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CERN Celebrates 20 Years of The Free And Open Web

Of all the many applications and services that run on top of the Internet, arguably none has been more successful than that of the World Wide Web. Invented by Tim Berners-Lee back in 1989 while he was a physicist at CERN, the “Web” has fundamentally changed almost every aspect of our life… and become a part of basically every aspect of our life. Think of a part of your life… and then think of the websites that are part of that. Whether it is social networks, banking, shopping, dating, news, reading, publishing, writing, gaming, sports and now even communicating in real-time… all are aspects that somehow involve the “Web”.

Today, April 30, is a special day in the history of the Web, because, as recounted on that newly-redesigned famous website (because it was the first website), info.cern.ch, it was twenty years ago today that CERN published a statement that put the WWW technology out in the public domain for all to use. Building on the long history of openness of the Internet, CERN stated very clearly that “CERN relinquishes all intellectual property rights to this code, both source and binary form and permission is granted for anyone to use, duplicate, modify and redistribute it”.

And thus was born the wider Web ... anyone could download, use and modify the W3 server software and the W3 client and start creating new sites. And people did! By the tens… and hundreds… and on and on… changing and modifying the code to satisfy their own dreams and ideas. Keep in mind, this was before Mosaic and other graphical clients changed the Web again by introducing images along with text. The original Web was one of text. I remember telnetting to info.cern.ch back in the early ‘90s to see what this “World Wide Web” thing was all about - and pressing numbers to follow links. It was a very different world.

Still, from those early days - and more importantly from the openness of those early days - came everything else about the Web that we use today. Those early adopters didn’t need to ask anyone for permission to innovate… they just downloaded the code and started hacking away.

Thank you, CERN, for the reminder of the importance of today - and of the incredible importance of an open Web… riding on top of an open Internet.

P.S. Vint Cerf has a great retrospective out today as well: The open internet and the web

By Dan York, Author and Speaker on Internet technologies - and on staff of Internet Society

Dan is the Director, Online Content, for the Internet Society but opinions posted on CircleID are his own. View more of Dan’s writing and audio here.

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