After more than a decade’s worth of on-again, off-again work, CERN fellow Tim Berners-Lee laid out a web page with directions on how to create your own server and use a browser on August 6, 1991. Working in tandem with Robert Cailliau, Berners-Lee had created the World Wide Web and opened it to the public. Two decades later, what started with “info.cern.ch” has grown into a vast information superhighway of more than a trillion web pages and increasingly become part of our everyday lives.
The project began in 1980, when Berners-Lee developed a database called ENQUIRE which could work with the wide variety of hardware and software used within CERN’s headquarters. Settling on a hypertext system, Berners-Lee created a series of “cards” similar to the pages we are familiar with today, but with restrictions that kept everything within the network of computers at his employer. Unable to connect with other information sources that existed, the cards created within ENQUIRE required regular editing to establish a trail of changes between them – a person couldn’t simply link the old page to a new one without altering the first.
Berners-Lee returned to CERN for the second time in March 1989, proposing to use ENQUIRE to create a method for weaving information together with fewer seams and far less effort. Well over a year later, with help from Robert Cailliau, Berners-Lee formulated a new idea for a “web” built on the hypertext pages he had built before, but with the ability for people to browse them at their own leisure. In November 1990, he believed it would take three months to create a readable “WorldWideWeb” and perhaps six months to allow consumers to author their own contributions to the information pool.
Once approved, Berners-Lee set up a server on a new computer authorized by his boss, Mike Sendall. The NeXT workstation, one of the last produced by the company Steve Jobs started after Apple, ended up containing the backbone of what Berners-Lee had envisioned – a browser to search for and edit files, as well as the architecture to support others accessing those pages – all by Christmas Day in 1990. His goal of a readable portal within three months already met, Berners-Lee moved on to open the technology to the world so “the creation of new links and new material by readers [would mean] authorship becomes universal.”
Eight months later, on August 6, 1991, Berners-Lee put a short summary of the project online and noted the World Wide Web was now a public domain. The scientist had taken the best of two worlds, hypertext and networking of computers, to create a revolutionary concept for information sharing that somewhat fulfilled the late science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke’s prediction satellites would “bring the accumulated knowledge of the world to your fingertips” in the May 1970 issue of Popular Science magazine.
Two years later, and just a few months after Berners-Lee uploaded the first image to the web, CERN announced the service would be freely available on April 30, 1993. A variety of institutions had worked furiously to build the Internet up, with the University of Illinois creating the Mosaic browser to allow graphics and text to be viewed together – and the world has not looked back.
Berthers-Lee, for his efforts to make information available to all, received the rank of Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II on July 16, 2004.