Information Management, a Proposal
While working at CERN, Tim Berners-Lee first comes up with the idea for the World Wide Web. To pitch it, he submits a proposal for organizing scientific documents to his employers titled “Information Management, a Proposal.” In this proposal, Berners-Lee sketches out what the web will become, including early versions of the HTTP protocol and HTML.
Col Needham publishes a few Unix scripts to a Usenet group for browsing and searching through a user generated index of movie lists subdivided into several categories. He calls it the rec.arts.movies movies database. Years later, Needham and a few others would move the interface online and incorporate officially as IMDb.
Tim Berners-Lee releases WorldWideWeb (later Nexus) on Christmas day, the first ever browser for the web. It is far from primitive, featuring a built-in HTML editor alongside graphical features. However, it is only available on NeXT machines and fails to gain much traction.
The Web’s First (And Second) Browser
Published: September 25, 2017
The web’s first browser featured full color, read/write capabilities, and multiple windows. The second browser was a text-only command line tool. Guess which one people actually used?
Engineers at the University of Minnesota develop Gopher, a new internet protocol and early competitor to the web. Gopher organizes documents using a tight hierarchy that can be accessed through Gopher clients, similar to web browsers.
What the Web Could Have Been
Published: April 18, 2017
Before the web, Gopher offered a way to connect to the Internet and share documents. And if things had gone a little differently, it might even be what we use to surf information today.
Line Mode Browser
Nicola Pellow finishes work on the Line Mode Browser, a text only CLI-based browser for accessing the web. Because of its simplicity, the browser could be easily ported to a variety of operating systems making it incredibly popular despite a limited feature set.
“Surf the Net”
Brendan Kehoe, while inquiring about a troublesome user on a Usenet newsgroup, coins the phrase “net-surfing.” Over time, surfing the net, will become a more or less common idiom.
WWW Virtual Library
In order to keep tabs on new websites, Tim Berners-Lee creates a hypertext list on the CERN site he calls the WWW Virtual Library. To get on the list, site owners could personally email Berners-Lee their link, and he would add it. The Library would later move to its own site.
Tim Berners-Lee Announces the WWW
Berners-Lee, responding to a thread on the
alt.hypertext Usenet newsgroup, publicly announces the World Wide Web project for the first time. In the coming months, Berners-Lee would use other newsgroups to help spread word about the web.
The Importance of Being on Usenet
Published: July 17, 2017
Ever wondered how people found about the web. The first transmission of its existence was a digital one, a Usenet post that sparked a following of early web pioneers.
The First Website
Tim Berners-Lee publishes the first website as a way of both demonstrating what the web was, and explaining it’s purpose. It ran off of Berners-Lee’s NeXT computer and included a list of links to other relevant CERN documents. It would be the point of discovery for many early web adopters.
HTML (Hypertext Markup Language)
Tim Berners-Lee publicly links to a draft of HTML on the www-talk mailing list. HTML is a hypertext markup language used by developers to create websites, and is the foundation of the WWW. The language itself was influenced by similar efforts like SGML, but has since evolved into a lot more.
A Brief History of Hypertext
Published: February 20, 2017
Without hypertext, there would be no World Wide Web. But its name and conception predate the web’s creation by decades.
The HTTP Protocol
As part of his specification for the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee introduces HTTP as a way for clients (web browsers) to communicate with servers. The first draft, HTTP v0.9, includes only one method, a GET request, used by clients as a read-only way to retrieve web pages.
A team at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Laboratory launches the first web server and website in the United States at slac.stanford.edu. The website is notable for its connection to the SPIRES-HEP database, a digital repository of tens of thousands of particle physics papers that gave instant utility to a still incipient web.
The First Website in the United States Was Made for Physicists
Published: January 21, 2020
Tim Berners-Lee has said, on multiple occasions, the the first website in the US was one of the major reasons the web took off. But what did it do and why was it so important?
After helping to launch the website of SLAC, Louise Addis forms the WWW Wizards group. The group would go through a few name changes over the next few years, but they were crucial in helping users understand how the web worked, both at Stanford and around the world through active development contributions and support of web creators.
Notable as the first browser developed outside of CERN, ViolaWWW was a browser developed by Pei-Yuan Wei while working at UCLA Berkley. The browser was an experiment, meant to demonstrate the power of Wei’s scripting language, Viola, the browser was among the first to render tables, scriptable objects, and stylesheets and would serve as a template for many of the browsers released in subsequent years.
Tim Berners-Lee presents the Uniform Resource Identifier (URI), later renamed to the Uniform Resource Locator (URL), to the IETF. The URL is one of the founding technologies of the web, and is a standards that dictates how web page addresses are constructed, allowing browsers to easily connect to documents across the decentralized network.
What Happens When You Enter a URL In Your Browser of Choice
Published: April 15, 2019
There’s this scene in the second season of The Crown (if you watch enough old movies, you’ll see the same kind […]
BBEdit releases the first version of their text editor with the unique slogan “It doesn’t suck.” A few years later, BBEdit 4.0 would make HTML editing a core feature, with support for syntax highlighting and uploading directly to a web server.
Lynx was a text only browser created by programmers at the University of Kansas. Though it ran entirely inside of a terminal, and therefore had a higher than average barrier to entry, it nevertheless provided users with basic formatting and keyboard shortcuts for navigating the web. One of its creators, Lou Montulli, would later become one of the founding members of the Netscape team.
Veronica Search Engine
Veronica is created as a new Gopher server type specifically built for indexing and searching other Gopher servers. Veronica was able to index results from thousands of servers at time, and translate a text based search into a list of available documents.
Originally known as the Common Library, libwww offers a programatic foundation for creating browsers. Tim Berners-Lee salvages a lot of code from his WorldWideWeb browser in order to create the package, and releases it open source to a growing web community. It would aid in the creation of over half a dozen browsers in under a year.
Originally known as simply MacWWW, Robert Calliau and Nicola Pellow develop the first browser for the Mac at CERN in 1992. Version 1.0 would officially be released a year later, though popularity would quickly wane once Mosaic released a Mac version of their browser.
Tony Johnson, a researcher at SLAC, develops MidasWWW. It runs on Unix machines and is not dissimilar from other graphical browsers at the time with one notable difference. It could display PDF documents in browser, a key feature for scientists and academics hoping to browse the web for research papers.
NCSA releases Mosaic version 1.0, developed by Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina. It features inline multimedia, an easy to use GUI, and visual elements for web designers to make use of. Soon after launch, Mosaic would become the most popular browser on the market.
The Origin of the IMG Tag
Published: March 7, 2017
Why is it the <img> tag instead of the <image> tag? The answer, it turns out, dates back to one of the web’s earliest browsers and one of the web’s earliest discussions.
CERN puts the Web in the public domain
At the urging of Berners-Lee and his team, and thanks in part to the downturn of Gopher after they began charging for their protocol and software, CERN officially enters the World Wide Web into the public domain, making it freely available to anyone. It is perhaps the single most impactful decision made on behalf of the web, and enabled an entire generation of programmers to extend it, build with it, and spread it.
Thomas R Bruce publicly announces his plans for the release of the first ever Windows graphical browser. As a lawyer himself, Bruce created the browser for other lawyers and focused on making it as easy to install as possible. In the early days of the web, it was a popular choice for Windows users.
NCSA What’s New
NCSA, the company behind Mosaic, creates What’s New, a webpage that highlights the most popular new sites updated every weekday. The page is added to the Mosaic browser homepage and receives quite a bit of traffic.
World Web Wanderer first deployed
Using web crawling technology he invented, Matthew Gray develops the World Wide Web Wanderer. The WWWW collects data about websites and stores it in a single database called the Wandex, offering some search-like functionality and a snapshot of the web’s global usage and spread.
How We Searched Before Search
Published: March 20, 2017
Believe it or not, there was a time before search engines. Discovery on the web was far more difficult. It was easy to get lost. That is, until a few different people created a map.
World Wide Web Wizards Workshop
A three day conference aimed at bringing together the greatest minds on the web and organized by Dale Dougherty at the O’Reilly offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was the first time that Tim Berners-Lee shared his idea for a web consortium, and included discussions about the future of web technologies and the ideological aim of the web project.
Making the Web For Everyone
Published: July 23, 2019
I talked a bit about the importance of the WWW Wizards Workshop last time in my recap on the importance […]
Global Network Navigator
Often referred to as the web’s first commercial publication, GNN is an interactive guide to the web that contains news stories and links to popular sites. It is updated regularly and would later become the first site to experiment with advertising.
World Wide Web Worm
Oliver McBryan develops the World Wide Web Worm (WWWW), one of the web’s first search engines. Most search engines of the time were manually curated, but the WWWW automatically crawled sites and kept them in a database, then matched them to user queries. It would not be released until March of the next years.
Oscar Nierstrasz publishes W3Catalog. The website is able to automatically compile several curated lists, like What’s New and the WWW Virtual Library, into one place using a web scraper built by Nierstrasz.
Internet Underground Music Archive (IUMA)
Started by a few students at UC Santa Cruz, the IUMA is at first a simple FTP drive of MP3 files from lesser-known bands that anyone can download and listen to for free. When the idea goes viral, the group begins soliciting submissions from bands around the world and builds a website to organize tracks and quick download links.
Ranjit’s HTTP Playground
Ranjit Bhatnagar launches one of the first examples of a personal website. His so-called “HTTP Playground” starts with a bulleted list of what he had for lunch every day. Over time, his content expands from the banal to the intimate, sharing stories and opinions from his life with an offbeat humor.
Dave Raggett publishes HTML+, a specification that extends HTML which had, at the time, grown stagnant. Included in HTML+ are many features that had already been implemented by browsers, such as tables and advanced forms. HTML+ would go on as an inspiration for HTML 3.2.
Common Gateway Interface (CGI)
The Common Gateway Interface is formalized as a standard by the NCSA Mosaic team. It allowed web servers to connect to more advanced scripts to generate dynamic HTML content. This allowed developers to execute programs from the server to do things like track visitors, process forms, or update content on a page.
Jerry Yang and David Filo create their online directory, Jerry and David’s guide to the World Wide Web, in just a few weeks while working on their electrical engineering degrees at Stanford. The site immediately garnered attention as the place for discovering new sites, organized into neat and tidy, but somewhat strange, categories. A few months later, the site would be renamed to simply Yahoo!.
The Useless Pages
After his realization that some of the best pages on the web are those that are the most useless, Paul Phillips launches The Useless Pages, a growing record of simple websites with little purpose. The site will eventually be run first by Steve Berlin, and later by John Gephart IV before it was closed completely in 2001.
The Long Tail of Uselessness
Published: March 22, 2022
When Paul Phillips the web is at its best when its being useless he did the only thing he could think of. He built his own useless site to catalog it.
The first stable verison of the Python programming language is officially released by Guido van Rossum. Though Python is not strictly a web language, it had references to the web and to HTML in its 1.0.0 release notes, and is often used in web applications to manipulate, process, and format data.
In a groundbreaking experiment in news publishing, Raleigh area newspaper News & Observer launches a number of digital projects aimed at growing a regional community hub. At launch, it included a website with reprinted local and national news, and an Internet Service Provider for North Carolinians. Though short-lived, it acted as a road map for other publishers coming online.
The Right to Link
Published: May 18, 2021
You can link to anything on the web. That’s a strength. And yet the right to link has been dragged into court on a regular basis for decades. Why is that?
Spyglass Rewrites the Mosaic Browser
Realizing that they had a product they didn’t know how to sell, NCSA turns to Spyglass to begin distributing the Mosaic browser commercially. Spyglass would eventually rewrite the Mosaic browser and license it to companies like IBM and O’Reilly Media, before it eventually became a foundational piece of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.
Before the Wars, Browsers Were Everywhere
Published: April 21, 2020
Before browsers were truly cross-platform, there was a time when each operating system had their browser of choice, and it was tailored to the needs of those users.
Developed by University of Washington computer science student Brian Pinkerton, WebCrawler was among the first search engines, and the first to offer full text search of page content. Within six months, it would serve over a million queries, and it was acquired by AOL shortly after its first anniversary. WebCrawler would change hands several more times over the years.
They Offered a Million Dollars to Surf The Web. Somebody Won.
Published: July 21, 2021
In 1995, it would be hard to believe that you could win a million dollars from surfing the web. Then, AOL made it possible.
Justin’s Links from the Underground
Justin Hall creates his first website from his Swathmore dorm room. He calls it Links from the Underground. It begins as a simple list of links but soon expands to one of the earliest examples of a blog on the web, with Justin sharing intimate details from his life every day.
Why Do We Call it a Homepage?
Published: December 1, 2020
The word homepage came into popular use in the mid to late 90’s, but it’s origin dates back to the web’s beginning.
HoTMeTaL enters the market as one of the first WYSIWYG editors created specifically for the web. The software is a hybrid of a text and visual editor, that lets users edit a document using custom styles, while still maintaining semantic HTML.
BookLink Technologies releases InternetWorks for Windows, the first browser to feature tabbed browsing and advanced browsing history features. Several months after its release, it would be acquired by AOL for use inside the platform, until it was replaced by Netscape.
A Fun List of Browsers You’ve Never Heard Of
Published: January 5, 2021
There are the browsers that everyone’s heard of. And then there are some that, for whatever reason, faded away. These are the latter.
Cool Site of the Day
Created by Glenn Davis as a way of featuring great new sites, Cool Site of the Day, was updated daily with a new website on its homepage. It would eventually garner millions of views a month, before its popularity waned.
The earliest example of a single serving website, Jeff Abrahamson quietly launches Purple.com. The site is purple. Just purple. Though it originally is released with a background color of #DD00FF, this is later changed to #7D26CD to make the site more “purple” looking.
Cyberia, widely regarded as the first official Internet café, opens its doors in London. The space is originally intended as a space for women to learn about the Internet, but it is open to all. The idea catches fire, and cyber café’s open up all over the world.
The Window at the Cafe
Published: July 3, 2017
Thanks to the web, in 1999 (or thereabouts), you might find yourself at home, staring at the virtual window of your computer screen, looking out the very real windows of your favorite cyber café.
The domain name for Tripod is registered, pre-dating most other free web hosting services like Geocities and Angelfire. Tripod’s explicit goal is to give college students a way of setting up a spot for themselves on the web, though it would eventually come to be known as an easy-to-use service for free web homepages.
W3C Interactive Talk
The W3C releases Interactive Talk, a form based discussion system. Interactive Talk is the first attempt at creating software that allows for two way conversation and is used mostly internally at the W3C. In the years to come, it would become the template for forums and message board software.
When Rotuma Came to the Web
Published: February 27, 2017
The web distributes access, access to information, and access to one another. Access on the web is what brings us to small island off the coast of Fiji, where web pioneers forged a unique community.
The First Banner Ad
Hotwired launches with the web’s first official banner ad, a simple image with the text “Have You Ever Clicked Your Mouse Right Here?” highlighting the forward thinking of AT&T. The ad brought users to a landing page that took them on a virtual tour of worldwide art museums.
Plagued by Ads
Published: January 22, 2018
Here’s a message from the creator of the first-ever pop-up ad: It’s obvious now that what we did was a […]
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
The World Wide Web Consortium is founded by Tim Berners-Lee with one location at MIT, and one at the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation. The W3C is a standards body organization, and makes recommendations to browsers for the technologies that make up the web. Its members include standards experts, browser makers, and multi-national companies with a stake in the web’s future.
Time Warner Pathfinder
An early example of an online web portal, Pathfinder hosted content from around 80 different content providers, major media publications that syndicated content to the site. It would soon become famous for an incredibly high turnover rate, but it would also be the starting point for many renowned tech journalists and entrepreneurs. It was officially shut down in April of 1999.
The first browser sold by Netscape Communications, Netscape Navigator is released to wide and critical appeal. It would eventually become the most popular browser in the world, until it is surpassed by Microsoft during the Browser Wars.
Larry Wall releases Perl version 5, a complete rewrite of the programming language that was originally released in late 1987. Perl 5 was the first library to feature first class support for database interfaces, and would soon be used to create an entirely new generation of webpages and web-based applications.
The Linguist and the Programmer
Published: February 4, 2020
A history of Perl, Python, and the websites that rely on them.
Wired Magazine‘s unveils its first online presence Hotwired.com, which would become the first commercial online magazine. The site’s design, from the very first version, sits on the cutting edge, and is redesigned on an almost yearly basis.
David Bohnett and John Rezner create a web hosting service called Beverly Hills Internet. After giving away a fixed amount of web storage for free, they change the name to Geocities and create a number of “neighborhoods” for amateur webmasters to connect through. Yahoo would later acquire Geocities in 1999, and take it offline in 2009.
An Ode to Geocities
Published: January 2, 2018
Geocities is likely a site you’ve heard of. It may even have been a site that you used. It’s origin, and the movement it later inspired, is an incredible story of self-expression and serendipity.
Claudio Pinhanez begins writing daily entries on the MIT Media Lab website. It becomes an early example of an online diary, and a template for others to follow — Pinahenz has one of the earliest examples of his posts arranged in reverse chronological format, which would become a standard format.
UK magazine publisher Future Publishing launches .net magazine. Though the content is initially for Internet users of any kind (including technologies like email and Gopher), it would eventually center largely on articles for web designers and developers. The magazine would go through several iterations before it was officially ended in June of 2020.
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A twice monthly dispatch about the web's history, and the incredible people that built it.