It was 20 years ago today: The Web

Tim Berners-Lee and others are gathering at CERN on Friday to fete the document that laid the intellectual groundwork for the World Wide Web.

History in the making: Berners-Lee's original schematic for a client/server model for a distributed hypertext system.

Is it already 20 years since Tim Berners-Lee authored "Information Management: A proposal" and set the technology world on fire?

Back in 1989, Berners-Lee was a software consultant working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research outside of Geneva, Switzerland. On March 13 of that year, he submitted a plan to management on how to better monitor the flow of research at the labs. People were coming and going at such a clip that an increasingly frustrated Berners-Lee complained that CERN was losing track of valuable project information because of the rapid turnover of personnel. It did not help matters that the place was chockablock with incompatible computers people brought with them to the office.

"When two years is a typical length of stay, information is constantly being lost. The introduction of the new people demands a fair amount of their time and that of others before they have any idea of what goes on. The technical details of past projects are sometimes lost forever, or only recovered after a detective investigation in an emergency. Often, the information has been recorded, it just cannot be found."

So he got to work on a document, which is amazing to read with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight. But it would take Berners-Lee another couple of years before he could demo his idea. Even then, the realization of his theory had to wait until the middle of the 1990s when Jim Clark and Marc Andreessen popularized the notion of commercial Web browsing with Netscape.

And as prescient as the CERN document was, not even Berners-Lee could imagine where his basic design was about to lead. To wit, part of his very modest conclusions:

"We should work toward a universal linked information system, in which generality and portability are more important than fancy graphics techniques and complex extra facilities."

"The aim would be to allow a place to be found for any information or reference which one felt was important, and a way of finding it afterwards. The result should be sufficiently attractive to use that it the information contained would grow past a critical threshold, so that the usefulness the scheme would in turn encourage its increased use."

So it is that on Friday, Berners-Lee and other personages involved in the development of the Web will congregate at the particle physics lab to celebrate. I can't make the event, but from one side of the pond to the other, here's a virtual toast to Sir Tim Berners-Lee on a job very well done.

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About the author

Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.

 

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