The first time I signed into a chat room, nearly 16 years ago, I don’t think I realized how young World Wide Web actually was. At that time I knew about America Online, Netscape Navigator, and CompuServe; in fact I thought everyone knew about those things. The reality is, I was there during the infancy of our dear friend World Wide Web.
As this March approaches and we come to the 21st anniversary of the first WWW page to go online, I have been taking a proverbial “trip down memory lane.” I can still hear that cordial voice informing me of the fact that “You’ve got mail.” I have an image burned into my mind of the AltaVista and HotBot search engine home pages. And I vividly recall the sound of my modem dialing in.
An awful lot has changed in the past twenty-one years. We no longer have to wait to connect when checking our email; we do not even have to use a computer! Your “status” can be updated at any time, from any place. Our news doesn’t come from a single paper or a few TV channels; we use readers and RSS aggregators to pick and choose what we want to hear about from literally thousands of sources. And “Google” isn’t just a search engine, it’s a verb…. how often do you Google your own name?
In the Beginning
Towards the end of 1989, Sir Tim Berners Lee envisioned a system of inter-connected computers which could be used to learn anything you wished to know. Along with Robert Cailliau, a Belgian computer scientist, Sir Tim put the earliest web server online using the NeXT Computer System, a high-end workstation computer which ran a Unix-based operating system. They also wrote the first web server application called CERN HTTPd, and the initial browser, WorldWideWeb. The first live URL ever was http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html; in fact it is still a valid address, making it also the oldest URL in history.
What began as a tool to aid physicists in sharing information amongst each other has evolved into a global network that links all of us together. Sir Lee made the brilliant move of making his ideas publicly available and free for the taking, thus allowing millions of people to come together to expound on and expand upon his work. The idea of open source or free software was picked up by developers of other browsers such as Mosaic, Netscape (Mozilla) and even Microsoft.
Today’s most popular web server software, Apache, is open source as well. All of this has combined to allow everyone to experience and use the web with relatively low cost. Like the internet’s technological predecessors of radio and television, people have the ability to take part in the fun without the need to mortgage their home, which has helped to create this enormous World Wide Web tidal wave.
A “Coming of Age” Story
Netcraft LTd, a company that has taken on the task of surveying the entire internet, estimates that there are currently 206,741,990 web sites. Using search engine statistics, WorldWideWebSize.com calculates a total of 23.2 billion unique pages exist. From humble origins on a single computer, to a global behemoth of billions of connected devices and people, World Wide Web certainly has come a long way in twenty-one short years! And, might I add, hasn’t really aged at all; like a fine wine, it simply becomes more valuable with each passing year.
Join me in my sentimental journey and think back to your first experiences going online. Think of the first search engine you used; maybe you were as impressed as I was when you got 30,000 results. Or perhaps you also had a Geocities web site, most of which was written entirely in Notepad. Do you remember the first time you LOL’d?
What experiences come to your mind when thinking of your first visit with World Wide Web?