The World Wide Web turns 30

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Without the World wide web we doubt you’d be reading this here and right now.

You’d probably be writing a postcard and eagerly waiting months for the post office to deliver your little envelope of news. Some of you don’t even know how life was before the World Wide Web, people had actual private lives.

Imagine. No Google, no Facebook, no Amazon. No email, no tweeting, no streaming. No Skyping, no Snapchat, no Airbnb. No online trolls.

In the world before the web, a lot of time was spent waiting. Appointments were kept on paper calendars. Photos were taken to a shop to be developed, which took some weeks. And maps, people actually learnt how to read them, or just set off on trips knowing they might get lost. Distant relations, high school boyfriends, co-workers faded into memory, but thanks to the world wide web, they’ve been resurrected only decades later by Facebook.

On March 12th, 30 years ago, Tim Berners-Lee submitted a proposal for an information management system, to his superior at the European physics laboratory CERN; and now half the world is online. Happy 30th birthday, World Wide Web!

It began by asking how future scientists would keep track of their increasingly large projects. “This proposal provides an answer to such questions,” he wrote. The proposal described what, in just a couple years’ time, would transform into the World Wide Web: a connected system for sharing information that would revolutionize how the entire planet communicated.

At the time, connected networks of computers had been up, running, and growing for a couple of decades. People had sent emails, shared files, ran message boards, and even created the first emoticons.

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But it wasn’t until the World Wide Web came along that the internet at large really began to take off. Web browsers, webpages, and hyperlinks made information easy to find and move between, and because the core code was open sourced, anyone could create a browser or website of their own.

The web has become a public square, a library, a doctor’s office, a shop, a school, a design studio, an office, a cinema, a bank, and so much more. Of course with every new feature, every new website, the divide between those who are online and those who are not increases, making it all the more imperative to make the web available for everyone.

And while the web has created opportunity, given marginalised groups a voice, and made our daily lives easier, it has also created opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred, and made all kinds of crime easier to commit. As much as there are news stories about how the web is misused every other day, it’s understandable that many people feel afraid and unsure if the web is really a force for good. But given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be pessimistic and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better in the next 30.