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This Is For Everyone
December 25, 2012 3:13 AM   Subscribe

Twenty two years ago today, a British physicist, former trainspotter, science fiction fan and computer builder, with the help of Robert Cailliau and other colleagues at CERN, executed the first successful communication between a HTTP client and server on the Internet.

The web was devised in France (not Switzerland), and built on decades of hypertext and internet protocol developments. The first browser was called WorldWideWeb and ran on the NeXT computer. The first website was info.cern.ch. Despite promotion of the system within CERN, take-up was low for the first year or two.

By the end of 1993, there were 623 websites. In May 1994, the First International Conference on the World-Wide Web was held (at which the first Best of the Web award winners were announced), attracting 380 participants; the preliminary proceedings are downloadable. In 1995, Matt Haughey designed his first website; in June of that year, there were 23,500 websites - or less than 20,000.

However, within 18 months (by the end of 1996), there were over 600,000 websites. In 1998 the first Google index recognized 26 million pages, and by 2000 the number of pages in the "surface" web was measurable in the billions.

Estimates of how many websites there are varies as years progress, as does the number of web pages. Some more well-known earlier websites.

The author of the software participated in the opening ceremony of this summer's Olympic Games, during which he tweeted. Not everyone knew who he was. This didn't bother him and he won't tell you what he had for breakfast.

Family fact: his father worked in the team which developed the world's first commercially available general-purpose electronic computer, followed by text compression techniques and some of the earliest applications of computers in medicine.
posted by Wordshore (30 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thank you, unknown thinker and maker.

And thank you, OP.


Also, in 1995, a young graduate student developed his master's thesis.
posted by infini at 3:18 AM on December 25, 2012


Kind of funny that they were working on Christmas. Can't help but imagine Lee and Calliau looking forward to some actual uninterrupted hacking time, while all those pesky bosses and coworkers and stuff were out of the office. And they actually got a student to help them; hopefully he or she was equally geeky and appreciative of the focus time. Seems odd that they wouldn't be mentioned by name, though, kind of mean. He was there at a truly historic moment, and yet nobody can be bothered to mention his goddamn name?

On a slightly different tangent, that early culture of total openness was super-important to the speed of advancement and the betterment of mankind. This present division we're seeing, into walled fiefdoms, is not healthy or good for us, long-term. We're trading away an awful lot to make Zuckerberg and his ilk into billionaires.
posted by Malor at 3:39 AM on December 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


I had forgotten all about Bianca's Smut Shack.... I don't think my early cybermind ever reconciled the implications of the site name with the reality of what it was... (note, going to bianca.com now and seeing the little floor plan menu was a bit of a deja vu event)
posted by HuronBob at 3:47 AM on December 25, 2012


I started working on web pages in early 1995; at first within the context of one of the walled gardens, MSN. I still have a couple of sites around which launched in January of 1996.

Malor's right--the best time to be involved with any technology is when it's still the domain of weirdos and geeks, well before the marketing droids and MBAs show up.

(The instinct for big companies is to always, always try to wall in the garden; when they arrive, things start to suck, sometimes a bit, mostly a lot.

I would also say it's very rare for interesting, worthwhile, lasting software technology to come from people or groups whose sole aim is to make a bunch of money; not saying you can't make money, but the stuff that is built from day one with only that as a goal generally sucks.

The flip side of that is the people who tinker and experiment never seem to recognize that if their project is successful, all the asswipes of the world will be beating against it, trying to sell penis pills. I love idealists--please keep working on cool stuff--but, jesus, bring in a cynic to look over things and tell you what the corporate marketers and criminals are going to try and use your invention for, ruining everything you built and making it worthless.)
posted by maxwelton at 4:01 AM on December 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


(I should add that I don't think that MSN was anything but one of the large, suck-tastic players. You kinda knew where this was all going when MS decided to try and "own" the web.)
posted by maxwelton at 4:03 AM on December 25, 2012


If you weren't online at the time, you may not realize that it was quite possible to get public Internet access before there was a World Wide Web. Mostly, people used "gopher" for text searching, and ftp for file transfers. And we chatted madly on IRC, and played MUDs and MUSHes, and even did some early networked gaming, like Empire (grand strategy game, buggy as f*ck), and Netrek (a fun little multiplayer spaceship shooter, kind of like that early Star Trek game, but with up to 16 players.) And, of course, the grandaddy of all massively-networked comment posting systems was Usenet.

The Internet was, in other words, a very very useful thing before the Web even existed. But www protocol has become so incredibly popular that it has eaten almost everything else, subsumed much of the underlying Internet functionality into web browsers instead of dedicated programs. It's sort of the Borg of network protocols. But, at least some of the time, it's much better. Probably by 1996, I was already happy whenever I saw an http:// download link instead of an ftp:// one, because it would be much more likely to work, and probably much faster. And it would appear that people like web-based forums a lot more than Usenet.

Getting web access up was quite hard, early on. The sole Internet provider in my area provided only shell accounts, no PPP access, so you didn't have an IP address of your own. I had to hack around a bunch with a program called SLiRP, which was basically a very limited PPP/NAT engine running in user space, and a very early version of Linux, to get actual, direct Net access, where I could run a program on my computer and have it talk directly to remote sites. I even damaged a monitor getting X-Windows running -- early Linux was really difficult, and it was quite possible to break some kinds of hardware, like cheapo monitors, because it gave you such total control over your graphic card. I had to suffer with that thing for months, while it got darker and darker and darker, until I could afford to replace it.

I remember the very first website I ever successfully browsed, Travels With Samantha. (it's so cool that it's still there, after all this time!) I was mesmerized. The whizbang technology is what wowed me at first. The pictures were mixed right into the text! And they were so neat, all full color, real honest to goodness genuine pictures, kind of like a magazine, but right on my monitor. But then the quality of the writing grabbed me, and I ended up pulling an all-nighter, reading my very first site. What a great goddamn place to start. I immediately started showing it to everyone I knew, because it was just so cool.

The early milestones in networking were so much fun, probably because they were so difficult for someone coming from DOS to figure out. So, so much to learn to get even basic text up on your screen. But, by god, that text was coming from Norway, or Japan, or something, magically carried across the entire world, just to me, for $25/mo. I had the tiniest straw into a kiddie pool, and now I have a six-foot water main into an ocean, but I'm not sure I've ever had more fun than figuring out enough Linux to read Travels With Samantha.
posted by Malor at 4:18 AM on December 25, 2012 [20 favorites]


Thanks Tim!
posted by Artw at 4:32 AM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of you memailed me for more clarification on my cryptic link above, so here's the wikipedia entry for background.

Malor inspires me to remember Dad coming home one day highly excited about something. By the fall of 1995, Lynx and Pine had changed my worldview, and the potential for an internetworked world wide web of all humanity could barely be discerned from the corner of the eye, as one exchanged comments, just like this, with people so far away in the UK and in the US. Wow! Nobody knew I was a dog ;p
posted by infini at 4:46 AM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


By the end of 1993, there were 623 websites.

That does not sound right. In 1993, I already had a website. There were probably more than 623 sites just at my university alone.

I did a big web demo back around 1993. I was taking a Japanese class, and every student had to do a full class on a subject of their choosing. I had just discovered that a new version of Mosaic had support for Japanese text, on Macs that had a Japanese Language Kit. Our language media center had a bunch of Macs set up that way, but none of them had Mosaic, which I thought was kind of weird.

So I decided to do a demo of web browsing in Japanese, I found a couple of sites in Japan like the Asahi Shimbun that would be great for practicing reading. The teacher said I should go to the LMC manager and get permission to use the lab exclusively for 45 minutes, they did classes there all the time. I described the project to the LMC manager, she said absolutely NO, this is a serious computer lab and we don't do frivolous things like web browsing.

I went to my professor and reported that the LMC refused to allow my demo. She said that was ridiculous, she'd take care of it. Finally a deal was negotiated. The demo would be allowed, under the condition that I remove the browser from every machine after the demo was completed.

The demo was a great success. When it was over, I went to every machine and deleted the icon from the desktop, making it appear that I removed the software. The LMC manager (who was not a Mac person) saw me dragging icons to the trash, and was satisfied. But within a few days, students discovered the Mosaic software and were using it constantly, Prohibition was over. I enjoyed coming back to the machines and looking at what bookmarks were left by students, everything from beer websites to high-tech research, it even supported Gopher and WAIS!
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:47 AM on December 25, 2012 [17 favorites]


...in June of [1995], there were 23,500 websites - or less than 20,000.

However, within 18 months (by the end of 1996), there were over 600,000 websites.


Can this possibly be right? I remember yahoo-searching an obscure part number from a broken laptop in 1996/1997, finding a source to buy it and getting it delivered. I was amazed at the time that the internet "had everything".

Also, Tim Berners-Lee being unknown and Dennis Ritchie dying in relative obscurity with Steve Jobs being celebrated for being an innovator of...something...is more evidence of the utter stupidity of humanity.
posted by DU at 4:52 AM on December 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


she said absolutely NO, this is a serious computer lab and we don't do frivolous things like web browsing.
posted by charlie don't surf


Ah, now we know how you got your handle
posted by infini at 4:52 AM on December 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


In a perfect world Tim-Berners Lee also sounds like Simon Jones and "This is for everyone" is the rallying cry of the coming revolution.
posted by fullerine at 6:07 AM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


By the end of 1993, there were 623 websites.

That does not sound right. In 1993, I already had a website. There were probably more than 623 sites just at my university alone.

I did a big web demo back around 1993. I was taking a Japanese class, and every student had to do a full class on a subject of their choosing. I had just discovered that a new version of Mosaic had support for Japanese text, on Macs that had a Japanese Language Kit. Our language media center had a bunch of Macs set up that way, but none of them had Mosaic, which I thought was kind of weird.


According to Wikipedia, Mosiac wasn't even available for Mac until September 1993. I couldn't find any definitive links as to when Mosiac supported Japanese text, but one source seemed to indicate it wasn't until version 2, which came out in 1994.

I was at the University of Illinois (admittedly, the Chicago campus) in 1993, and I don't remember much about the web. They might have had lynx on the VMS system (UICVM for the win). What I do remember is that whatever web presence there was, gopher was still more useful.

I don't know where the OP's source got their information, but it seems about right to me. What is possible is that he was counting web servers, under which many students may have had multiple sites in the old "www.host.school.edu/~username" format.

Which is to say I'm not disagreeing with you, but that if your dates are correct, you were quite likely among the very first to be doing what you were doing.
posted by gjc at 6:10 AM on December 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'm guessing the numbers are usually underestimates. Especially in the early days when folks set up websites that were not indexed by AltaVista or Lycos, or were linked from other sites.

My early web experience was sitting down with another researcher (Andrew Poirette) in Sheffield library school and looking at every website we could find (of course, missing all the ones we didn't). Thinking we'd looked at the whole web, then coming back the next day and finding a load more, too many to look at. That, and (second shoutout) Travels with Samantha really got me hooked. A whole book! With pictures and stuff, and you could move back and forth. And it was a good book. And the odd academic textbook appearing as a set of web pages, especially Keith van Rijsbergen's Information Retrieval which was cool.

In the library school there were battles over things web ('92 to '95). Some lecturers hated it, and that isn't too strong a word. The future, to them, was CDs, Silverplatter, Dialog and dial-up. Not some kind of "anarchy" (oft-used word) where people could publish what they wanted. Many raised voices. A few of us did a website for the department. We didn't ask; just ... did it (if we had asked first, it would have been banned). It was laughably rubbish, but it had information on it, and think it was the first library school website on the web, though others were trying elsewhere but being rebuffed.

Then, partially as it was cheap labor for the department, and partially as it was a distraction from the PhD I was failing at, ended up co-creating a course for the library school students with a (legendary) pro-web professor who had the untidiest office in UK academia. We got the students to pick a subject, find websites on that subject, invent rules for what was a good quality website and what was not, catalog the sites according to these rules and build a website-index for them. Simple now, hugely controversial then with the anti-web staff. But it worked, and many of those students went on to work in digital library projects from 1994 onwards.

Because of that (right place, right time, enthusiasm about something most people were wary of), ended up being hired by UKOLN to be their web/information dude in 1995 for a few years, which involved setting up a web magazine for librarians (blank screen and a free hand, with only Jakob Nielsen's book for design help and an arrogance to make it up as we went along). Lots of librarians loved it; a significant minority thought it was a flash in the pan that would soon subside, and we'd soon be back to good old peer-review in journals and boolean searching standalone databases. oh.

The jump in magnitude (of estimated website numbers) in the 18 months between mid 1995 and the end of 1996 does feel right thought. Crazy times in UK academia, many battles over web relevance and why things such as Ariadne should be funded, but suddenly it seemed that everyone was setting up a site (tho' often, again, with lists of links to other sites). By 1997, the (major) battles over the use and usefulness of the web as an information and communication thing in UK academia were pretty much won.

Anyway, thanks Tim for making it easier for, well, civilization to communicate and find knowledge.
posted by Wordshore at 6:11 AM on December 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


My first memory of the World Wide Web was using the text-based browser Lynx on my dad's dialup shell account at The World and being totally lost. Instead of nice, orderly menus like GOPHER, WWW had links scattered all over the place in text with no rhyme or reason. At twelve years old, I dismissed it as a passing fad.

I didn't really "get" the Web until my dad brought home a shareware copy of SlipKnot. SlipKnot was a Windows-based browser which used some fancy jockeying of Lynx and zmodem over a serial terminal to emulate the experience given by Mosaic or Netscape on a TCP/IP link. It was unbearably slow and at times horribly incompatible with nascent HTML "standards" (this was back when supporting HTML forms was a selling point for a browser) but it showed me that the Web was something much, much, more than GOPHER.

Soon, a new ISP moved into the area that offered PPP access and it was only a local telephone call away! That year, I successfully convinced my father that getting an account there would make a great Christmas gift, and I still remember driving to Egghead Software the day after Christmas to pick up a copy of Internet in a Box. We were going graphical!

The sea change that this represented would be fully demonstrated a couple days later when a blizzard hit. Instead of using GOPHER to gather various half-hour delayed radar and satellite images from the University of Purdue's site, save them to the remote shell, then queue them up for downloading to the local computer for viewing, we could do all that with just a single click within a browser. It was amazing.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:13 AM on December 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


That does not sound right. In 1993, I already had a website. There were probably more than 623 sites just at my university alone.


Both at the time and today, the line between a web page and a web site was blurry, but I'm guessing the 623 number is the number of distinct DNS entries for servers operating on port 80.

Which sounds right. Thousands of pages comprising hundreds of different people, groups, projects, on MIT's server at the time, but still counting as only one web site.
posted by ocschwar at 6:15 AM on December 25, 2012


Also, Tim Berners-Lee being unknown and Dennis Ritchie dying in relative obscurity with Steve Jobs being celebrated for being an innovator of...something...is more evidence of the utter stupidity of humanity.


True about DR, but Tim Berners Lee has the option of living like a celebrity whenever he decides he wants to.

Seems he'd rather get some work done.
posted by ocschwar at 6:21 AM on December 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


True about DR, but Tim Berners Lee has the option of living like a celebrity whenever he decides he wants to.

I've heard that Tim Berners Lee is a very private individual who isn't fond of attention, but at the rate things are going, I wish he were a little more visible, if only to at least put off the depressingly unavoidable cultural retcon that Mark Zuckerberg invented the World Wide Web for a little while longer.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:25 AM on December 25, 2012


Surely you mean Al Gore... or was it Dan Quayle?
posted by infini at 7:35 AM on December 25, 2012


That does not sound right. In 1993, I already had a website. There were probably more than 623 sites just at my university alone.

They are referring to instances of the web server software ie. physical computers running httpd. At the time, you had to register with CERN before downloading the software, which is the source of the 623 since they still have the registration records. However there were probably just as many illegal copies of the software passed around. It was officially only available to established institutions, not individuals.
posted by stbalbach at 10:31 AM on December 25, 2012


RonButNotStupid: "My first memory of the World Wide Web was using the text-based browser Lynx on my dad's dialup shell account at The World and being totally lost. Instead of nice, orderly menus like GOPHER, WWW had links scattered all over the place in text with no rhyme or reason. At twelve years old, I dismissed it as a passing fad."

This mirrors my experience exactly. I was quite entranced with IRC and Usenet, but the Web didn't become really useful to me until PPP connections and Netscape showed up.

It's sobering to realize that the sort of hacks like that made the Web possible wouldn't be allowed into today's walled gardens. MacPPP and WinSock were low-level OS extensions written by random unapproved individuals; Mosaic and Netscape were blatant violations of user interface guidelines. It's hard to imagine what communication would look like now if platform vendors had had the ability to ban them. MSN and Prodigy forever?
posted by vasi at 12:07 PM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


AOL *shudders*
posted by infini at 12:27 PM on December 25, 2012


It's sobering to realize that the sort of hacks like that made the Web possible wouldn't be allowed into today's walled gardens. MacPPP and WinSock were low-level OS extensions written by random unapproved individuals

To take advantage of services (SLIP and PPP) that allowed ordinary home computers to connect to the Internet as peers with their own IP addresses making them capable of running their own Web servers. This most certainly wouldn't be allowed today.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 12:50 PM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Most residential internet services don't let you run web servers. Mine doesn't. And while I'd rather pay NearlyFreeSpeech to host things anyways rather than running a host in my closet it is somewhat galling how asymmetric the web and assorted services have become.
posted by Mitheral at 1:49 PM on December 25, 2012


About the only reason I keep my DSL connection is that they let me do what I want with port 25. Everyone gets something to be weird and cranky about, and mine is having my own email server. It's miiiiiinnneeeee you can't have it. And I'm sure as shit not giving it over to google.
posted by flaterik at 4:36 PM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Both at the time and today, the line between a web page and a web site was blurry, but I'm guessing the 623 number is the number of distinct DNS entries for servers operating on port 80.

This sounds about right. In the early days, the usual way for an average person to put a Web page up was to be a student at an Internet-connected university, and put your stuff in your home directory. Having your own Web server was a really big deal for several years, as was owning your own domain name. One went with the other -- virtual web hosts weren't feasible until HTTP/1.1 which, according to teh wikis, wasn't prevalent until 1997 or so. If you wanted a domain, you had to run your own server!

(I've been messing around with the Web since about 1995 but didn't actually start administering my own web server until this year -- fun! Sometimes.)
posted by neckro23 at 4:50 PM on December 25, 2012


Mitheral: Most residential internet services don't let you run web servers. Mine doesn't. And while I'd rather pay NearlyFreeSpeech to host things anyways rather than running a host in my closet it is somewhat galling how asymmetric the web and assorted services have become.

That's true, but there's a huge difference between not letting you run a personal server, and making it technically impossible to run a server. Yes, it's true that most residential ISPs specify in their Terms of Service that you're not allowed to run a web server, but most of the time that doesn't actually prevent you from doing so because otherwise a lot of borderline cases like Skype, a peer-to-peer videoconferencing protocol, wouldn't work.

The peer-to-peer design of the Internet doesn't make any inherent distinction between nodes. In principal, any node can exchange traffic with any other node. We're all peers with IP addresses, and from the network's perspective, there's no separation between those who can produce content (servers) and those who can only consume it (clients) and in many instances a node has to function as both at the same time. The same can't be said of early walled-garden networks like AOL, Compuserv and Prodigy which were designed from their inception to maintain a very fundamental client-server model.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:57 PM on December 25, 2012


Well, this is awkward.

So, yeah. I put this FPP up on Christmas Day and sent an email to TimBL pointing to it, thinking he gets like a billion emails a day and he'll never read it.

He did.

And sent me a nice and friendly email in reply, though pointing out that the Christmas Day thing is, um, a bit of an urban myth that's been propagated. Chunk from email in his own words:

"One strange thing is this idea that Dec 25th was special. I don't know where it came from. I wasn't working on the web over the Christmas break -- CERN was closed over around 2 weeks over Christmas and the new year to save energy. I had the web working in November -- but I date-coded a software release I had available for the break as 901225 for fun. The actual date of the first HTTP communication is lost to history."

He's also put something regarding this on the talk thingie for the Wikipedia page about him.

So, my apologies to Tim Berners-Lee for further propagating this (incorrect) fact, and to MeFites who read it.
posted by Wordshore at 11:54 AM on December 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, the thing about CERN being shut for two weeks to save energy made me smile...
posted by Wordshore at 11:56 AM on December 30, 2012


Getting a reply back during Christmas break was cool!
posted by infini at 12:04 PM on December 30, 2012


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