Twenty-three years ago from this weekend, the world met the World Wide Web. Twenty-three years ago, CERN — the European Organization for Nuclear Research — released Tim Berners-Lee’s WWW software to the public. Twenty-three years ago, humanity entered the Information Age.
On April 30, 1993, CERN issued the following declaration:
The World Wide Web, hereafter referred to as W3, is a global computer networked information system.… Webs can be independent, subsets or supersets of each other. They can be local, regional, or worldwide. The documents available on a web may reside on any computer supported by that web.
Berners-Lee’s original 1989 proposal described how his finished product would function. The language he had to use is, today, adorable: “Imagine, then, the references in this document, all being associated with the network address of the thing to which they referred, so that while reading this document you could skip to them with a click of the mouse.” Yes, Tim; yes, world: imagine.
So he did just that: He built a network and hyperlink system for CERN. CERN’s existing system frustrated him: Rather than emulating a human brain, with logical connections resembling streams of thought, the system was composed of discrete databases. He proposed his solution, and, upon receiving approval, he got to work. By 1990’s end, Berners-Lee had created the first WWW browser, replete with a functioning HTML editor, HTTP servers, and URL addresses. Those names are familiar because they still constitute the World Wide Web’s foundation.
The fact that Berners-Lee and CERN made the World Wide Web open source and free made it possible for the internet to evolve as fast as it has. The early ‘90s saw the rise of Mosaic, the first user-friendly browser, and Netscape, which would go on to reign supreme for years. Both browsers used Berners-Lee’s conceptual breakthroughs and code. The same is true for Internet Explorer, which, after its creation in 1995, became the go-to browser for, well, internet explorers.
In essence, then, the internet was born open source. Anyone could create a website, anyone could create a browser, and anyone could enjoy the fruits of Berners-Lee’s labor. Information abounded, easily accessible to all. And so the World Wide Web, which CERN via Berners-Lee unleashed to the public for free in 1993, became the foundation for the Information Age.
And thusly the true Information Age — the age of Google and Wikipedia, for starters — began, and itself became the foundation for the odd society within which we, 23 years later, find ourselves immersed.Photos via Wikimedia Commons, CERN, Wikimedia Commons / OPTE