Do Not Power It Down!

A short tale about TimBL & the WWW

by Lorela Cano

A long long time ago (2007 for what matters), when I first read about the birth of the World Wide Web (WWW) in Dan Brown’s book Angels and Demons, I was not sure how much of it was fact and how much fiction. I turned out that the WWW was indeed invented at CERN by Tim Berners-Lee, also known as TimBL. Here follow the facts.

Lorela Cano is a PhD Candidate at Polytechnique School of Montreal in Electrical Engineering (Telecommunications track)

Lorela Cano is a PhD Candidate at Polytechnique School of Montreal in Electrical Engineering (Telecommunications track)

Although nowadays the “Internet” and the “WWW” are used interchangeably, the two are distinct inventions and the Internet did come first. The very first instance of a computer network, the ARPANET, dates back to 1969: it was a two-node network, connecting a UCLA computer to a Stanford one. Until the 90s, the Internet had grown but it was only used to send data and files.

Instead, the WWW is the oeuvre of Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist. He had the idea of combining hypertext with the Internet in 1989 while working at CERN with the goal of making it easier for scientists working at CERN to share research data among them as at the time they had to login to different computers which usually ran different programs. Encouraged by his boss, Mike Sendall and supported by Robert Cailliau, by 1990, he had materialized its proposal by building all necessary ingredients (a protocol (HTTP), a language (HTML), a web browser, a web server and its software), of what he called the World Wide Web. The world’s first web page address, http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html, came alive in 1991 with its web server residing indeed on Berners-Lee’s NeXT computer at CERN.

By ITU Pictures - Flicker: CC BY 2.0, https://www.flickr.com/photos/itupictures/16662336315

By ITU Pictures - Flicker: CC BY 2.0, https://www.flickr.com/photos/itupictures/16662336315

Only three years later, he founded the WWW Consortium (W3C) with the goal of standardizing the WWW. At the present, he is active in the areas of net neutrality, open data and affordable Internet access.

This NeXt Computer was used by Berners-Lee at CERN and became the world's first web server. Coolcaesar at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

This NeXt Computer was used by Berners-Lee at CERN and became the world's first web server. Coolcaesar at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

When asked about his invention, Berners-Lee once said: ”I just had to take the hypertext idea and connect it to the TCP and DNS ideas and - ta-da! - the World Wide Web”. This invention makes good case for the fact that, given the complexity of the modern world, nowadays great inventors will most likely be people who see beyond the single pieces and put them together.