TECHNOLOGY TODAY: Two Decades after Invention, World Wide Web Has Come a Long Way
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the invention of the World Wide Web.
On Aug. 6, 1991, Tim Berners-Lee, a British physicist and computer scientist, posted a summary of his “World Wide Web” project to the alt.hypertext Usenet discussion group and put online the world’s first website, info.cern.ch, which is still in operation today.
Berners-Lee at the time was working at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. Among other things CERN currently operates the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest subatomic particle accelerator, which sits under ground in both Switzerland and France. Berners-Lee’s intention at the time was to provide
scientists with a better way to collaborate on projects over distance using the Internet.
The World Wide Web was first abbreviated as WWW or W3, and today it’s commonly referred to as the Web or the web. Other names considered by Berners-Lee were Information Mesh, The Information Mine, and Mine of Information. The Web today is sometimes erroneously considered a synonym for the Internet, though it’s only one part of it, albeit its most important.
The Web or something akin to it was predicted before it appeared by among others the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke in his groundbreaking novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, published in 1968. Even earlier another science fiction writer, H. G. Wells, predicted a “World Brain” in a collection of essays between 1936 and 1938. This World Brain would function as a free authoritative world encyclopedia that could help people living in different countries use
information in fostering world peace, though it didn’t come about soon enough to prevent World War II from breaking out in 1939.
In 1992, the year after Berners-Lee invented the Web, he uploaded to it its first photo, a picture of CERN’s in-house musical band. The Web was intended from the start to be nonproprietary, and in 1993 CERN announced that it would be free to anyone, with no fees required for its use, though this wouldn’t prevent companies from later charging fees for access to their particular sites or parts of them.
The Web’s first rise in popular consciousness came that same year, 1993, with the release of the first popular graphical Web browser. Mosaic was developed by a team at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The team was led by Marc Andreessen, who went on to found Netscape Communications Corp. and become a multimillionaire.
Mosaic let website site authors place text and graphics on the same page and let Web users point and click their way from one site to another to another, virtually ad infinitum. Mosaic was free for users, with public funding provided by programs initiated by U.S. Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee, future U.S. vice president, future presidential candidate, and future Nobel Prize winner for his work on global warming.
The following year, 1994, Berners-Lee moved from Switzerland, where CERN is still headquartered, to the United States, where he founded the World Wide Web
Consortium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received funding from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an agency of the U.S.
Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technology for use by the military and which had pioneered the Internet in the late 1960s. The
World Wide Web Consortium’s purpose was and still is to create standards and recommendations to improve the quality of the Web.
Private companies began realizing the profit potential of having a Web presence beginning in 1996, and the commercialization of Web kicked in between 1996 and 1998. This led to the dot-com boom and bust of 1999 to 2001 when trillions of dollars were made and lost as a result of what Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan at the time accurately termed “irrational exuberance.”
Over the past decade, the popularization of high-speed cable, fiber-optic, and satellite access to the Internet have made video and other multimedia far more prevalent on the Web. The Web has also become even more interactive with the introduction during this time of social networking sites, blogging, wikis, and video sharing sites.
Though the Web has yet to become the World Brain of H. G. Wells, its size today is estimated to be close to 50 billion pages, based on the number of pages sorted by Google and other search sites, according to the Dutch site WorldWideWebSize.com (www.worldwidewebsize.com).
Berners-Lee today is still the director of the World Wide Web Consortium. Among his honors, in 2004 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.