Twenty years ago today, the very first web page went up on the internet. Created by Tim Berners-Lee while under the employ of particle-smasher CERN, he wanted a way to create a web of documents that could be hyperlinked together and accessed without needing another individual on the other side of the line to pick up. There’s a lot of things the World Wide Web is, but a lot it’s not. For example, the world wide web is not “the internet”, but a single way of transferring information across it. The creation of the WWW (or W3) changed the face of not just the internet, but mankind as we know it.
Web pages, web sites, your Facebook wall and your eBay page, among billions of other artifacts, are the result of the W3. All are written on a base of HTML (HyperText Markup Language) interpreted by a browser on your computer, be it Chrome, Internet Explorer, etc. (The rise of the browser caused a big snuckus in the nineties, which ultimately lead to Microsof’ts anti-trust trial, but that’s another matter entirely.) Anyway, your browser reads the HTML and draws a web site based on those instructions. Point to any site, boom, things start drawing. Different browsers do it in different ways and they all integrate a mish-mash of other languages in the process and so forth, but ultimately, it’s all the same stuff now that it was back in 1993. You can still right-click anywhere in the page and view the source just to see that code.
At its most basic, you may think of basic hypertext as a Wikipedia document with a bunch of blue links to other places – although not that ugly, thankyouverymuch – but companies quickly figured out a way to make money with the language, inventing whole new ways of doing commerce, ultimately pumping up the Dot Com Bubble. Yahoo!, Amazon and eBay are all the result of HTML and the HTTP protocol used to transfer it being royalty-free for anyone to copy and use as they see fit. Dial-up providers like Prodigy and America On-Line closed off access to the World Wide Web so that they could funnel customers into their own proprietary channels and programs locked off from the rest of the internet.
Heck, you may have written some code yourself. I wrote my first web page in 1998 in Notepad. It was a simple thing that broke as soon as something changed, but it gave me a key understanding to how things worked on that wild web frontier. You can still do it today! It’d take you a million years since much of it is generated automatically by other code (which is why web sites are so biiiiiig now), which also lead to the creation of Web 2.0 services like Facebook and Foursquare and beyond.
Grab your noisemakers and grab out your cake because we celebrate DUB DUB DUB today!