A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

The World Wide Web celebrates its third 15th birthday


Tim Berners-Lee; photo courtesy of CERN

Over at BBC News, James Gillies has an entertaining account of how the World Wide Web came into being at CERN, the European particle physics laboratory in Geneva. Gillies is director of communication at the lab and co-author of How The Web Was Born: The Story of the World Wide Web.

The World Wide Web has many birthdays.

March 1989, when Tim Berners-Lee handed his boss a short document entitled Information Management: a Proposal, is one.

Christmas of the following year, when the Web was up and running on two computers, is another.

But perhaps the most important Web anniversary of all is 30 April 1993.

That's the day that Cern put the web in the public domain, thereby ensuring that the world would have a single system for accessing the Internet, instead of a Microsoft Web, a Macintosh Web and who knows, perhaps even an Amstrad Web.

Berners-Lee, a former physicist whose initial proposal for the Web earned the comment "Vague, but exciting" from his boss, was not the only one thinking about new ways to access information on the Internet, which had been around since the 1970s but was devilishly hard to work with. Competing systems included Archie, WAIS and Gopher, Gillies writes. But they were soon eclipsed by the Web, which grew a whopping 341634% in 1994, the year after CERN made it available to the public for free.

Cern's apparent altruism is deeply embedded in the organization's culture. Founded in 1954 by 12 European countries, Cern exists to carry out fundamental, curiosity-driven, research.

Its product is knowledge about the Universe, the particles of which it is composed and the forces that give it structure, and it is mandated by its founding convention to publish or otherwise make generally available the results of its work.

In putting the web in the public domain, Cern was only doing just that. The world's first web site, http://info.cern.ch/, is still up and running.

For more on the Web's past development and potential future, see Berners-Lee's testimony to the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet in March 2007.

Special bonus: Here's another April 30th anniversary, from Randy Alfred at Wired:

1897: Physicist J.J. Thomson tells a startled scientific audience that he's discovered something smaller than an atom, a particle with a minuscule mass and a negative charge. Some in the audience at the Royal Institution of Great Britain that Friday evening later told Thomson they thought he was "pulling their legs."

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