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.

Happy 25th Birthday, World Wide Web! Our Gift: An Intentionally Brief History Of You
[Image: Flickr user jronaldlee]

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.


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

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.


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.

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

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.

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.


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 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:


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 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.


About the author

Chris is a staff writer at Fast Company, where he covers business and tech. He has also written for The Week, TIME, Men's Journal, The Atlantic, and more


#FCFestival returns to NYC this September! Get your tickets today!