Topic

The birth of the web

Where the web was born

Tim Berners-Lee, pictured at CERN with the NeXT computer that he used to invent the World Wide Web (Image: CERN)

Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist at CERN, invented the World Wide Web (WWW) in 1989. The web was originally conceived and developed to meet the demand for automatic information-sharing between scientists in universities and institutes around the world.

CERN is not an isolated laboratory, but rather a focus for an extensive community that includes more than 10,000 scientists from over 100 countries. Although they typically spend some time on the CERN site, the scientists usually work at universities and national laboratories in their home countries. Good contact is therefore essential.

The basic idea of the WWW was to merge the technologies of personal computers, computer networking and hypertext into a powerful and easy to use global information system.

How the web began

Berners-Lee wrote the first proposal for the World Wide Web [PDF] at CERN in 1989, further refining the proposal with Belgian systems engineer Robert Cailliau the following year. On 12 November 1990 the pair published a formal proposal outlining principal concepts and defining important terms behind the web. The document described a "hypertext project" called "WorldWideWeb" in which a "web" of "hypertext documents" could be viewed by “browsers”.

By the end of 1990, prototype software for a basic web system was already being demonstrated. An interface was provided to encourage its adoption, and applied to the CERN computer centre's documentation, its help service and Usenet newsgroups; concepts already familiar to people at CERN. The first examples of this interface were developed on NeXT computers.

Info.cern.ch was the address of the world's first website and web server, running on a NeXT computer at CERN. The first web page address was

http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html

which centred on information regarding the WWW project. Visitors could learn more about hypertext, technical details for creating their own webpage, and even an explanation on how to search the web for information. There are no screenshots of this original page and, in any case, changes were made daily to the information available on the page as the WWW project developed. See a later copy (from 1993).

You can see the orginal NeXT computer at the Microcosm exhibit at CERN, still bearing the label, hand-written in red ink: "This machine is a server. DO NOT POWER IT DOWN!!"