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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

World Wide Web is 25: To make everyone see his work, this physicist spun the Web

The Ubiquitous web that has become a part of our lives started as a collaboration platform at CERN.

Written by Leela Prasad | New Delhi | Updated: March 13, 2014 12:36:09 pm
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web

The word web has many connotations and interpretations. For some, the web is a medium of free expression and for others it is something that merits censorship. But Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, in 1998 said “the Web is an abstract (imaginary) space of information”.

If Sir Tim had lacked the imagination to conjure something as impressive as the World Wide Web, we would still be struggling to make space for those thick volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica hardbacks on our bookshelves. The web wasn’t conceived by a dreamer doodling with ink and paper. It was created by a physicist who wanted his work to be open for others to view. He simply provided a platform for others to build, collaborate and innovate.

However, Sir Tim’s proposal was initially rejected by his boss at the Swiss Physics laboratory, CERN. It wasn’t accepted until he proposed the three technologies HTML (HyperText Markup Language), URI (Uniform Resource Identifier) and HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol). The web was built on the foundation of these three, and they still remain in use. In the beginning, the webpages were static, read-only text pages. Images would open in another browser window.

The original proposal

This changed when the first user-friendly browser Mosaic was launched. It proved to be critical in the explosion of web. The pages looked better with inline images and it had most of the features that you see today in a browser. A URI bar, back and forward buttons were first introduced by Mosaic. Netscape Navigator came much later and turned the web on its head.

However, what made the World Wide Web even more attractive was that CERN waived its royalties in April 1993. This paved the way for innovation and made the web what it is today. Though companies profited from this open platform, they had their own peaks and troughs. The dot-com bubble burst in the late 90s saw a number of web startups go bust. But the ones that have survived – Amazon, Google and eBay – have today become industry giants.

The current landscape of the web is different and more dynamic. The advent of social media made Frigyes Karinthy’s six degrees of separation theory a virtual reality. According to the theory, we all are just six introductions away from any other person on the planet. Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook have all made this possible.


The web is still innovating at a furious pace, Yahoo Answers made way for Quora, Spotify replaced P2P services like Kazaa and Limewire, and Wikipedia saw the decline of reference books. To continue this legacy, the web needs to remain free from government oversight and corporate greed.

In a House of Lords debate on the 25th anniversary of the Web, Lord Puttnam said, “One hundred and eighty three billion emails are sent every day. Had we had the wit at the outset to place a 1p levy on each email… it would generate today, worldwide, £730 billion… I realise it is rather late in day to suggest this, but it has another advantage: if there was such a levy, it might just allow people to pause momentarily before hitting that quite dreadful ‘reply to all’ button.”

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