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25 Years of the World Wide Web - Happy Birthday!

Wednesday 12th march 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web; invented by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, while working as a software engineer at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN.) The internet had already been in existence for 20 years, but Sir Tim, seeing a need in his own day to day work, had the idea to use it to connect people around the globe; in his case, fellow research scientists.

He designed a set of technologies that would enable people anywhere with access to the internet to communicate freely. The proposal was unsolicited and when his bosses first saw the details they were not sure what to make of them; and the paper was returned with the comment, ‘Vague, but interesting.’ The idea arose from an initial project of his called Enquire, which was an attempt to share information amongst physicists working in isolation around the globe. From this the three key protocols arose, Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML,) Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) and Hyper Text transfer Protocol (HTTP.) The world now had the technology to start to assemble the web.

HTML was the publishing format that dictated how words and images appear on a computer screen, URI provided a unique address for documents on the web and HTTP enabled the documents to be retrieved from wherever they were hosted around the planet. Sir Tim also developed the first web browser which he called ‘WorldWideWeb’ and the initial internet server HTTP daemon.

As early as 1991 people were joining the web from outside of CERN and in 1993 the crucial decision was taken to make this new technology royalty free; this allowed anyone with an interest to join in its developments, and speed its rapid growth.

Today the World Wide Web teems with information and interactive multi-media; personal records and shouts out to anyone who is listening. This has only occurred due to the freedom for all comers to add their input into developing the latest technologies that have enabled the framework to expand so quickly. It is the open web communities that have developed HTML5, CSS3 and WebGL, which are the latest in a series of developments that have built on the initial concept.

There are also the commercial behemoths that have used the web; and its ability to provide billions of customers; to build empires at unheard of speeds. The two main drivers are e-commerce and social media, as even on the internet, what we really want to do is shop and chat. These companies are now using part of their wealth to invest in new ideas and technologies, purely for financial gain, but the funding is helping to expand the reach of the web deeper into our lives so that it is becoming a constant companion, accessible wherever humans choose to go.

What the next 25 years will bring is anybody’s guess, although we now have a new profession that specialises in forecasting future requirements, aiming to develop the technologies ahead of demand.