CERN Geneva celebrates 20 years of the World Wide Web

Filed Under: Featured

It was twenty years ago tonight,
  That Sir Timbo brought the web to light.
It's been gaining features all the while,
  But it's guaranteed to raise a smile.

So may I introduce to you
  The act you've known for all these years,
CERN Geneva's Global World Wide Web!

It's CERN Geneva's Global World Wide Web,
  We hope you will enjoy the show.
It's CERN Geneva's Global World Wide Web,
  Sit back and let your privacy go.

CERN Geneva's Global,
   CERN Geneva's Global,
CERN Geneva's Global World Wide Web!

[With apologies to Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Starr. And, of course, to Sir Timothy.]

It was twenty years ago today that the World Wide Web came out to play, with CERN Geneva officially putting the Web, and the early client and server side software that made it work, into the public domain.

Naked Security colleague Graham Cluley emailed me remind me that CERN had celebrated by putting an early version of the first website back online at its original URL.

But Graham couldn't get much further.

"If you follow the link and try to access the actual original first webpage," he wrote, "It's inaccessible, presumably because everyone is trying :)"

So I thought I'd look into things when the dust had settled a little.

And since everyone else seems to be writing intellectually meaningful pieces about what this great anniversary reminds us about the evolution of our post-modern, always-on, interconnected, map-reduced, object-oriented, long-tailed, hypermedial global village, I thought I'd just show you a sequence of pictures.

Here's what's to see.

CERN's document that officially put the World Wide Web into the public domain on 30 April 1993:

The document putting the Web into the public domain isn't itself in the public domain, so I also need to show you this:

The republished version of the very early CERN website is at the original URL of, but whether due to high traffic or simply due to its old-school content, Firefox wasn't terribly happy:

Rather delightfully, the Lynx text-mode browser had no such trouble:

Indeed, who needs a browser when you can use vi, the ultimate line-mode HTML viewer:

And the only sad part of the whole tribute was that it wasn't the original web server (unless CERN really does have a time machine, and projected HTTP/1.1, Apache and the existence of HTTP headers back in time):

Are you disappointed that it's not quite the real thing?

I wasn't disappointed.

It's fun to reminisce, and, anyway, why would anyone look back on the old days of the internet except with delight?

Think how much easier things were.

No DOM, no jQuery (no JavaScript to run it!), no IFRAMEs, no Flash plugins, no Java applets.

No malware (OK, that's wishful thinking, but there wasn't very much), no cookies, no ads, and no popups to tell you're the 999,999th visitor for the 999,999th time.

Oh, and no Internet Explorer.

No Firefox, for that matter, and no Opera, no Chrome (no Google to write it!), no Facebook, no Twitter, no eBay, no Amazon and certainly, definitely, absolutely no lolcats.

And, for what it's worth, no Sir Tim: he wasn't knighted until 2004.

So, looking back, the Naked Security team says, "Well done, web pioneers!"

And special thanks to CERN, for wading through its own bureaucracy to launch The Web without any.

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4 Responses to CERN Geneva celebrates 20 years of the World Wide Web

  1. R. Dale Barrow · 818 days ago

    There are many web sites (mostly .edu) whose pages were probably crafted by hand (using EMACS no doubt) using the most basic of HTML tags. The source code is easy to read and the rendered pages have an elegant simplicity about them. Your link to the original CERN page is a good example.

    Too many web page creators lose sight of how important *content* is and seem to focus on how much dancing baloney (mostly ads) they can lard onto the page. It's not uncommon to have to download several megabytes of data only to find content that would fit nicely in a couple of tweets.

    • Nigel · 817 days ago

      "Too many web page creators lose sight of how important *content* is..."

      Indeed, but then the Internet has evolved to encompass purposes that go beyond the simple transfer of information that provides the answer to a specific question. In fact, it's arguable that the constant flow of tweets serves purposes that are more aligned with the human need to talk than with any real desire to listen or learn...

      ...which is not to derogate the significantly richer environment that the WWW has come to provide. As with the evolution of any complex phenomenon, the web has its share of both advantages and know---just like the rest of human society. ; )

  2. Both sides · 817 days ago

    For what it's worth, by the time that now has rolled around, viz., 23:22 UMT, Safari (at least) sees that page unhesitatingly and without delay, glitches, or time warps.

  3. 2072 · 817 days ago

    I couldn't resist:

    the very first web page fails to pass the W3C validator! The lack of the HTML tag being probably the main issue.

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About the author

Paul Ducklin is a passionate security proselytiser. (That's like an evangelist, but more so!) He lives and breathes computer security, and would be happy for you to do so, too. Paul won the inaugural AusCERT Director's Award for Individual Excellence in Computer Security in 2009. Follow him on Twitter: @duckblog