20th November 2019

Lessons from the Proposal Which Led to the Creation of the World Wide Web #Web25

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the world wide web
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the world wide web

It’s remarkable how ideas which changed the world didn’t start out with the intention to change the world. It is interesting to note that most of the ideas that changed the world simply started out trying to solve an immediate problem or address a pressing need affecting the inventors. The biggest and most well-known example of that is the creation of Facebook. Built by some college geeks to create a university social network, Facebook now has over 1 billion users across the globe!

www proposal by berners-lee
The original proposal for the web by Tim Berners-Lee

In honour of #web25, let’s go back in time and talk about the ultimate platform which actually powers Facebook to be the formidable force it is, the World Wide Web. Just from the title of his document, “Information Management: A Proposal,” it is quite clear that Tim Berners-Lee wasn’t trying to change the world or do anything revolutionary on a global scale. In fact, if history can show us something, it’s that all that revolutionary jibber-jabber usually comes after an accidental idea catches fire and becomes life-changing for humanity.

web25

By December 25, 1989, the WorldWideWeb software was up and running at CERN in its most basic form. People outside of CERN got access to the web as a public Internet service for the first time on August 6, 1991. The cataclysm occurred when the web was made fully graphical on January 23, 1993. Prior to this, the web was a text-only service that didn’t bear that much resemblance to the one we all know very well.

According to TIME Magazine online, here are some of the things that made “Information Management: A Proposal” so powerful, Berners-Lee:

Borrowed existing ideas: he recommended bringing together technologies and concepts his colleagues already knew and understood

He was realistic: slashed out every detail that wasn’t absolutely necessary in order to propose something that one or two people could put together in a year or less

He made decentralization fundamental: proposed a way to link up disparate documents and databases, no matter where they resided instead of a single database

He aimed for universal compatibility: Though the original WorldWideWeb software was coded on a computer from NeXT, the web was supposed to be used on every sort of computer used at CERN

He wanted to make sharing simple: proposed a tool for painless, democratized collaboration among CERN’s staff all working toward a common goal

He looked forward: graphics were a possible future area of expansion, and even mentioned speech and video — forms of media that barely existed in digital form in 1989

He knew that everybody would eventually need something like the system he was proposing: He wrote, “In 10 years, there may be many commercial solutions to the problems above, while today we need something to allow us to continue.”

Image credit: Mashable and W3 Archive