Happy 25th Birthday, World Wide Web! Our Gift: An Intentionally Brief History Of You

Light the candles, pop some bubbly, and fire up your favorite browser: The World Wide Web is a quarter of a century old today.

On March 12, 1989, the visual layer of the Internet was quietly revealed, fundamentally changing the way we communicate, research, consume and share media, waste time at work, and, well, do everything else really. It was called the World Wide Web. To celebrate, we've put together a purposefully brisk and oversimplified history (trust us, you don't want to see the unabridged version) leading up to its now 25 years of existence.

1858
The first Atlantic cable was installed, allowing humans to communicate electronically across an ocean for the very first time.

1969
The Department of Defense establishes the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, or ARPANET, connecting mainframe computers all over the world for the next 20 years. Hello, proto-Internet!

March 12, 1989
Tired of waiting for responses from his colleagues, Tim Berners-Lee, a software engineer at CERN, invents a system for exchanging data and results over the Internet. He submits his proposal for a browser-based, hypertext system to management on March 12. Eventually, this would become the World Wide Web.

1990
The World Wide Web officially launches with the first-ever webpage, which is still available at its original URL.

July 18, 1992
The first-ever photo is posted to the web. The ur-Photoshop image is of science-themed girl group called Les Horribles Cernettes, which was made up of the girlfriends and secretaries of CERN's scientists.



Yes, it was a .gif file.

1991
Regular folks--like you and me!--outside of the CERN are allowed to join the web for the first time.

1992
AOL for Windows launches, soon spawning a host of online-based competitors like Prodigy (not to be confused with The Prodigy), and CompuServe, as well as mailing countless unused CD-Roms to doorsteps everywhere. As of August 2013, AOL still had 2.58 million paid subscribers.

April 22, 1993
Mosaic, a browser co-written by Marc Andreesen that had the amazing ability to display text and images at the same time, launches, creating the anatomy of the modern web page. Thanks to a legal dispute in 1994, however, the company was forced to change the name of its browser, which it rechristened as Netscape Navigator.

1993
In a major shift, CERN announces that the World Wide Web's technology would be available for anyone to use royalty-free.

January 1994
Two Stanford students, Jerry Yang and David Filo, create a website called "Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web." Later that March, they decided to rename the portal to something slightly catchier: Yahoo.



1994-1995
Web-based email comes to the browser! One of the first versions unveiled in the United States, Webex, was, in fact, written by Fast Company chief technology officer Matt Mankins.

September 15, 1997
Two more Stanford students register a domain for a new kind website that made it vastly easier to index and comb the web. They called it Google. You should try it sometime!

August 1998
Pets.com launches, raising $121 million from investors. The company filed for an IPO in 2000, and was liquidated just 268 days later, effectively sounding the dotcom era's death knell.

August 2003
Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson launch an enormously popular website, MySpace, that allows users to build profiles and connect with one another, sewing the early fabric of the social web. "MySpace Tom" becomes a household name--and every user's first online friend.



February 4, 2004
Less than a year later, a Harvard student named Mark Zuckerberg invents a similar social-networking website called Facebook. You may have heard of it.

March 21, 2006
This happened:

2007
Apple's Steve Jobs pulls out a tiny computer called the iPhone, effectively putting a usable version of the web in the pockets of non-techy consumers.

2014
The World Wide Web turns 25. Before the end of the year, it is expected to cross the 1 billion-website threshold. According to Pew Internet Research, 87% of Americans now use it, too, and a full 90% of them say that the web has been good for their lives overall.

How about you--has it been good for your life, lo these past 25 years? Tell us all about it below in the comments.

[Image: Flickr user jronaldlee]

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15 Comments

  • Alloryn Wiggins

    An email list called "Our-Kids" got me through the first year of my daughter's life. A single mom with a great career who'd had the most picture-perfect pregnancy with no issues or signs of problems, I was was gobsmacked when my daughter was born with a very rare chromosomal anomaly known as Prader-Willi Syndrome.

    No one in my city or geographical area had ever heard of it. All of the info I was given was terrifying. My family was 625 miles away. Our-Kids was my support system. Without this group, I doubt I would have made it through as well as I have.

    They still exist -- in email list format only and with a basic (and now very, very 'retro') website from which one can sign up for the list. http://www.our-kids.org/ -- this is the same site I saw in 1996.

    That was my first serious need for the Internet. It hasn't subsided one bit.

  • I wrote a primer on the Web a couple of weeks ago that provides a bit more in-depth history up to 1994. It's a nice complement to this timeline. Here's a link:

    http://denovati.com/2014/03/understanding-the-world-wide-web

    The primer will be part of the intro to a book we're working on in which thought leaders and other netizens reflect on the past, present, and future of the Web. We're still accepting contributions if folks are interested. You can learn more here:

    http://denovati.com/books/world-wide-web-book/guidelines

  • Nick France

    I can tell you it's been very good for me, as I've made a living as a web designer and now a social and content marketer since 1996. All four of my children have only known me as the "web guy". Not to mention all the conveniences it affords me in my personal life. The iPhone truly was the most significant achievement thus far. Mobile is a game changer. Happy Birthday, World Wide Web!

  • Arup Bhanja

    I first saw it in 1997 when I was told to do some research in pharma companies in India. As there was no printer in the Cyber Cafe where I 'surfed' I had to save the HTML web pages into 3.5 inch diskettes and then show them to my client in his computer. Since he did not have Windows - I wrote a code in FoxPro to extract the text from the <tag...> soups of HTML and thus started my WWW journey - still going strong!

  • Pablo Galiana

    I started ysing the internet during my Erasmus university year In France In 1994 and it blew me off.

    Then from 1998 through 2000 lived the dotcom bubble while doing my MBA at University of MĂ­chigan and this also blew me off.

    10 years later and after having engaged in my marketing job in mĂșltiple digital initiatives I started working for Google, and 20 years into this the WWW still blows me off every day.

    My congratulations to all those that madre it posible.

  • Being presented by the company i work for, i want to thank Aramark for this brief history and presentation of something American's seem to not notice like their morning coffee or shoes. This really is a reason to celebrate the web and join the world as we are Mach speeds ahead now! Thank you World Wide Web.....Gabe Stoecker

  • L Peat O'Neil

    Didn't see anything on the timeline re: localized use-nets like SF Bay Area's The Well and others - launchpads for users to understand breadth and point of the web.

  • Chad Hartwick

    Friendster was big enough to be considered the real start of a personal social profile on the web. It was the BIG THING that the NEXT BIG THING called MySpace

  • The useable mobile internet was available several years before the iPhone. The Nokia N95, launched nearly a year before the iPhone kept 10's of millions of people outside the USA happy by doing everything the iPhone did and more, albeit in a annoying way.

  • "Apple's Steve Jobs pulls out a tiny computer called the iPhone, effectively putting a usable version of the web in the pockets of non-techy consumers."

    The most important part of that sentence is "non-techy consumers."

  • You're both (Tom and Daniel) missing some key words in 'USEABLE version of the web in the pockets of NON-TECHY consumers'

    Daniel, Chris never claimed it to be the first. C'mon guys! You're better than this.

    Thanks for the article, Chris. Fun, short, and to the point.

  • Greg Mercer

    Great overall. I waste lots of time with it, sure, but it all comes out of TV time. Tremendous resource, fun stuff too: like life, it's what you make of it.