My concept of the world changed on a cold November evening in Brandon, Manitoba, 1994. I attended a public information meeting put on by a new company (I forget the name) that called itself an “Internet Service Provider” (ISP, for short). The company was offering access to the Internet, a global system of interconnected computer networks, upon which I would be able to send and receive electronic mail, and most intriguing, browse across and between pages of text and image documents (hyper)linked together into a “world wide web” of freely and readily accessible information. The sell was accomplished simply by providing a live demonstration. I was totally captivated.
The next day, I drove down to the local computer store and bought a SupraFAXModem 14400 to connect my Apple Macintosh Classic computer via the telephone line to the Internet. I got a 15-year old kid in town to supply me with a 3.5″ floppy disk loaded with the necessary TCP/IP and PPP software, an email client, and a copy of the NCSA Mosaic web browser. After just a couple phone calls to that same 15-year old kid to help me troubleshoot some initial configuration problems, I was on! (Incidentally, that kid went to work for Apple Computer at the age of 17.)
This was long before search engines like Google. And Yahoo! was nothing more than a list of website links. I recall going down to Waldenbooks (remember them?) to buy a copy of The Internet Yellow Pages so I’d have a bunch of interesting websites to visit. I gather that for me and many others in that first wave or two of adopters, “surfing the web” was primarily an intriguing though mind-expanding hobby. But before too long, it would become a critical and transformative tool. I can certainly remember, but I am finding it increasingly difficult to imagine attempting to perform my job today as a librarian, information professional, and scholar before there was a World Wide Web.
April 30, 1993
My reminiscence is triggered by the fact that today is April 30, and 20 years ago today the World Wide Web (W3) was put into the public domain by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). The statement document includes these words:
CERN’s intention in this is to further compatibility, common practices, and standards in networking and computer supported collaboration. … CERN relinquishes all intellectual property rights to this code, both source and binary form and permission is granted for anyone to use, duplicate, modify and redistribute it.
The invention and naming of the World Wide Web is attributed to British physicist Tim Berners-Lee in 1989, while working at CERN. Berners-Lee conceived and developed the World Wide Web to facilitate the sharing of information between scholars and scientists, and it has grown dramatically since then. CERN’s website coverage of this historic 20th anniversary declares: “Twenty years of a free, open web.” Arguably the dramatic growth and innovation over the last 20 years—including the capacity for online and open access publishing—is directly attributable to this original intention of freedom and openness. May it always be so. Happy Birthday World Wide Web!
UPDATE (May 1, 2013): I retitled this post to clarify that April 30, 2013 marks 20 years since the code for the World Wide Web was put into the public domain.