The World Wide Web is such an integral part of our everyday lives in 2019, it has become very easy to take it for granted. As the Web turns 30 years old today, it’s a good time to remind ourselves of just how it came to be, how revolutionary it was and the fundamental ethos behind its creation – an ethos that is increasingly threatened by big government and even bigger business. From its birth as a platform of information and opportunity open for all at the hands of a British computer scientist, to an integral cog in the capitalist machine of today – this is the story of how the World Wide Web came to be.
When Tim Berners-Lee graduated from Oxford University, he became a software engineer at CERN, which was a prominent physics lab in Switzerland. As Scientists from across the globe came together to change the world of science, the timid computer scientist from London identified an issue and started working on solutions. As the scientists were struggling in their attempts to share information, Berners-Lee saw his opportunity and took it.
Tim noted that back then, different information was held across multiple computers. Going from one person to another was time-consuming, resulting in face-to-face enquiries being the go-to method more often than not. Tim’s solution to this problem was one that he could also see having much wider implications. The internet was already growing, and the connection of computers alongside it, providing Berners-Lee with a brainwave. He saw the chance to facilitate the advanced sharing of information by utilising an up and coming technology known as Hypertext.
On March 12th 1989, 30 years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee unveiled his grand vision for what would eventually become the World Wide Web. The web document in question was called “Information Management: A Proposal”, and has to go down as one of the most important pieces of work in modern history. Don’t be fooled by its seemingly dry title either, as this document was to become the backbone of the Web as we came to know it, described as “vague but exciting” by his boss.
As vague as it may have seemed to experts at the time, it was certainly exciting, and further detail and development soon followed in September 1990. Tim began such work on a NeXT computer, a product then developed by Apple’s Steve Jobs.
Come October of that same year, Tim had conceptualised and built the three core technologies that still make up the fundamentals of the Web today. These are:
- HTML – This stands for Hypertext Markup Language. HTML is essentially the main formatting language for the web.
- URI – A unique address that is used to identify different web resources. Most commonly known as URL.
- HTTP – This one stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol. It facilitates the recovery of the vast linked resources on the web.
Berners-Lee went on to develop the very first browser, called WorldWideWeb.app, as well as the first web server ‘httpd’. At the end of 1990, the open internet made available its first web page, eventually allowing people from outside the CERN community to join in the following year.
As the Web grew out of his own control, Tim began to understand that his creation would only fulfil its potential as a space that was both free and available for anyone to use. As that saw the inevitability of his relinquishing control come true, it also saw the emergence of those looking to frustrate the Web’s innate openness. As more money and big business has become so intertwined with the Web, as well as Government’s own desire to control the internet as a whole, this fight has become more important than ever.
With the Web going into its 31st year as of today, now is the time to acknowledge the great achievements of Tim Berners-Lee, appreciate the wonders of the World Wide Web, and think about how we want it to look in the future. Here’s to another 30 years of creativity, innovation and information.