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Twenty years ago today

Dave Reeder, Editorial Director, CPI

Actually, it was 20 years ago on the 6th August that the world’s first Web site was published.

Not surprisingly, it was pretty basic, not least because it was rather dry and aimed at a very specific community: researchers and soon to be pioneers on what was grandly referred to as the World Wide Web.

The Web site and its first page – http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html – was put together by young British scientist Tim Berners-Lee at CERN in the Swiss Alps. The site and first ever Web server ran on a NeXT computer and the initial page provided information for the WWW project: hypertext, technical protocols for creating Web pages and details on how to search the Web for information. Sadly, no copy was kept of the page.

Today, there are well over one trillion unique URLs (the number discovered by Google on July 25th 2008) and well over 110 million web sites. Back in 1991, however, the only people with Web browsers were Berners-Lee and his CERN colleagues. The momentous tipping point in human knowledge sharing appeared unnoticed by the wider world and it was a good two years later that the arrival of the Mosaic browser began to jumpstart the growth of Web access and usage.

The year after that, in 1994, Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium at MIT. The aim? Simply to create global standards.

Looking back, it seems inconceivable that there was a time we worked and communicated without the Web and the Net, that we used letters and faxes and telex instead of e-mail and IM, were fixed to wired phones on our desk. A time, unbelievably, when business and communication were not instantaneous, we used the phone and personal contacts and libraries for research. When was the last time you used a library?

The Web has changed all the rules and I guess for the better. However, I think it salutary to remind ourselves that many of the world’s largest companies – from GE to GM, Ford to Unilever – made themselves in global behemoths with communications based on manual typewriters, banks of stenographers, filing cabinets full of company information and telegrams used for urgent messages.

How did they manage it?

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