On April 30, 1993, CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, released World Wide Web into the public domain.
CERN issued a statement putting the Web into the public domain, ensuring that it would remain an open standard. The organization released the source code of Berners-Lee’s hypertext project, WorldWideWeb, into the public domain the same day. WorldWideWeb became free software, available to all. The move had an immediate effect on the spread of the web. By late 1993 there are over 500 known web servers, and the web accounts for 1% of internet traffic.
Berners-Lee moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), from where he still runs the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). By the end of 1994, the Web had 10,000 servers – of which 2000 were commercial – and 10 million users. Traffic was equivalent to shipping the collected works of Shakespeare every second.
The World Wide Web opened to the public
On 6 August 1991, exactly, the World Wide Web became publicly available. Its creator, the now internationally known Tim Berners-Lee, posted a short summary of the project on the alt.hypertext newsgroup and gave birth to a new technology which would fundamentally change the world as we knew it.
The World Wide Web has its foundation in work that Berners-Lee did in the 1980s at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. He had been looking for a way for physicists to share information around the world without all using the same types of hardware and software. This culminated in his 1989 paper proposing ‘A large hypertext database with typed links’.
There was no fanfare in the global press. In fact, most people around the world didn’t even know what the Internet was. Even if they did, the revolution the Web ushered in was still but a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye. Instead, the launch was marked by way of a short post from Berners-Lee on the alt.hypertext newsgroup, which is archived to this day on Google Groups.
In 1993, it was announced by CERN that the World Wide Web was free for everyone to use and develop, with no fees payable – a key factor in the transformational impact it would soon have on the world.
While a number of browser applications were developed during the first two years of the Web, it was Mosaic which arguably had the most impact. It was launched in 1993 and by the end of that year was available for Unix, the Commodore Amiga, Windows and Mac OS. The first browser to be freely available and accessible to the public, it inspired the birth of the first commercial browser, Netscape Navigator, while Mosaic’s technology went on to form the basis of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.
The growth of easy-to-use Web browsers coincided with the growth of the commercial ISP business, with companies like Compuserve bringing increasing numbers of people from outside the scientific community on to the Web – and that was the start of the Web we know today.
What was initially a network of static HTML documents has become a constantly changing and evolving information organism, powered by a wide range of technologies, from database systems like PHP and ASP that can display data dynamically, to streaming media and pages that can be updated in real-time. Plugins like Flash have expanded our expectations of what the Web can offer, while HTML itself has evolved to the point where its latest version can handle video natively.
The Web has become a part of our everyday lives – something we access at home, on the move, on our phones and on TV. It’s changed the way we communicate and has been a key factor in the way the Internet has transformed the global economy and societies around the world. Sir Tim Berners-Lee has earned his knighthood a thousand times over, and the decision of CERN to make the Web completely open has been perhaps its greatest gift to the world.
The future of the Web
So, where does the Web go from here? Where will it be in twenty more years? The Semantic Web will see metadata, designed to be read by machines rather than humans, become a more important part of the online experience. Tim Berners-Lee coined this term, describing it as “A web of data that can be processed directly and indirectly by machines,” – a ‘giant global graph’ of linked data which will allow apps to automatically create new meaning from all the information out there.