The Web: A proposal

In March 1989, Tim Berners-Lee wrote the first proposal for the World Wide Web at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in Geneva, Switzerland.

Titled "Information Management: A Proposal", the document opened with this statement: "This proposal concerns the management of general information about accelerators and experiments at CERN. It discusses the problems of loss of information about complex evolving systems and derives a solution based on a distributed hypertext system."

The proposal, submitted on March 13, built on ideas that Berners-Lee had been working on with Belgian systems engineer Robert Cailliau. Outlining the central concepts and defining terms behind the Web, the document described a "hypertext project" called "WorldWideWeb" in which a "web" of "hypertext documents" could be viewed by "browsers."

None of this technical jargon may sound especially sexy, but today, this system has come to touch nearly every part of our lives. Here's a look at how the Web got started.

Photo by: CERN

Berners-Lee and the Web in 1994

This is Tim Berners-Lee, pictured at CERN in 1994 with the Next computer that he used to invent the World Wide Web.
Photo by: CERN

Berners-Lee's original schematic

Also included in the Web proposal: Berners-Lee's original schematic for a client/server model for a distributed hypertext system.
Photo by: CERN

First Web server

The world's first Web site and server,, went live at CERN on December 20, 1990. The server ran on Berners-Lee's Next computer at CERN.
Photo by: Patrice Loïez

WorldWideWeb browser

This screenshot was taken from a Next computer running Berners-Lee's original WorldWideWeb browser. The browser was also a Web editor, but it only ran on the NextStep operating system
Photo by: CERN

Do not switch off

This is a close-up of the hand-written note on the side of the first Web server alerting staff not to switch it off. The original Next computer is still on display at the Microcosm exhibit at CERN.
Photo by: Stephen Shankland/CNET

CERN systems engineer Robert Cailliau

CERN systems engineer Robert Cailliau, pictured here in 1995, was Berners-Lee's first partner on the World Wide Web project.
Photo by: CERN

Berners-Lee and Nicola Pellow

Shown here in 1991 with Berners-Lee and a Next computer is Nicola Pellow, who wrote the original line-mode browser for the Web. The simple browser -- which could show only 24 rows of 80 characters -- worked with a wide variety of computers and terminals.
Photo by: CERN

W3 software release

This document from April 30, 1993, officially put the World Wide into the public domain, according to CERN. The term "W3" didn't catch on, but within a few year, the Web certainly did, and the rest was history.
Photo by: CERN

W3 software release, page 2

Page 2 of the World Wide Web public domain document that released the software into the wild, dated April 30, 1993.
Photo by: CERN

Tim Berners-Lee at SXSW 2013

Tim Berners-Lee at an IEEE meet-up at SXSW Interactive in 2013.
Photo by: James Martin/CNET

The first Web site

As part of the project to restore the first Web site, CERN reinstated the world's first site to its original address in 2013.
Photo by: CERN


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