The Web @ 30

It was back in March 1989, 30 years ago, that the World Wide Web as we know it was created by a computer scientist at the CERN particle physics lab near Geneva, Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

From Proposal To Reality

Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote a proposal in March 1989, entitled “Information Management: A Proposal” which was based upon his vision of having a unifying structure for multiple computers, which by 1991 had developed into the World Wide Web.   

The proposal, which was mainly focused on how information could be easily stored, shared, and accessed by CERN staff (and scientists, universities and institutions) expressed concern about “the problems of loss of information about complex evolving systems” and how “a solution based on a distributed hypertext system” could be used to help.  It was envisioned that a web of notes with links (like references) between them could be more useful than the existing fixed hierarchical system.

The Internet, rather than the Web, had existed for quite some time but had been developed for military purposes so that communications in a country could be retained even when some hubs may have been damaged or destroyed.  This early Internet was also used by researchers and computer scientists, but did not have the user-friendly, hyperlinked structure that Sir Tim Berners-Lee created, which he based upon his experience of writing a linked, hotspot-based program for keeping track of software (back in 1980) called ‘Enquire’.

First Website

The first website was hosted on Sir Berners-Lee’s NeXT computer.  This was the computer built by the company set up by Steve Jobs after being ousted from the early Apple company.  The website was dedicated to the World Wide Web project itself.

Public Domain

The first World Wide Web software was introduced to the public domain on April 30th 1993.  With the next release available with an open licence, CERN was able to help provide a huge boost to the growth and popularity of the Web.

Celebrations at CERN

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web, CERN hosted an event on 12th March 2019 in partnership with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and with the World Wide Web Foundation at which Sir Berners-Lee was the key speaker.

Web Memories

With the web being a relatively new, and constantly evolving part of modern life, many people reading this may have similar memories of using the Web from the 90s onwards.  These memories of the early Web include:

  • Being able to access library archives and records digitally for the first time, rather than actually having to go to a physical library and being able to copy and print off results rather than using a library photocopier (as was the pre-Web way).
  • The popular introduction of ‘chatrooms’ in the early 1990s – the forerunners of social networks.
  • In the late 90s bookshops stocked pocket-sized web directories, which were like mini phone books for the best websites.
  • Very slow dial-up modems using the telephone line, and CD-ROM disks to provide (relatively expensive) connections to the Internet.  Popular paid-for early service providers were AOL and Compuserve, but many people still used paid-for slots in Internet cafes. British ISP Freeserve opened up Internet access to the wider market in 1998 by providing free connections in the UK.
  • Lycos, Ask Jeeves and AltaVista (pre-Google days) were popular search engines in the late 90s, and the popular browsers in the UK were Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and Netscape Navigator which could also be used as an early website builder.
  • Early animated Gifs were succeeded by the introduction of Flash.  This enabled animation to be incorporated into websites, flash games were created, as were whole cartoon-like websites in Flash. In the beginning, the only problem was that search engines couldn’t read Flash files, and therefore, Flash websites tended to suffer in the search engine results.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The evolution of the Web, originally envisioned and brought into being by Sir Berners-Lee, has revolutionized business, not least with email, and the ability to trade and shop online, globally.  In opening up the business world it has created many often unforeseen opportunities but has also opened businesses up to threats e.g. global competition and security issues.

In recent interviews, as well as expressing pride in his creation, and how it was mainly a force for good in the first 15 years, Sir Tim Berners-Lee has also expressed concern about how the Web has recently been used in a negative way to influence election results (the Cambridge Analytica / Facebook scandal), and that it has also shown how it can be used effectively to spread misinformation.  Sir Tim has also acknowledged, however, that the access that young people have had to information (in countries where Web use is not restricted) has created a generation who are more like online activists who are able to challenge and question the decisions of those in power. 

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