My dream of the Internet transforming our lives goes back to the later 1980s, about the same time I first got online from home and realised the technology was with us. We had transport and pollution problems - and a political debate not entirely dissimilar to today. I came to the view that the debate should move from transport to communications, with the IT infrastructure increasingly relieving us of the need for physical travel for work or study.
I only really started to contribute to the new medium in the mid 1990s. This was triggered by the availability online of the manuals and specifications I, as a developer, required to work usefully with the protocols and interoperate with other systems: the greatest liberation for a developer from vendor lock-in and paper-based documentation that's never available when you need it.
But with a little leap of the imagination, we can say that all my working life has been leading towards being an Internet Guru.
Purely by coincidence, my first job after graduating involved programming and running a computer 200 miles away. Contact was by a teletype terminal (printing on paper, no screen) running over a normal phone line. Line noise left us with a printed record varying from glitchy to gibberish.
In 1987 I got a very early Acorn Archimedes (A310). At the time, bulletin boards were an established fact for a few enthusiasts. Following that, a new kind of service was emerging: nationwide networks with local dialup but wider connectivity riding on the telecoms infrastructure, and offering information services, live communication (chat), and mail (telex). With a 1200/75 baud (asymmetric) modem, I subscribed to one such network, and was online.
In 1990 I returned to academia, and had (automatic) access to the UK Joint Academic Network (JANET) through the university. Though I made little use of it, this was my first contact with the Internet as such.
The first webserver I set up was in 1994, using the CERN HTTPD software. I learned CGI, the Common Gateway Interface for server programming, and used it to develop a web-based control system for processing massive volumes of satellite image data for my then-client the European Space Agency. This was followed in 1995 by a system for users to access the data online, and later by other Web-based systems including my own personal projects.
By sometime in 1996, I had worked with a number of webservers, and settled on Apache for most regular use.
WebÞing, my own "brand", first appeared on 3rd November 1995. Named after the old English/Norse and modern Icelandic Þing (Thing), meaning Forum or Parliament, this was initially a private/hobby project. It was basically a system for online conferencing and collaborative authoring, supporting threaded discussions, building a collaborative knowledge database, and most interestingly Holistic Hypertext, an Open Hypertext implementation on top of HTML.
In 1997 WebÞing was incorporated as a company, and the webthing.com domain registered.
In 1997 I joined the Web Design Group, a small group of individuals sharing a vision of a universal, accessible Internet, and promoting it actively through providing high quality materials and tools at htmlhelp.com. I had already done some work in the area of support and tools for web developers, which I moved to htmlhelp on joining WDG.
In 2000 I stepped up my work in supporting Web QA and Accessibility, with a view to giving myself the option to commercialise it. Because htmlhelp was explicitly non-commercial, I created a new brand "Site Valet" for my new work. Site Valet today is an umbrella term for a family of products and services concerned with helping web developers and webmasters ensure they do a good job.
Also in 2000, I started taking an active part in relevant working groups of the Worldwide Web Consortium. My W3C activities include working with the Validator team, the Evaluation and Repair working group of the Web Accessibility Initiative, and the QA Tools development group.
Although I had used Apache for many years, it was only with the release of Apache 2 that it grew beyond a mere webserver like any other into a powerful Applications Server. With Apache 2 I have reimplemented all online Site Valet functions as Apache module, giving me a system that is at once faster, more powerful and more modular than before. I have also written a number of free-standing modules for Apache, specialising in smart, markup-aware applications. In 2003 I collected my Apache work into a WebÞing Apache website. In 2004, in addition to joining the Apache httpd development team, I opened the ApacheTutor site, designed as an online book for developers working with Apache.