The first time casual web browsers were able to surf the World Wide Web (WWW) was August 23, 1991, an event that is celebrated by surfers today, and every year on August 1. The first website was launched on the Internet on August 6, 1991. The two events are combined every August 1 to recognize the creation of something much of the world now cannot imagine being without.
The World Wide Web was invented in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, a software engineer at the large particle physics laboratory CERN, located near Geneva Switzerland. The WWW came out of a need for scientists to exchange data and results. Berners-Lee submitted a proposal to CERN management in late 1989 that described technologies that would make the Internet useful to people. At that time the Internet itself was about 20 years old, used for “packet-switching,” a method of sending information from one computer to another. This system was used throughout the 1980s to send files and data between computers.
Berners-Lee’s idea was to transform the Internet from those early days of sending files and data between individual computers, to a World Wide Web, a web of information that anyone could browse and access. Without access to CERN’s computers, at the time the continent’s largest Internet node, his idea might never have been developed.
The proposal initially received little attention. Mike Sendall, Berners-Lee’s boss, wrote “vague but exciting” on the cover of the report. Berners-Lee did not give up, however, going on to write HyperText Markup Language (HTML), HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and the WorldWideWeb (WWW), which was the first ever web browser. CERN came around on his idea and by 1993 the World Wide Web was a technology available to be used by anyone.
Netscape, originally called Mosaic, was the first sophisticated browser, developed by a group of researchers and students at the University of Illinois in 1992. Mosaic was a user-friendly way to surf, allowing users to see both pictures and words at the same time on the same page, and to navigate using clickable links. Congress decided the same year that the WWW could be used for commercial purposes, with the result that companies began to set up their own websites and use the Internet to sell their products directly to customers. By now the Internet and the WWW had become synonymous.
CERN’s website was the first to be hosted on the World Wide Web, at info.cern.ch. It was a simple page that contained a lot of links, which was essentially what the WWW was for at that time. It was dedicated to the Internet itself, describing the basic features of the web, accessing documents and setting up servers.
The idea behind WWW Day is to remember the birth of the World Wide Web and go online (as though people are not doing that anyway). The creators of the celebration envision people watching online movies, creating blogs to remind them of the Internet’s usefulness, visiting technology museums, watching documentaries about the WWW and organizing technological conventions to be held on August 1.
As of 2009 there are more than 1.7 billion people world-wide on the Web, although three in five still do not have access. Berner’s-Lee is optimistic that this will change, and sees a Web available to everyone, accessible to all, from any device and any location. However, for those two in five people with access, the Internet has become virtually indispensable. So celebrate the invention of the World Wide Web today and enjoy the ability to browse and surf that came from a vision by Tim Berners-Lee.
By Beth A. Balen