Editorial Feature

The World Wide Web: The Invention That Connected The World

As we reach the web’s 30th birthday, we reflect on its history – from its hardware foundations to the 5 billion person network we see today

The internet is a huge network of computers all connected together, but it was the world wide web that made the technology into something that linked information together and made it accessible to everyone. In essence, the world wide web is a collection of webpages found on this network of computers – your browser uses the internet to access the world wide web.

The world wide web was invented by Sir Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 – originally he was trying to find a new way for scientists to easily share the data from their experiments. Hypertext (text displayed on a computer display that links to other text the reader can immediately access) and the internet already existed, but no one had thought of a way to use the internet to link one document directly to another.

CDC 6600 Super Computer (From the collection of Science Museum)
Tim Berners-Lee, c. 1990s (From the collection of CERN)

Berners-Lee created the world wide web while he was working at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Switzerland. His vision soon went beyond a network for scientists to share information, in that he wanted it to be a universal and free 'information space' to share knowledge, to communicate, and to collaborate. You can find out more about how his work on the world wide web at CERN began, here.

There are three main ingredients that make up the world wide web. URL (uniform resource locator), which is the addressing scheme to find a document; HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol), which connects computers together; and HTML (hypertext markup language), which formats pages containing hypertext links.

Data Center of CERN (From the collection of Munaneum)

Berners-Lee also made the world’s first web browser and web server. During the 1990s the amount of web browsers being produced rapidly multiplied and a whole load more web-based technologies started sprouting up. To get a sense of how the world wide web has developed since its creation, check out this video below:

Original NeXT computer used by Tim Berners-Lee to design the world wide web (From the collection of Science Museum)

The world wide web opened up the internet to everyone, not just scientists. It connected the world in a way that made it much easier for people to get information, share, and communicate. It has since allowed people to share their work and thoughts through social networking sites, blogs, video sharing, and more.

If you’re still curious to know how we got to this computer-based world in the first place, you can read about the history of computers and how they transformed communication between humans here.

An image of the first page of Tim Berners-Lee's proposal for the world wide web in March 1989 (From the collection of CERN)
A screenshot showing the NeXT world wide web browser by Tim Berners-Lee (From the collection of CERN)
Credits: All media
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