The World Wide Web Turns 30!


The World Wide Web, as we know, it was first introduced on March 12, 1989. Leontura/Getty Images

Long before Myspace Tom forced us to pick favorite friends or Mark Zuckerberg tried to make "poking" a thing (it still exists, by the way), a software engineer named Tim Berners-Lee proposed a little something called the World Wide Web.

On March 12, 1989, the then-33-year-old British computer scientist detailed his vision for a unified computer network in a document called "Information Management: A Proposal." People weren't immediately stoked — but they were intrigued. Mike Sendall, Berners-Lee's boss at Switzerland-based large particle physics laboratory, CERN, offered the note, "vague but exciting." The following year, Sendall allowed the young Oxford grad time to work on his passion project.

The endeavor was born from frustration. Berners-Lee was just trying to troubleshoot an annoying issue when he composed his proposal. "In those days, there was different information on different computers, but you had to log on to different computers to get at it," he wrote in an FAQ to students. "Also, sometimes you had to learn a different program on each computer. Often it was just easier to go and ask people when they were having coffee." In an effort to solve the inefficiency, Berners-Lee suggested building a "large hypertext database with typed links."

The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information," he wrote. "Its universality is essential: the fact that a hypertext link can point to anything, be it personal, local or global, be it draft or highly polished. There was a second part of the dream, too, dependent on the Web being so generally used that it became a realistic mirror (or in fact the primary embodiment) of the ways in which we work and play and socialize. That was that once the state of our interactions was on line, we could then use computers to help us analyze it, make sense of what we are doing, where we individually fit in, and how we can better work together.

By the fall of 1990, Berners-Lee had created a few important technologies that you might recognize by name: HTML (HyperText Markup Language), the formatting language for the web; URI (Uniform Resource Identifier or URL), the unique "address" used to identify each resource on the web; and HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), which allows for the retrieval of linked resources from the web. He also wrote the first web page editor/browser with the not-so-catchy name, WorldWideWeb.app, and created the first web server, "httpd".

By the end of that year, Berners-Lee made the very first internet webpage, and by 1991, he started letting people outside of CERN into the new online world. "The decision to make the Web an open system was necessary for it to be universal," he wrote. "You can't propose that something be a universal space and at the same time keep control of it."

And so Berners-Lee and others advocated for CERN to permanently make the underlying code available on a royalty-free basis, and in April 1993, that vision became a reality. The rest (followers, trolls, memes, gifs, stories, snaps, etc., etc.) is history.


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