25 years of the World Wide Web: Tim Berners-Lee explains how it all began

From a single machine in Switzerland to a global network of computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets - the web has spread far and wide

Today marks the 25th birthday of an invention which has changed humanity forever, and created a new virtual world within a generation. There was no birthday cake yesterday, but you could have been forgiven for thinking a celebrity had just shown up at the Science Museum.

Instead, photographers and film crews were clustered around a black, decidedly old-fashioned computer and keyboard. In an attempt to make the spectacle a little more exciting, museum bosses had dressed up a worker in obligatory science garb – white coat and white gloves.

Baroness Martha Lane Fox was in attendance. The peer, who recently completed a stint as the government's digital champion, took the limelight as the media gave up attempts to make the computer look interesting. Crowds of school-children passed by with barely a glance - understandable given the uninspiring sight of an old computer.

Read more: 10 things you need to know about the web (including how much it weighs)

But they couldn’t have been more wrong. For the NeXT cube is the machine on which the World Wide Web was created by British computer scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee. The only hint of its importance a tattered white sticker with the warning: "This machine is a server: DO NOT POWER IT DOWN!!" It may be hard to believe now, but the worldwide web did not exist 25 years ago - until Sir Tim invented a way of using networks of computers to talk to each other.

Yet there was no initial grand ambition to emancipate the world through freedom of information for all. The beginnings were much more mundane: an attempt to improve communication between the thousands of scientists involved with Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, in Switzerland.

Sir Tim was a 34-year-old physics graduate working as a software engineer at Cern in 1989, when he wrote a paper simply titled "Information Management: A Proposal". It stated: "the hope would be to allow a pool of information to develop which could grow and evolve with the organisation and the projects it describes". Ironically, the aim was envisaged as "a universal linked information system" where "generality and portability are more important than fancy graphics techniques and complex extra facilities".

It was initially damned with faint praise, his boss Mike Sendall writing "vague but exciting" on the cover.

Undaunted, Sir Tim went on to write the the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP), HyperText Markup Language (HTML), and the first ever web browser, WorldWideWeb. The web was initially called "Mesh" - with "World Wide Web" being coined by Sir Tim in 1990. By 1993 Cern allowed the technology to be freely used by all. And within a few years millions of people worldwide were hooked on the flow of information which the web delivers.

The decades since have seen dotcom fortunes made and lost, and the rise of social media sites. There are now more than 600 million websites worldwide, and the web has changed things forever for people who are able to access information and share things in a way not possible to a previous generation.

It has provided a new dimension through which to communicate. The scale is vast, with billions online, and hundreds of millions of messages and 20 million pictures exchanged every single minute - not to mention billions spent.

While most would have shamelessly exploited the accolade of being the person to single-handedly invent the web, Sir Tim has largely shunned the limelight and continues to work to promote the principles of the web through the World Wide Web Foundation, which he founded, as well as his role as director of the World Wide Web Consortium.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee speaks after receiving the first ever Millennium Technology Prize in Helsinki in 2004 (Getty) Sir Tim Berners-Lee speaks after receiving the first ever Millennium Technology Prize in Helsinki in 2004 (Getty)

Today is an "important milestone" according to Sir Tim. He hopes the anniversary "will spark a global conversation about our need to defend principles that have made the Web successful, and to unlock the Web's untapped potential".

But his dream of a Web which is free and accessible to all is under threat as never before - with the forces of commerce and government spy agencies alike bringing issues of privacy and control over data to the fore. Sir Tim is calling on people to make suggestions for what they want the web to be, via social media using hashtag #web25 or online at webat25.org

"If we want a Web that is truly for everyone, then everyone must play a role in shaping its next 25 years," he said.

Three in five people worldwide still do not have access to the Web, but Sir Tim is optimistic this will change. "I believe we can build a Web that truly is for everyone: one that is accessible to all, from any device, and one that empowers all of us to achieve our dignity, rights and potential as humans."

For all its obvious advantages, the web has a dark side. Literally. The "dark web", as it is known, where everything from guns to drugs are openly traded. Even on the wider Internet, danger lurks in the form of everything from paedophile networks to suicide websites and those promoting terrorism.

Home base: Facebook HQ Home base: Facebook HQ

"The web is just a tool created by people - reflecting both the best and worst of humanity. It's not a utopian technology that can work outside of our existing social rules and structures," said Tilly Blyth, lead curator of a new permanent gallery which will open at the Science Museum in the autumn. The "Information Age" gallery will showcase how the way we live has been transformed by advances over the past 200 years in the way people are able to exchange information and communicate.

"What Tim Berners-Lee did that was really unique was that he thought of a way of allowing any machine all over the world to share information using a linking system," said Ms Blyth.

And she is confident the computer on which he conceived the Web is set to be a star attraction: "I imagine it will draw crowds because it’s so significant to people’s lives; we all use the Web every day and to think that you're looking at the first Web server, the first machine that ever delivered a webpage, is incredible."

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

    Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

    Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line IT Support Engineer

    £23500 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Essex based I.T solution provid...

    Recruitment Genius: Internal Sales Executive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: New exciting opportunity has ri...

    Day In a Page

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders