A short while ago, I learned that my hotmail account was already over 10 years old–10 years! Heck, I setup this eMail account even before Microsoft bought out Hotmail! Unfortunately, because my account barely had 1 MB of storage in those first few years (it now has 25 GB), I long ago deleted my first eMails. The oldest I do have is from April 2000 and isn’t actually that interesting: it’s Geocities newsletter, Geocities having recently been discountinued. However, I did find a funny eMail forward about the Value Of A College Education from a friend dated November 2000.
Well, as much as this was a significant milestone for me, with little fanfare the World Wide Web recently celebrated its 20th anniversary! I found this out while listening to the BBC’s Digital Planet podcast that you can also listen to here (download also available).
While the foundation of the internet was laid down as far back as the 1950’s, the Web as we know it today really got it’s start in March 1989 when Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a CERN scientist, came up with a novel idea on how to share with other CERN colleagues worldwide the vast amounts of data generated by CERN experiments. With the help of colleague Robert Cailliau, a proposal called WorldWideWeb described a project to create a “web of nodes” containing “hypertext pages” to store data. These “hypertext pages” are then accessible (read by) via “browsers.” Lucky for us, the original proposal was also later converted to hypertext so it can also be read over the web: http://www.w3.org/Proposal.html
An interesting tidbit I learned on this podcast is how the name WWW came to be. At first, “Mesh” was also considered but, as Tim Berners-Lee points out, it sounded too much like Mess. So they went for something using an obscure letter, W.
From a marketing perspective, choosing a tongue twister for a name isn’t a wise decision: remember how hard and annoying it was to say “Double-U, Double-U, Double-U” when the web first took off back in the 90’s? Well, because we had to repeat it so often to get used to it, it stuck and turned out to be a good name selection after all.
Looking back, it’s safe to say that the goals of WorldWideWeb project were met a few million (or billion?) times over. In a short 20 years, this project has grown into a vast network used by over 1.5 billions users from every corner of the globe (do Astronauts have web access?). Not only are they sharing text on pages but also (legally and illegally) images, movies, video, music, applications, data, and so on. And, after all this time, users are still using the web to collaborate together and process large amounts of data scientific that would otherwise be reserved for graduate students: check out https://www.galaxyzoo.org