On 13 March 1989 Tim Berners-Lee submitted to the administration of the European Organization for Nuclear Research a paper that led to the birth of the World Wide Web. In “Information Management: A Proposal,” Professor Berners-Lee connected hypertext with the Internet. As reported by Sharon Gaudi at Computerworld under the headline “Hurrah Berners-Lee! Web celebrates 20th anniversary: Analyst: A single paper written 20 years ago today became a great 20th-century idea,” this paper changed things dramatically.
Twenty years ago, computers were either the size of a basketball court or they were novelties that we played with. Twenty years ago, we got our news at 6 p.m. on television or in the morning newspaper. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to buy a sweater, you drove from store to store until you spent as much on gas as you did on the sweater.
And then 20 years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee wrote a paper that laid out his thoughts for the World Wide Web. That one paper would be the seed that changed the way we communicate, shop, gather friends, date and do business. That one paper arguably held one of the most important ideas of the 20th century.
Ms. Guadi may not, I fear, be pushing the influence of the Web far enough. The long-term impact surely will be felt in shopping and such, but it’ll likely be felt even more in more abstract and political ways: Equity, freedom, and such. Despite the efforts of some governments to throttle Web traffic, people the world over are communicating both directly and indirectly, and it will almost certainly be impossible to put that genie back into the bottle. When we communicate we can tell our stories and, unless the censors get to them virtually immediately, those communications likely will have been grabbed by some browser somewhere and be potentially out in the wild. Furthermore, with the advent of searching robots and large caches, lots of communications will be archived, even if they’ve been erased from the original source.
Learn more about Professor Berners-Lee—ahem, Sir Tim—from his MIT page. Read the HTML version of the original paper: “A hand conversion to HTML of the original MacWord (or Word for Mac?) document written in March 1989 and later redistributed unchanged apart from the date added in May 1990. Provided for historical interest only. The diagrams are a bit dotty, but available in versioins linked below. The text has not been changed, even to correct errors such as misnumbered figures or unfinished references.” And, connected with my point in the previous paragraph, watch Sir Tim’s TED talk from February 2009 that includes an account of his work at the time; in that talk he goes on to talk about “The next Web of open, linked data“: Raw data now!