Open Web, 20 Years Later: It’s a Cloudy World

Modern-day Websites, meet your ancestor.

On April 30, 1993, CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) gave birth to the World Wide Web. And nothing was ever the same again.

As conceived by British physicist Tim Berners-Lee, the World Wide Web would allow scientists in universities and institutes to easily share information about their work. On that day in late April, CERN published a document that officially put the World Wide Web’s underlying technology—from the code libraries to a very basic browser—in the public domain. CERN has restored the first-ever Website URL, along with a copy of how it looked in the earliest iteration that the organization could find. Compared to many of today’s Web destinations, CERN’s Website is the technological equivalent of a caveperson’s chipped-stone tool, but the promise was clearly there.

“Berners-Lee saw the working structure of CERN as a ‘web’ whose interconnections evolve with time,” reads CERN’s own explanation of the World Wide Web’s earliest days. “Large, collaborative projects at CERN, such as the Large Electron-Positron collider (LEP), predecessor of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)—created vast amounts of information that needed to be accessible to large numbers of people.” He deemed a networked hypertext system the easiest way to share that information around.

Berners-Lee used a NeXT computer running NeXTSTEP to create the original browser, which he dubbed “WorldWideWeb” before renaming it Nexus at a later point. (NeXT was run by Steve Jobs between his stints at Apple.) A few months after CERN made the World Wide Web’s technology royalty-free, there were more than 500 known Web servers—which must have seemed impressive at the time, although it seems puny compared to the gargantuan sprawl of the Internet today.

Of course, much of that sprawl is dedicated to “World’s Funniest Dog GIFs” and “Twilight” fan fiction rather than cutting-edge research, but oftentimes creators can’t control what they unleash on the world.

Twenty years later, developers and IT companies around the globe are focused on making the browser do as much as possible. Every day, millions of people rely on the World Wide Web for email, storing documents and media in “the cloud,” playing music via streaming services, fiddling with games, watching movies, communicating with friends, working on spreadsheets, and a hundred other functions. The Internet has become the great disruptor, making giants out of companies such as Facebook and Google, while wrecking any technology firm incapable of keeping up with its frequent permutations.

With that in mind, one wonders what the World Wide Web will look like twenty years from now.


Image: CERN