It was March, 1989, when Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a researcher at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, released a paper titled, “Information Management: A Proposal,” which outlined a method of interconnecting related documents for sharing research. His proposal was originally rejected as “Vague but exciting,” and was rejected for funding. However, Mike Sendall, Tim’s supervisor, gave him permission to work on the project unofficially.
Tim began work on the project in September 1990 and wrote three fundamental technologies that remain the foundation of World Wide Web. The first of these is HTML, the HyperText Markup Language, which consists of “tags” that allow one document on the web to link to other documents, or even other sections of the same document. The second is the URI, a Uniform Resource Identifier, which you can think of as an address for locating a file on the web, it is also commonly referred to as a URL (Uniform Resource Locator). The third and final is HTTP, the HyperText Transfer Protocol, which is the method by which the documents are shared across a network, allowing files on different computers throughout the world to link to files on other computers.
Tim also wrote the world’s first web browser and web page editor, as well as the first web-server. The web-server is the computer where the shared files are stored and runs the HTTP services so that you can read the files. The web-browser is the application on your computer, smart-phone, game-system, or television that lets you view the files or “pages” that are stored on the server. Tim felt that it would not be right for a single entity to control the code and processes to make the web available and convinced CERN to release the tools on a royalty-free basis, forever. This made the web the first truly open-source free software. The decision to announce the public availability of the web was made in April, 1993, and sparked a wave of creativity.
Prior to this, work files were shared via Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), which were files stored on personal computers connected to phone lines. In order to share files, there were “known” but not well advertised phone numbers that you could dial in with your computer and get a list of other computers and files with other phone numbers. Basically you had to make several phone calls to get files from what is now called the web. Tim’s system simplified the process of knowing where to find the files and created a centralized repository of file links. In 2003, companies banded together to create a new standards committee that kept the web royalty free, and in 2014, two in five people globally were connected and using the web.
This month we celebrate 30-years of the web. None of us involved with the web in the early 1990s ever dreamed that it would be used for online interactive gaming, teleconferences with live video and even holographic-like augmented reality systems. We were just happy we didn’t have to dial multiple phone numbers and figure out which files we wanted based on people naming things the right way. Tim’s work allowed us to separate the eight character file name from the title or content of the file so we could link documents without caring what the file was named. Many times in the early days, files on the web were called file001, file002, etc. Without HTML and the URI, we would have never been able to figure out what a file contained without reading it.
In reference to sharing research information, Tim said, “In those days, there was different information on different computers, but you had to log on to different computers to get at it. Also, sometimes you had to learn a different program on each computer. Often it was easier to go and ask people when they were having coffee….” Just imagine having to pick up the phone and call someone every time you needed a piece of information instead of saying, “Okay Google.”