San Francisco: Twenty-five years ago, the World Wide Web was just an idea in a technical paper from an obscure, young computer scientist at a European physics lab. That idea from Tim Berners-Lee at the CERN lab in Switzerland, outlining a way to access files on linked computers, paved the way for a global phenomenon that has touched the lives of billions of people. He presented the paper on March 12, 1989, which history has marked as the birthday of the Web.
But the idea was so bold, it almost didn’t happen. “There was a tremendous amount of hubris in the project at the beginning,” said Marc Weber, creator and curator of the Inter-net history programme at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. “Tim Berners-Lee proposed it out of the blue, unrequested.”
At first, said Mr Weber, the CERN colleagues “completely ignored the proposal.” The US military began studying the idea of connected computer networks in the 1950s, and in 1969 launched Arpanet, the forerunner to the Internet. But the World Wide Web was just one of several ideas to connect the public.
Mr Berners-Lee convinced CERN to adopt his system, demonstrating its usefulness by compiling a lab phone book into an online index. A key aspect of the design was that it worked across various operating systems.
The Web was not a winner out of the gate. There were rival online services such as US-based CompuServe and France’s Minitel but they involved fees, while Mr Berners-Lee’s system was free. “It started as a real underdog; no one would have predicted the system would have succeeded,” Mr Weber said.