The story behind the world wide web
Today is the world wide web’s 31st birthday. We can hardly imagine work, school, and our daily lives in general without it. Because of the world wide web, we now have cat videos, instant messaging, online banking, and heated discussions on whether pizza should come with pineapple.
How did the technology come about? Who and why created it?
How was the world wide web created?
Tim Berners-Lee created the world wide web (or simply the web) in 1989. The British scientist, who worked at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) at the time, was looking for a way to make information sharing between scientists easier and faster. He did it by combining local computer networks with the hypertext technology.
The first website, also created by Tim Berners-Lee, launched on December 20, 1990. He hosted it on his own computer. The site explained what the web was and talked about the story and the people behind it. It also included instructions on how to create your own webpage or set up a web server. In 2013, CERN started a project to restore the world’s first website, and now you can see it here.
Upon its launch, the world wide web was supposed to be used by universities and scientific institutes only. However, in 1993, CERN announced that they were putting the web into the public domain. That meant it was open for everybody to improve and build upon.
In just a few years, the web had millions of users already. First browsers that didn’t require to use command lines started showing up, like Mosaic and Netscape Navigator. The user-friendly interface meant that more people, not only scientists, could use it.
Web servers were also popping up, like Microsoft’s Internet Information Server, developed to handle the massive amounts of traffic going through Microsoft’s web page. With more servers, more and more web pages appeared, many of which most of us still use today: IMDB, Bloomberg, Yahoo, eBay, etc.
In these early days of the web, people needed to know the domains of the pages they wanted to visit. Therefore, the first web users went to online directories — sort of like phone books for web pages. They linked to other sites and were updated manually. But soon, there were too many websites for people to keep track of.
That’s when search engines started gaining momentum, and the information sharing that Tim Berners-Lee first imagined went to a whole new level. Web users can now find almost anything they want in a matter of seconds.
World wide web vs the internet: are they the same thing?
Although many people use the terms “world wide web” and “internet” interchangeably, they are not the same thing.
The internet is a huge network comprised of many smaller networks. On the lowest level, all the devices in your house connected to the Wi-Fi router make up your local area network (LAN). Similarly, all the devices in your office or university campus create their LAN. These LAN networks from all the houses in your neighborhood connect to a Wide Area Network (WAN), which then connects to another, even larger network of your city, county, state, etc. The combination of all these networks forms the internet.
We use the web to access and navigate the internet. There’s a lot of information out there, and we wouldn’t be able to find, view, and use it without the technology of the world wide web. It includes HTTP, HTLS, and URL — all of which were also created by Tim Berners-Lee 31 years ago and are still essential if we want to go online today.
The internet is only a network of connected machines — the web is what gives this network life and allows us to navigate it successfully.