Of all the technical inventions that made Earth look smaller, one calls for a special attention these days - the World Wide Web. Not only has it made the world look kind of "next door", it actually erased the importance of geographical position. These days, you can browse through the Louvre's treasures sitting comfortably on a chair in Atlanta, you can cruise Norwegian fjords from the terminal in Sydney or book your Caribbean vacation from Helsinki. No need to be personally there. As the Beatles would put it, you can be Here, There and Everywhere in virtually no time.

Only a few people know, however, that the idea of WWW was conceived at the beginning of this century by the Czech jack-of-all-trades Jara da Cimrman. Cimrman was a true humanist and for a long time tried to find a solution to what he called "geographical injustice". He was vexed that people born in Rome can admire the Coliseum every day, while those born around the Sahara desert can't. He thought that since we are all born with the same rights, we should have been born with the same view too. "Pyramids, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty to everybody" he used to write in his revolutionary diary when he was young. Of course, people who were in Chicago, London, or Tokyo may realise immediately that a plan to equate all these places would be beyond the powers of any single individual. Fortunately, Cimrman wasn't ever in all those places. Instead, he visited Kotehulky, Horni Marsov and Petrikovice and came to the conclusion that, difficult as the plan may be, it is not impossible.

It is obvious that the solution to such a grandiose program doesn't occur every day even to a genius and Cimrman, aware of that, was working on his other projects, while patiently waiting for the big idea to come. To shed a little light on his half-forgotten discovery, we must go back to winter 1901, when Cimrman worked on the last version of his fairy-tale "The Long, The Fat and The Shortsighted" in Prague. Cimrman was so absorbed in his work that he didn't sweep the walls in his apartment for several weeks. No wonder, that his room became a paradise for spiders, whose webs were slowly taking over the whole room. But Cimrman was too busy to grab the broomstick, his housekeeper was on vacation and so the spiders had their hands (and legs) free.

The only interruption in his work was a visit to an old friend Oto Huhl in Vienna, which he undertook in February 1901. Huhl was an old bachelor and his relation to spiders was best described by a phrase "live and let live". When Cimrman arrived he was too tired to look around and fell asleep almost immediately. But when he awoke the next day, he couldn't believe his eyes. He was back in his bedroom in Prague. Was the trip to Vienna a mere dream? But then Oto entered and everything became clear. The room where Cimrman slept was so completely covered with cobwebs, that Cimrman thought he was in his own apartment. Oto swiftly cleaned the room and the rest of the visit was (from our point of view) uninteresting. This little morning experience, however, seeded an interesting idea in Cimrman's mind.

If he couldn't distinguish a room in Vienna from his own bedroom in Prague only because of the web, then the chances were that the same magic would work in Paris, Dallas or Rio de Janeiro. Hence the person in the remote village in Siberia could have the same visual experiences as the person living in the middle of London. Eureka! What a way to make world look equal. No need to put billions of Louvre copies everywhere, no need to waste tons of water on imitations of Niagara Falls - just cover everything with a thick cobweb. Thus the only thing that was needed was lots of spiders. Cimrman promptly finished his fairy tale and started to work on it. In the next few days people could see Cimrman sitting in Prague's University library, where, bit by bit, he collected information on spiders in his dark brown notebook entitled "The World Wide Web Project".

Soon he realised that the project must be set off gradually since in Austria- Hungary there simply wasn't enough qualified spiders who could do the job. He wrote a series of letters to his friends and colleagues in which he urged them to start developing what he called "Web sites", i.e. places that would be totally covered with webs. Cimrman's idea was that a user at every web site would have exactly the same perception of reality as users at any other web site no matter what their longitude or latitude was. Of course, Cimrman hoped that eventually the whole Earth would be covered, but that only loomed in the distant future. For now, while anxiously waiting for responses from the world, Cimrman spent most of the time in precise computations of the needed amount of web.

The first reactions to his letters were cold or none. Some recommended Cimrman to take a break, some were advising him which asylums were best buys in Austria-Hungary and his ex-assistant Josef Boucka from Brno even sent him a parcel bomb. Fortunately, at that time Cimrman was in Southern Bohemia, where he bought a small farm for experimentation on spiders. He had calculated that for his WWW Project he would need more than 657 pounds of web per site and that was more than the spiders of all countries were able to produce. Cimrman thus decided to train them to produce as much web as they could and for this purpose founded the "Spider Academy", which consisted of several human trainers and a few thousand spider pupils.

After three weeks into the program Cimrman noticed that the learning process was severely hampered by insufficient communication between trainers and spiders. In order to facilitate learning, he devised two independent sets of symbolic languages: the "Human Trainers Mnemonic Language" and the "Spider Graduates Mnemonic Language". From this moment on his project gained momentum. The HTML and SGML languages were working miracles and the neighborhood of the farm started to resemble Oto Huhl's apartment in Vienna.

The mass production of web surprised even Cimrman himself. He got entangled several times and once fell into a cesspool which was completely covered with the web. That convinced him that people shouldn't move in the web just by themselves. They will need a carrier. The first natural choice of a transportation was a horse. Cimrman bought one in a market and was quite satisfied with its performance except that the horse wouldn't carry more than 3 people at the time and that was not enough for the future needs, which Cimrman thought would be tremendous. Fortunately, the previous year he read a book on genetical engineering and livestock implants and with a little luck he stretched his horse into a very capable carrier which could transport up to 20 people at a time. Cimrman called his mutant a "World Wide Webus" and planned to breed it at a separate farm once his project would get started worldwise.

Unfortunately, all of these activities came to an abrupt stop in the summer 1901. First, the animal protection group confiscated Cimrman's Webus and killed it by a lethal injection. The second, and more serious blow, came from Cimrman's housewife who returned to her duties in July of that year and, not being informed about Cimrman's project, swept up all of his spiders so quickly that when he was called up from the laboratory to greet her, the farm was shining with cleanliness. This was too much for Cimrman. He terminated the program, fired all his trainers and switched his attention to other venues of human intellect. While still on his farm, he finished an interesting botanical study "Preventing gardening accidents by wearing bullet-proof pantyhose" and then returned to Prague to supervise some sociological experiments.

As far as we know Cimrman never returned to his "World Wide Web" project even though later (as is documented elsewhere) he did spend some time on computer related problems. Nevertheless, it is gratifying to see that after lying 90 years in dormancy Cimrman's dream about the world deprived of "geographical injustice" came finally true and the WWW is growing at an exponential rate. What a progress - compared to Cimrman's original Web, which grew at best quadratically (if the spiders were well fed).

Cimrman's Webus

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