25 years ago the world changed forever

6 August 1991 usenet post by Tim Berners-Lee

6 August 1991 usenet post about the WorldWideWeb by Tim Berners-Lee

If you grew up thinking that the Web always existed since you were born, you may be right. If not, you may remember the very early days of the Web.

Two years ago we celebrated  the invention of the Web on the anniversary of the March 1989 memo written by Tim Berners-Lee outlining his proposal for the World Wide Web.  On Saturday we celebrate not only the brilliance of the Web’s conception but the world-changing point at which the Web was offered as a publicly available service.

25 years ago, on 6 August 1991, Tim Berners-Lee, posted information about the WorldWideWeb project on the newsgroup (like a message board) alt.hypertext and invited wide collaboration – marking,  in one email, the Web’s introduction to the wider world.

Even at the start of his work on the Web Tim offered it to everyone, opening it for contribution from all. Because so many around the globe have taken him up on his offer and have helped to develop the Web, to create and share content as well as to build standards to keep it interoperable and innovative, the Web has become not just a repository for knowledge and sharing beyond the dreams of any library, but one of the most unique and powerful tools in history.

W3C CEO Jeff Jaffe noted:

“With the Web we are trying to encapsulate all that civilization needs.  As needs and opportunities arise and new technologies facilitate addressing those needs, W3C focuses on improving the Web technology base.  We need everyone’s engagement to ensure that we are addressing the most important problems in the best way.”

The Web has changed all our lives and we are pleased to celebrate the historical occasion of its release to the public 25 years ago.  At W3C we continue to uphold our core values of openness, collaboration and innovation in our standards while we pursue our mission  of leading the Web to its full potential.

Thank you Tim and thanks to all who have, by their efforts, helped to create the Web  – from its earliest beginnings, to its inestimable impact on our lives now and for all the exciting ways it will continue to evolve in the future.

We  are grateful for all of those who have made the Web what it is now:  for our W3C Members; for Web developers and all Web users;  for those who work to make sure the Web is truly worldwide and for all of humanity; and for those who are working to create what the Web will become.

We invite you to tell us in the comments about when you first came across the Web, your first Web site, the first W3C spec you implemented  or however the Web has positively impacted you.

For those interested in the early history of the Web:

In March 1989, while at CERN, the European particle physics lab, Tim Berners-Lee wrote: “Information Management: A Proposal”  outlining his ideas for the Web as a global hypertext information-sharing space.  In September of 1990, Mike Sendall, Tim’s boss, gave him approval to go ahead and write the global hypertext system he described and allowed purchase of a NeXT cube computer to use to do so.

In October 1990 Tim wrote the first Web browser – or more specifically, a browser-editor -which was called WorldWideWeb.  When it was written in 1990 it was the only way to see the Web. Later this  browser-editor was renamed Nexus in order to save confusion between the program and the abstract information space (which is now spelled with spaces as: World Wide Web).

early WWW browser screenshot 1993

An early color screenshot of the WorldWideWeb browser

web server, web proposal and "Enquire Within upon Everything" book

The NeXT workstation used by Tim Berners-Lee to design the World Wide Web and the first Web server; a copy of “Information Management: A Proposal”; and a copy of the book “Enquire Within upon Everything”.

Later in October 1991, Robert Cailliau, a colleague of Tim’s at CERN, joined the project and helped rewrite and circulate Tim’s proposal for the Web. In November 1991, Nicola Pellow, then a student, joined the team and wrote the original line-mode browser. Bernd Pollermann also joined the team that month and worked the “XFIND” indexes on the CERNVM node. By Christmas of that year the line mode browser and WorldWideWeb browser/editor was demonstrable and access was possible to hypertext files, CERNVM “FIND”, and Internet news articles.

(Note: in 2013 CERN re-released an online version of the line-mode browser.  You can see that here: http://line-mode.cern.ch/)

In 1991 presentations and seminars were made within CERN and the code was released on central CERN machines. Then on 6 August 1991, files were made available on the Internet by FTP —  and posted, along with Tim’s email introducing the public to the WorldWideWeb — on the alt.hypertext newsgroup mailing list. (That new users accessed the Web after 23 August is why that date is considered “internaut’s”  day).

In the autumn of 1991, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) Physicist Paul Kunz met with Tim Berners-Lee and brought word of the Web back to SLAC. By December, the first WWW server at SLAC (and first server outside of Europe) was successfully installed.  In the years that followed more browsers were developed, more Web servers were put online and more Web sites were created. The Web as we know it had begun.  In November 1993, at a Newcastle, U.K. conference, Tim Berners-Lee discussed the future of the Web with MIT’s David Gifford, who suggests that Tim contact Michael Dertouzos, the head of the Laboratory for Computer Science at MIT.

By 1994, load on the first Web server (info.cern.ch) was 1000 times what it had been 3 years earlier. In February 1994 Tim met with Michael Dertouzos in Zurich to discuss the possibility of starting a new organization at MIT and in April of that year,  Alan Kotok, then at DEC and later Associate Chairman of W3C, visited CERN to discuss creation of a Consortium. In October of that year the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the Web standards organization, was started at MIT, as an international body.  In April 1995 INRIA became the W3C Host in France (in 2003 it was changed to ERCIM); in September 1996 Keio University became the W3C Host in Japan and in January 2013 Beihang University became the  W3C host in China.

For more information (including many links to web pages and images) see also: A Little History of the World Wide Web and a W3C timeline from 2005. For more information about the work of the Web Foundation, established  in 2009 to help to connect everyone, to  raise voices and to enhance participation through the open Web see: http://webfoundation.org/.  For more information on W3C, about Membership and how participate, please see: http://www.w3.org.

35 thoughts on “25 years ago the world changed forever

  1. I’d used the internet and bulletin boards, we used gopher at my university library – I was never really very fascinated by it. I had done miserably in highschool thinking that my lot in life was already set – everyone in my family did construction. On weekends, summers and even occasionally the odd school day when my dad was short handed I did too. After a few years I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but it wasn’t that – so I worked hard to get into school on a trial admission program. I was lost for what I wanted to do. I thought maybe I’d like to write. No, perhaps art. Maybe I would teach children. Then sometime around 95, I met the Web and it absolutely changed my life. Here was, in some ways, a grand creative and intellectual experiment that would both challenge and reward me in numerous ways and change the world as we knew it. Thank you timbl, kutgw <3

  2. I heard about the Web at university. I had gotten Céline Dion’s latest CD, “Falling Into You” (1996) and it had the Sony URI at the back. You can see it for yourself. In 1999, i took a job at the W3C. Took me years to figure out what URLs were and how to do the Markup Language thing. I’m so glad I was led there. Thanks, Tim! Thanks to all who make the Web. <3

  3. I had the opportunity to work with colleagues bringing the web technology into a large corporation back in 1995-97. Many (other) colleagues asked Why are you so obsessed by this “Web thing”? (remember that this was the time when a Swedish minister said that “Internet är bara en fluga”).

    Nowadays many ask me Why are you so obsessed with this “Semantic Web thing”? http://kerfors.blogspot.com/2014/02/why-i-am-so-obsessed-with-this-semantic.html

  4. I heard of it at home in 1996, we even had a very strong connection at 33.6 (remember ;) ), which was providing a 2kb bandwidth.

    After at University, I had a real strong bandwidth (in 1998), and I realised its real potential.

    How it impacted me? It is my job, my life, my passion, I’ve met so many fantastic people (including you Coralie ;) ) I would never met in any dimension.

    The idea of the Web and all its values (accessibility, Open, free, etc.) just made me a better person, and it goes on.

    I couldn’t say “thank you” enough for this idea.

  5. It’s funny because I was reading a lot about “Information highways” and how they would shape the future, way back in 1995. A friend of mine had one of those noisy pay-per-minute 14,400 modems, she let me surf a few minutes, and I thought “if I ever put a finger into this thing, I’m going to be drawn into it body and soul.”

    And bam, one year later I put my first personal website online (twenty years ago, my god), and in 1999 I was doing front-end HTML/CSS/JS work at a web agency after dropping everything else.

    This is 2016 and I never regretted it. The Web has been my main entry point for life, meeting people, doing business, having fun, sharing and loving to share. Did I mention meeting people?

    Thank you Sir Tim, and here’s to another 25 years.

  6. I was at an internet cafe in the early ’00s, when I started realizing the potential positive impacts of the Web. Back then, the Web was only an information tool. Now, it is about everything.

    Thanks, TBL, thanks W3C!

  7. I was learning applied mathematics for a bachelor’s degree in the university, we were in 1992 – 1993, colleagues learning computer science were having accounts on the local university network and it was connected to the internet, but we “mathematicians” don’t… A good friend of mine shared with me his login credentials and this opened a new fantastic world : searching stuff on FTP sites listed in large text files that we were sharing between us, trying to understand gopher, MUD,… It was fascinating, like being lost in a jungle and trying to find my way though if, exploring a new frontier…
    Then, one day someone show me NCSA Mosaic, one of the first web browser ! Everything changed since then, this new wonderful world I had just discovered could grow and be shared by everyone in the world !
    Thanks timbl for offering the web to the world and to all the good people working on it, making it better every day !

  8. I remember back in 1993 when only a handful of the population had Internet access. Here in Norway we had the pioneers of Oslonett (today: Basefarm) as the earliest commercial Internet Service Provider (ISP), offering connectivity to individual households …if one would invest some extra effort to establish real Internet connectivity via so-called SLIP/PPP. This would typically take place from DOS/Windows 3.1-based PCs (at that time rather bulky and normally stand-alone devices) with Crynwr Packet Drivers installed. But to achieve «high-speed» connections, we would also have to do some hardware adaptations. At the time, the holy grail was a full 14.4Kbit/second (14,400 baud) link rates! Mind you; all communication would take place via rather expensive dial-up, and stable connectivity was far from a given. However, serious modem users would purchased stuff like ISA/AT expansion boards (holding a precious 16550-based UART controller chip) and decent replacement for the poor built-in Windows serial port driver (e.g. TurboCom/2). On top of all that we ran early editions of the NCSA Mosaic WWW browser. But to me, the single strongest eureka moment was when I first visited the Vatican’s knowledge-packed Gopher server, a somewhat similarly hyper-linked service, predating the Web’s protocols.

    Before the Internet, we used various Bulletin-Board Systems (BBS’es, via ANSI VT100 character-based terminal emulators, like Gallagher & Robertson’s excellent GLINK and economic off-line e-mail readers like 1stReader). We also used fancy stuff like the more graphical CompuServe and FirstClass platforms (from SoftArc, later acquired by OpenText).

  9. On August 1, 1996, I code in HTML and publish my web page that today is currently online. I am a blind programmer, and my web page, has help and support blind people from all arround the world. All of the content of my assistive technology web page, is in Spanish language. So the web has bring me the opportunity to share my technologies knowledge and improve the lives of blind spanish speaking persons. Defenetly, the web is a very powerfull tool for accesing equal information for all.

  10. My use of the Internet and Web highlighted, from the first, the astounding ability we now have to access vast stores of knowledge; to interact with the thoughts of others; and to experiences parts of many different cultures, of great value and beauty, that we might otherwise miss.

    I first used the Internet in college while researching for an art history degree. While just text on a computer screen, from one library to another, I was grateful to be able to access far away works of scholarship.

    My use of the Web was later as I pursued another art history degree; then not just library to library but to anyone, anywhere; not just text on a screen but immediate access to images and information unimaginable to any generation before.

    I was reluctant to add things to the Web when I first joined the W3C, being more of a recipient of the Web rather than a participant. Then my friend Dean said something that changed my mind entirely. He said that he realized he had gotten so much from the Web over the years, that it was important to “give back” as well. So I became a participant too – adding my own text and photos (creative commons!), wikipedia editing and even some cat pictures too! Now I am proud to say I am participating in (and working to protect!) the Web as well as benefiting from it.

    I am grateful to Tim and to all who have helped to build the Web, to protect it and to fill it with such amazingly beautiful, funny, silly, poignant, and human things. Thank you.

  11. here in what was then the land of .oz

    1987 – my first taste of the “network of networks” – usenet! (and email) – at uni.

    1991ish – joined APANA and set up my ‘486 at home to fetch email and a few usenet newsgroups for myself and a few friends (via uucp using the msdos version of Waffle – over a 2400bps modem)

    1993/1994 – I had been posting a list of Sydney events (clubs/parties/raves/festivals/etc) to usenet ever week (also to a mailing list and various local and fidonet bbs)

    1994 — web starts here for me —

    my first encounter with a web browser was in 1994 – –
    using lynx (on a shell account via dialup from home).

    The same day I put up my first web page!

    I had received an email from the admin of the server I used for uucp/email/newsgroups.

    It was an invitation to his users to try something new he had just set up on his machine
    — a web server —

    I didn’t yet know what it was but it sounded interesting

    – I was curious –

    so I dialed his machine and logged in to my shell account there to have a look.

    He had lynx installed on there,

    so I started lynx and looked around ..
    and looked around some more .. eventually finding I could view source too
    saw html markup for the first time.
    noticed some patterns

    decided to try it
    with that list of events

    after 22 years the website it grew into is still online and is still used!

  12. 2 early dates: in 1991, my wife, also a computer scientist, came back from HT’91 in San Antonio with a leaflet on the WWW. I put a scan on the line: http://www.w3.org/2012/07/www91.pdf
    A couple of years later, while a Motif engineer the OSF, I remember debugging the Mosaic browser source codebase to make it work with our toolkit (and vice-versa ;).

  13. In 1993 at the university I was an internet addict spending time reading news/nntp groups. One day I asked a question and a guy replied with “see http://some.server.address…”. I asked him back “what does that mean” and he replied to install something called mosaic and put the url in the top window. I wondered for few moments what an url was but figured out it was the “http://…” thing.

    And since that very day, I use it every single day!

  14. My web experience began on the campus of Catonsville Community College over a decade after the creation of the WorldWideWeb servers. We used an email system with avatars. My first avatar was the blue devil named Jupiter.

  15. If you think about it today, it’s incredible how the technology developed and as title says – changed everything. I can still remember the boom of Internet cafes, v.92 modems and early html projects. Simply incredible!

  16. I was representing Ireland on the RARE WG3 at the time; TimBL was the CERN representative, and he had mentioned what he was working on. At a meeting in Zurich (I think) he gave us a demo, but being an SGML geek I was more interested in the markup than the networking :-) I was standing beside Anders Gillner, who at the time ran the Swedish Gopher gateway, and he said something like “I think this could kill Gopher stone dead”. I came back home and downloaded the server and client code from Tim’s machine, and with a little email between us got it to compile under SunOS 4.1.3, and thus was the first Irish web server born (the 9th in the world) and the project it was serving is still with us (celt.ucc.ie). So is the server — on the floor of my office; a Sun SparcStation IPX currently awaiting a reconditioned boot disk so that we can get it serving again. It’s been an interesting time…

  17. I was actually captured with the piece of resources you have got here. big thumbs up for making such wonderful blog spot. I like and recommend it very much.

  18. It has been an incredible pace of change in such a short period of time. It makes you wonder what the future holds as technology advances even further.

  19. I saw the WWW for the first time in January of 1994 using Mosaic 1.0. I remember thinking, “This is nice, but Gopher is going to win because that’s where the content is.” Oh how wrong I was!

    I’ve been a professional web developer since January of 1998. Thank you, TBL, for changing the world!

  20. Hi there!

    The image caption still referring as e-mail:

    “6 August 1991 e-mail about the WorldWideWeb by Tim Berners-Lee”. ;-)

  21. I graduated high school in 1994. we spent hours in the library pouring over books to find the simplest of information. Our research was limited to the few books owned by our school library. The WWW has changed learning forever. The plethora of knowledge that is at the fingertips of students today is awe inspiring, but I do have to ask, are we truly smarter today for it? I agree that the range of knowledge is greater, but we seem to have lost the that pat of learning where we force our brain to learn and recall. with all the information at our fingertips, what is there to remember? and has this lack of forced remembering impacted our brains ability to retain, calculate, infer, create, connect etc?.

  22. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, has changed the entire world simply by creating and coding internet protocols for the internet. I am still amazed that the web is plain text, while the desktop it is still binary.

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