History of the World Wide Web

News & Events | Monday, October 14, 2013

In 1980, Tim Berners-Lee, an independent contractor at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Switzerland, built ENQUIRE, as a personal database of people and software models, but also as a way to play with hypertext; each new page of information in ENQUIRE had to be linked to an existing page.

In 1984 Berners-Lee returned to CERN, and considered its problems of information presentation: physicists from around the world needed to share data, and with no common machines and no common presentation software. He wrote a proposal in March 1989 for “a large hypertext database with typed links”, but it generated little interest. His boss, Mike Sendall, encouraged Berners-Lee to begin implementing his system on a newly acquired NeXT workstation. He considered several names, including Information Mesh, The Information Mine (turned down as it abbreviates to TIM, the WWW’s creator’s name) or Mine of Information (turned down because it abbreviates to MOI which is “Me” in French), but settled on World Wide Web.

Robert Cailliau, Jean-François Abramatic and Tim Berners-Lee at the 10th anniversary of the WWW Consortium.He found an enthusiastic collaborator in Robert Cailliau, who rewrote the proposal (published on November 12, 1990) and sought resources within CERN. Berners-Lee and Cailliau pitched their ideas to the European Conference on Hypertext Technology in September 1990, but found no vendors who could appreciate their vision of marrying hypertext with the Internet.

By Christmas 1990, Berners-Lee had built all the tools necessary for a working Web: the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) 0.9, the HyperText Markup Language (HTML), the first Web browser (named WorldWideWeb, which was also a Web editor), the first HTTP server software (later known as CERN httpd), the first web server (http://info.cern.ch), and the first Web pages that described the project itself. The browser could access Usenet newsgroups and FTP files as well. However, it could run only on the NeXT; Nicola Pellow therefore created a simple text browser that could run on almost any computer. To encourage use within CERN, they put the CERN telephone directory on the web — previously users had had to log onto the mainframe in order to look up phone numbers.

Paul Kunz from the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center visited CERN in September 1991, and was captivated by the Web. He brought the NeXT software back to SLAC, where librarian Louise Addis adapted it for the VM/CMS operating system on the IBM mainframe as a way to display SLAC’s catalog of online documents; this was the first web server outside of Europe and the first in North America.

On August 6, 1991, Berners-Lee posted a short summary of the World Wide Web project on the alt.hypertext newsgroup. This date also marked the debut of the Web as a publicly available service on the Internet.

The WorldWideWeb (WWW) project aims to allow all links to be made to any information anywhere. […] The WWW project was started to allow high energy physicists to share data, news, and documentation. We are very interested in spreading the web to other areas, and having gateway servers for other data. Collaborators welcome!” —from Tim Berners-Lee’s first message

An early CERN-related contribution to the Web was the parody band Les Horribles Cernettes, whose promotional image is believed to be among the Web’s first five pictures.

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