The coming death (or at least dearth) of www
This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on April 22, 2005
When the World Wide Web came along shortly after the U.S. government opened the Internet to the public in the early 1990s, followed quickly by the release of the free Netscape Web browser, the savvy and hip were soon sprinkling their speech with the odd phrase "double-u double-u double-u."
Nearly as ubiquitous as "dot-com," the www at the beginning of most Web sites was considered an indispensable, technically necessary part of every Web site address.
The "www" was prepended to most Web site addresses as a way of identifying them as Web sites the "www" standing for World Wide Web.
And so if you wanted to visit my Web site at my domain of trageser.com, you would type in "www.trageser.com" in your browser's address bar.
Back in the day, the Web was new, the Internet not so new. The Web was just one protocol running over the Internet, with its http (hypertext transfer protocol). But you still had the popular ftp (file transfer protocol) for moving files, and smpt (simple mail transfer protocol) for moving e-mail over the 'Net. Pre-Web gopher and wais sites also were numerous on the 'Net in those days.
In the heady days of the early '90s, it seemed likely nay, certain that more exciting protocols lie just ahead. And besides, who was to say that the Web would be any more popular that the already-established ftp, gopher and wais for storing and finding information?
And so "www" was used everywhere to designate a Web page.
Quickly a standard
But as the 1990s wore on, it soon became apparent that most of what was going to happen online would happen on the Web that there were no more breakthrough protocols to come along. (Which isn't to say there haven't been more protocols proposed or even implemented, but only that none have come close to supplanting the Web in terms of popularity.)
Now, almost a decade and a half into the Web revolution, more and more sites are simply dropping the once-ubiquitous "www" at the beginning of their URLs.
For instance, to get to my Web site, you would have (and still can) type in "www.trageser.com." But typing in "trageser.com" without the www into your browser address bar will also take you to my site.
My Web hosting company, DTL.net, lists both URLs in the DNS (domain name service) registry. If I had an ftp drop box, then ftp.trageser.com would also be listed. Conceivably, I could also have gopher.trageser.com and wais.trageser.com.
But the thing is, gopher.trageser.com could just as easily be a page devoted to hunting varmints. As Tripod.com illustrated quite nicely when it started giving personalized URLs, the first portion of a URL does not have to indicate a protocol. And so for instance, if you go to trageser.tripod.com, you find my old music and book reviews not a Tripod server set up for the trageser Internet protocol (which doesn't exist, in any case, at least not yet).
One of the main benefits of the loss of the "www" at the beginning of each URL is the ability to type in a Web address more quickly. No more typing in "www.ibm.com"; now it's simply "ibm.com."
And in fact, the changes over the past decade are more profound than that.
In the beginning, you had to indicate the protocol before the URL. To get to IBM, you had to type in "http://www.ibm.com." But most browsers on the market today (Internet Explorer, Netscape, Mozilla, Safari, Opera, Firefox) can auto-detect a server's protocol with a presumption of http for a Web site.
So if you type in "ibm.com," your browser assumes (until proven wrong) that you are looking for an http (Web) server.
And because most domain owners now register their root domain (ibm.com vs. www.ibm.com) as well as the "www" subdomain with the DNS registry, typing in "ibm.com" takes you to the same server as would typing in "www.ibm.com" but with four fewer keystrokes.
In the case of IBM, we've gone from a total of 18 keystrokes (http://www.ibm.com) to seven (ibm.com), or a reduction or more than half. Longer domains don't get the same percentage savings, but the elimination of the "http://" and the "www." combine to drop 11 keystrokes from every URL.
Not yet there
Of course, not every Internet domain owner has registered their root-level domain with the DNS servers. Still, more and more are making the move. Point Loma Nazarene University (ptloma.edu) was going to be used as an example, because as recently as early March, typing in "ptloma.edu"got you an "Under Construction" message; you had to type in "www.ptloma.edu" to find the school's home page. But over Easter break, the IT folks there got on board.
But for the lazy among us, we've reached the critical mass where you can safely assume that simply typing in the root-level domain into your browser address bar will work and on the few occasions it doesn't, you can go back and add the increasingly archaic "www."
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