Saturday, August 06, 2011


"It was twenty years ago today ..." No, we're not going to sing from the Beatles' Sgt Pepper album, even though it was a pioneer in being the first "concept album" in that the songs together formed a conceptual whole. Or something. And speaking of concepts, on this day in 1991, a scientist at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) by the name of Tim Berners-Lee unveiled a means of organizing information on the network of computers that spanned the globe. He dubbed it "the World Wide Web." CERN is the operator of the world's largest particle physics laboratory, operating outside Geneva, Switzerland. This was the first web page:

Until that time, such information was only in textual form, and only accessible through academic, military, or scientific networks. But "the Web" made the internet available to the general public. The first image is how the idea looked on paper. (Go ahead. Click on it. Feel the awesomeness.) The second image is how the first web page looked on the screen. Not much, is it? Eventually, Berners-Lee developed something called a "browser" which was a window on the screen for linking to a page of such information. That's him in the image below, taken about the mid-1990s, with the first browser known as "Mosaic."

What was I doing in 1991? Living in Georgetown, going through a divorce, wondering about the direction of my life, stuff like that. The previous year, I found an original 1984 Macintosh 128K that someone threw out in the trash. (It's amazing what people in Fairfax County throw away, but that's another story.) For a couple hundred bucks, I got the disk drives fixed. Someone loaned me the software disks I needed, and I was on my way. The old Mac is now a collector's item, safely stored back in Ohio, but for two or three years, I did a great deal of writing with it. Unfortunately, it didn't get me to the Web, and I didn't get the modem that went with it until later. By then, 800 baud was already obsolete.

Closer to the present, Slate has a great retrospective on those thrilling days of yesteryear, as does CERN, the place where it all began.

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