD-ROM committee. We had a booth at a Microsoft conference when Dr. James Mason made an announcement about the preliminary approval of the ISO standard for SGML developed by Charles Goldfarb. (Since CD's are silver, the tool for them became "Silversmith".)

That was in early 1986, and I believe (the late) Bill Tunnicliffe was chairman of that standards work. Bill was the person who conceived of the separation of data and control for documents. That is now an idea that is undergoing acceptance in other areas as developers prepare to move to smarter systems. Bill is one of the unsung heroes of present systems in that his insight now provides a key ingredient in computer systems on the order of $300B - $400B per year, in addition to the commerce they enable.

James made the announcement at a CD-ROM conference at Microsoft Hq in Washington. As I listened to him make the announcement I couldn't understand why it was needed. Slowly, as he spoke it occurred to me what he was describing and my head went into overdrive. It was the key that I had been looking for for some time. I was interested in rapid access for large documents, and this was the missing part. I didn't know if I should shout or keep my mouth shut. (I decided to act quietly and when I returned to Boston I started reading the draft standard.)

After James made the announcement we talked, and he mentioned that an AAP committee was developing the first tag set for documents using SGML, and they needed assistance. That work was done by the Electronic Manuscript Project committee of the AAP. The committee, an ad hoc project, aimed to develop publishing standards so that publishers could have access to multiple printing sources that produced identical content layout. The committee developed tag sets for book, article and serial (magazine). It also developed layouts for tables and math equations in addition to what is now CSS (Cascading Style Sheets).

Silversmith Features
Silversmith is a text-based, full-featured browser that could link between images, sound and text. This was in the days of the PC-AT and a robust page composition system was not yet available. Still, Silversmith had a number of interesting features. It had a replaceable font system, and we delivered a special version for Dr. Mason that performed searches using runes for Old Norse literature.

Bill lived not far from me, and he came to my lab on a couple of occasions. I demonstrated Silversmith for him and his response was, "Yes, that is interesting. But I don't understand why you would want to do that".

Silversmith could do regular _expression_ searches on text. It could search on text or tags, including semantic tags within a restrictive context. By clicking on an image or a highlighted (blue) text you would like to the destination. We had to add a "Back" button to return to the earlier linked text or entity. It does linear searches on documents that have not been indexed. It also permits a four (4) level library system that allows searches of documents across document, shelf, stack and department. Imagine today if you had all web documents in a Dewey or MARC system that could be searched by topic or title.

Semantic tags in Silversmith allowed more sophisticated searches. One system that was delivered allowed users to search for tools identified by tags. Faceted searches could also be done. The system was delivered with an indexing tool and an automatic tagging application. It was introduced at a TechDoc conference in Austria in 1986 and was demonstrated at about a dozen conferences in Europe, Canada and the U.S. In 1988, Dr. Ken Baklawski and I sponsored the first conference on SGML applications and Yuri Rabinski discussed his SGML editor and I discussed the Silversmith text retrieval system. There are other advanced search features in Silversmith that have not yet been released.

One delivered system allowed searches such as:
    "find all 'top-secret' paragraphs in the section 'Navy Equipment'".

I met with Charles at the first conference where Silversmith was demonstrated, and he looked at it with interest. I was particularly interested in finding out whether there was a similar product at IBM or that he had knowledge of. He was not aware of such a tool so I assumed for the time that the introduction would preclude anyone from a subsequent patent or from stopping our development. His comment was that this would be of interesting for certain court cases. Later, Charles told me that he had served as an expert witness on a number of patent cases.

Because I sat on the committee that developed the tags I had been keeping an eye out for anyone beyond our group that were early adopters. In fact, the committee work was restricted to the AAP participants who were, for the most part, the large book publishers in Manhattan and Boston.

Silversmith was successful in that it repaid its initial investment, but we could not demonstrate to a VC a significant market potential. One VC told me, "If the market needed one, they would already have one".
I believe that later systems experienced the same kinds of response. Ultimately, we found that we were spending a lot of time in education mode, marketing and creating new web pages. All this in addition to developing new versions of the browser. We also found it very difficult to get into conferences to discuss Silversmith because we were not one of the "Big 3" companies so our development could not be that significant. Other projects offered more revenue, so Silversmith was eventually put on the back burner. The result was a delay of about 9 years in having access to a browser, and the one that was eventually successful was "of European origin", even though the technology was developed in the U.S.

Browser Myths
There were several myths that were brought up when we discussed Silversmith in public. Some brought on head-shaking disagreements, and in one case the Apple Evangelists tried to shout me off the dais at a conference. In general, the myths followed one of these lines.

a. "All text retrievals should use SQL. You need to put each paragraph in a table row, and then have SQL search for the desired text."
(That would have been very slow for large documents and did not provide a migration to semantic information. In fact, Silversmith was built around a B-tree which gave us a response time of about 1/3 second on the largest documents we could find, about 500 Megabytes (a CD-ROM's worth).

b. "The AAP tags were not intended for use on computers, they are for text layout only so you should wait until there is a more appropriate SGML application."
(In fact we did have to alter the "image" tag to allow for image type, size and placement.)

c. "SGML can not be used for hypertext links because they were uni-directional."
(I argued that with our B-tree structure and the "Back" button, that navigation was not a problem and demonstrated it.)

2. ERWISE, 1992
From: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-was-the-first-graphical-web-browser.htm
"The first graphical Web browser was named Erwise, an application written for Unix computers running the Windows X System. It was developed by Kim Nyberg, Kari Syd„nmaanlakka, Teemu Rantanen, and Kati Borgers, four college students who attended the Helsinki University of Technology in Finland. The project began in 1991 and was released in April of 1992. Erwise is largely credited as a pioneering program and is the precursor to the modern Internet browser."

"Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, was instrumental in the development of the first graphical web browser. Berners-Lee realized that a browser with a _graphical_ user interface would make the Web significantly easier to use for Internet surfing. Believing that the concept would be an ideal project for students, he made numerous requests to prospective developers around the world."

"Berners-Lee's request was picked up Ari Lemmke, the instructor who supervised the four students that eventually created the browser. The four Finnish students developed a graphical, point-and-click browser with numerous features that would not be seen until much later. Their work was inspired by Robert Cailliau, the Belgian computer scientist best known for working with Berners-Lee to develop the World Wide Web."

"As the first graphical Web browser, Erwise had many unique qualities. Among them was its ability to simultaneously load multiple pages. For example, users could click on a hyperlink that automatically opened another window featuring the linked Web page. In fact, Erwise had a number of capabilities Mosaic lacked, including integrated text searching that could be performed from any given Web page. Mosaic, the first graphical Web browser that helped popularize the Web, still is widely recognized for laying the groundwork modern browsers would follow."

"The development of the first graphical Web browser came to a halt after its creators graduated and moved on to other endeavors. Berners-Lee took a trip to Finland in an attempt to encourage the group of students to continue their work on the project. Unfortunately for Erwise, the group could not proceed with development due to inadequate funding. It has been said that Berners-Lee would have liked to continue the project himself but could not do so because the code was written entirely in Finnish."

3. Unknown CALS browser, 1988
Lost somewhere in my archives is a document outlining the RFP process for a Navy CALS project. We were able to demonstrate Silversmith on several CALS technical documents, yet lost the proposal to a beltway vendor. At this point it became apparent that even with a conforming CALS working browser, we were not able to win Federal RFP competitions against vendors with no extant tools.

4. VIOLA Browser, 1993
From: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/02/tim-berners-lee-patent/
...Jennifer Doan, a Texarkana lawyer representing Yahoo and Amazon, led the questioning.

“Mr. Berners-Lee, why are you here?” asked Doan.

“I am here because I want to help get some clarity over what was obvious, and what was the feeling of computing [in the early 1990s]…. The tools I had in my knapsack, so to speak,” he said.

After describing how Berners-Lee worked at CERN in Switzerland back in the 1980s, Doan moved on to the web. When Berners-Lee invented the web, did he apply for a patent on it, Doan asked.

“No,” said Berners-Lee.

“Why not?” asked Doan.

“The internet was already around. I was taking hypertext, and it was around a long time too. I was taking stuff we knew how to do…. All I was doing was putting together bits that had been around for years in a particular combination to meet the needs that I have.”

Doan: “And who owns the web?”

Berners-Lee: “We do.”

Doan: “The web we all own, is it ‘interactive’?”

“It is pretty interactive, yeah,” said Berners-Lee, smiling.

Then Doan moved on to the heart of Berners-Lee’s testimony: to establish the importance of the Viola browser, created by Pei Wei, who was at that time a computer science student at UC Berkeley. The Viola browser is a key piece of “prior art” that the defendant companies hope will invalidate the UC/Eolas patent.

Berners-Lee described Viola as “an important part of the development of the web.”

The jury was shown an e-mail from Pei Wei to Berners-Lee dated December 1991 — almost two years before Doyle’s invention — which read in part: “One thing I’d like to do soon, if I have time, is to teach the parser about Viola object descriptions and basically embed Viola objects (GUIs and programmability) into HTML files.”

Later Tuesday, Wei would testify that he had demonstrated interactive elements working in the Viola browser to Sun Microsystems in May 1993 — several months before Doyle claims to have come up with his invention.

Finally, Doan turned to Berners-Lee’s book, in which he described Wei as “a very inventive student at UC Berkeley.” Berners-Lee described how the web community at that time wasn’t focused on patents or even money — Wei simply put his invention online for free.

“It was ahead of its time,” said Berners-Lee. “The things Pei was doing would later be done in Java.” Java was heavily used in the late 1990s to add interactivity to web pages, later to be supplanted by Flash, _javascript_ and now HTML5.

His own act, creating the World Wide Web, was more a matter of personalities and persuasion than it was a matter of hammering out code, he explained.

It is my understanding that TBL also used the AAP tag set in the creation of XML. I was dismayed to find that the implementation was incomplete, and had stripped much of the power from the paradigm.

From: http://infomesh.net/html/history/early/
"After further study of these documents and others in the same subdirectory, it became apparent that most of the early HTML tags were actually taken from the CERN SGMLGuid language, which itself was a variant of AAP (an early SGML language). For example, title, hn, p, ol and so on are all apparently taken from this language. The only radical change was the addition of the all important anchor (<a>) link, without which the WWW wouldn't have taken off."

So the W3C graphical (XML) browser followed the same development path as did Silversmith in 1986.
Tim later said he decided that he would not patent his browser. I'm not sure to which part he was referring.
- - - - - - - -

       About the book, "The Next Computer Revolution"
This is a popular book for managers, executives and developers interested in semantic systems. This title is a working title, and will be changed to sometime a little more palatable to the target audience. It outlines the nuts and bolts of a system along with a smattering of jargon needed to bootstrap the reader into more technical works. The premise of the book is that we need semantic systems to move forward and this is one approach to implementing such a system.

The basic goal is to give a background in implementing semantic systems along with a suggested architecture for a general purpose, semantic system. There is also a healthy dose of discussion of the myths that hinder and restrain new technology. I mention at least a dozen that mislead discussions into non-productive approaches to semantic systems.

-John Bottoms
 FirstStar Systems
 Concord, MA USA

 On 4/8/2012 5:40 PM, Rich Cooper wrote:

Inventors who die poor are more the rule than the exception.  I am told that the likelihood of an arbitrary patent paying its owner more than the owner paid to prosecute the patent is about one percent.  Today, if you use an attorney or agent, it costs about ten grand to get an average patent through the USPTO.  About one grand of USPTO fees, and the rest for the attorney/agent. 


I did the prosecution myself (you can do that too) and it cost me about one grand for prosecution, and another two grand to pay maintenance fees late.  So you can get a better deal, but you have to understand patent litigation to do it right, IMHO. 


At this point, there is a lot of need for semantics patents.  Subtle solutions to well known problems using semantics is a wide open area for IP development. 


JB, I just visited your web site and I see you have a book on emerging linguistics applications.  Could you give a brief review of the book and its subject matter?






Rich Cooper


Rich AT EnglishLogicKernel DOT com

9 4 9 \ 5 2 5 - 5 7 1 2

From: ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of John Bottoms
Sent: Sunday, April 08, 2012 2:08 PM
To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: Re: [ontolog-forum] Self Interest Ontology



As I understood it, Tesla sold his patents to Westinghouse for a significant amount of money. Westinghouse later came back to him and explained that he didn't have the funds to develop the patents, and Tesla returned the money minus what he owed on his lab.

That sounds like someone more interested in his contribution and legacy, rather than an issue of financial management. ("
Tesla: Man Out of Tim" by Margaret Cheney).

He died in his room at the New Yorker hotel in midtown. Ironically, the NYC power company, ConEd, was built upon the technology of his patents.

-John Bottoms
 FirstStar Systems
 Concord, MA

On 4/7/2012 11:19 PM, John F Sowa wrote:

Tesla was the paradigm of the rare genius who makes a discovery
that nobody else could duplicate.  He also had the good fortune
to team up with George Westinghouse, who built the company to
make his motors and generators.  For a while, Tesla was wealthy,
but he was inept at financial management and died in poverty.

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