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The web is 30 years old today (home.cern)
754 points by Anon84 on Dec 20, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 163 comments

When I set up my first website, you had to email CERN to be put on a list of websites around the world, that was published on their website...

I think it was about the 60th (I forget the exact number, it was a long time ago :) website in the UK, serving the “needs” of (ok, playing with tech for) the image processing group in Kings College London’s physics dept while doing my PhD.

The server ran on my desktop DECstation 3100, a 16MHz R2000 with a 1024x864 1-bit display named asterix.ph.kcl.ac.uk - Yeah, 1-bit. In the image-processing dept... still, it was more than 10x faster than the microvax that served the rest of the dept!

It’s kind of amazing to me, having lived through all the change, that a modern Arm SOC like the $5 Pi-0 would blow away that at-the-time (1989) high-end workstation, in every respect. In the dust.

In comparison, the first computer I ever got was the ZX81 (in 1981, so about 8 years earlier) and it had 1K of RAM, came as components that I soldered to the motherboard (I was 11 at the time, soldering was old-hat) and I was more interested in the black-and-white, dial-tuned, portable TV that I could have in my bedroom that came with it :) But to go from that to the DEC 3100 in such a short time was also massive progress.

I love stories of yore like this. I got my first machine in ~1985 or so... I convinced my dad he needed a machine for his business - and then I just played populous and called long distance from Tahoe to a BBS in San Jose to play the pit and trade wars.

I got grounded for a month because the long distance phone bill was $926 and my dad was furious.

He yelled at me one time and said "stop wasting your time on the damn computer - it will never do anything for you!"

Years later - after a successful time working in Silicon Valley building out many a thing, my dad came to my house and he apologized for yelling at me for "wasting time on the computer" - and I was touched that he remembered that time from when I was 11 and he said that...

My first machine was a Tandy 1000 - and I was also calling in to PC-Link (which later became AOL) to chat with strangers....

My dad used to get a bit frustrated that I wanted to sit on the computer rather than tinkering with various engines (lawnmower, model plane, etc.) he was working with. One day I sat him down and showed him how I debug a bit of code, and the lightbulb went off that I was doing a very similar thing to what he enjoyed doing with engines.

We understood each other better after that day.

(Of course, now that I own a home, I wish I'd done more of the engine tinkering... I learned what a carburetor is and how to clean it via FaceTime.)

I did a similar thing when I was at college. I’d set up ‘Empire’[1], a sort of multiplayer civilization server at college, and I’d graduated to an Atari ST with a massively-fast 2400 baud modem (none of that 300-baud or even 1200-baud stuff for me!) which cost me a fair amount of my student budget for the term...

Anyway, I bought it 1 month after we’d all collectively rented a house, and we’d already had a telephone bill for the previous month. I think it went from about £50 to about £350 for that month, after which I discovered the joys of downloading the game state (built into the game) and writing scripts to make my moves, then uploading those moves in one go, rather than doing everything interactively while online.

Now, I have a 1 Gbit always-on connection :) Tempus Fugit.

[1] I was planning to link to Wolfpack empire here, but I just tried and the site is down - I hope it’s just temporary because I still fondly recollect nuking the hell out of my friends countries... www.wolfpackempire.com. Okay, looks like it’s gone to https://empiredirectory.net/index.php ...

> massively-fast 2400 baud modem (none of that 300-baud or even 1200-baud stuff for me!)

My first ever income from programming was writing some machine code to run in a USR$ on an Atari 8-bit BBS. Turns out the XModem checksum calculation was slow enough that when 1200 baud modems came out, there was a noticeable delay between chunks for BASIC to calc the checksum. At around 20 bytes long, I was paid $20. Man, do I wish I could make $1/byte now...

> because the long distance phone bill was $926 and my dad was furious

Blimey. I'm not surprised. In today's money that's $2,239.52. You were like a very early forerunner of those kids running up massive credit card bills on in-app purchases.

Great story though: thanks for sharing.

Long distance calling used to be a pretty big deal. Even intrastate calls outside of your local calling area could be expensive--in fact, sometimes more than interstate. For BBSs, there was various software available that basically let you logon, do your uploads and downloads of messages, hang up and do your reading and writing offline.

Go back a few years further and people would do all kinds of tricks if, for example, they just wanted to signal someone that they'd arrived somewhere safely. They'd make an operator-assisted person-to-person and the receiving caller would just say that person wasn't there and there would be no charge.

Call forwarding was one way to bypass intrastate long distant charges. My bestie ran a co-op. Members would get dedicated POTS line, add call forwarding feature, run a dedicated relay node. He maintained both dialer (client) and router (server) software. You enter phone number, dialer would pick a toll-free node in that general direction (telco provisioned prefixes corresponded to physical exchanges). Node would answer, decide to forward you to target number or next node. repeat as needed. The co-op spanned much of western Washington, from Bellingham to Olympia.

Phreaking as a Service


We can call the setup a PhaaSer. You're welcome world.

Having never been in the United States in the 80s or 90s, can some explain some background here?

It sounds very interesting but I cannot bring the pieces together.

You can (or could?) place collect calls in the US. The receiver of such a call then pays the bill. To prevent abuse, you give your name and then the phone operator will ask the receiver "do you want to accept, and pay for, this collect call from Bob Smith?"

The video is just making fun of that situation by encoding a message in the name.

Students also frequently had shared phone services of various types so they'd make a person to person call to their parents with some agreed-upon name and their parents would call back at the shared number. When I went to school we also traded cassettes because phone calls of any length were expensive in any case.

(The context is that long distance phone calls cost maybe $4+ per minute in today's dollars.)

I immediately thought of this. Thanks for the link!

For BBSs, there was various software available that basically let you logon, do your uploads and downloads of messages, hang up and do your reading and writing offline.

I used to run a node of one of the first public BBS networks (1983ish). Messages went from one node to the other using store-and-forward overnight. With enough nodes in the right LATAs, you could send messages (e-mail at first, then bulletin board messages) across the entire region.

Where I lived at the time, I could make a local call between two area codes in two different states, so my node was very busy overnight relaying all the messages that got bottled up in either state at 300 baud.

My city used to be divided up like a pie. Calling from one pie slice to another would incur a fee. Near the center of the city the slices came together so calling someone across the street could incur a fee.

I ran up a $400 bill one month in the early 90’s when I was in high school using a BBS in San Diego from my parents’ house in Escondido (roughly 30 miles away). Despite being in the same area code at the time, the rates were obscene and I believe higher than it would have been interstate.

And a few years before that to 1840, people used to perform similar tricks with mail. Prior to the introduction of postage stamps mail was paid on delivery¹, so you could send messages to friends or flood enemies with someone else picking up the cost. There is no new thing under the sun.

[/me holds breath for someone to point out an earlier version.]

¹ https://rmspecialstamps.com/about/history-of-stamps/

My dad yelled at me for spending all day on the computer learning visual basic. He didn't know the first thing about computers but got one because schools were starting strongly suggest essays were typed. Wanted me to focus on school work, not waste time learning some "nerd shit" as he'd later (half jokingly) say.

It didn't help that I didn't have good grades and got in my fair of trouble. I stuck with it though, and within a year of getting out of college made more than my parents combined.

I ran a few bulletin boards and definitely remember a few high dollar diner's club bills after discovering all my favorite high school PLATO games were available on a service of some kind. Later at college somehow a MUD ended up on one of the Decstation 3100s in the CS lab. That was the glory days of everything having an internet-exposed routable IP before the Morris worm proved what a bad idea that was.

My sad thought is that today I'm probably never going to have the pleasant opportunity to be proven wrong by telling the kids to stop wasting their time on Fortnite :( .

"In comparison, the first computer I ever got was the ZX81 (in 1981, so about 8 years earlier) and it had 1K of RAM, came as components that I soldered to the motherboard (I was 11 at the time,"

Me too (turned 50 a few days ago). I persuaded school to buy a single ZX80, then quite a few 81s and a tonne of Speccies later on. Then you buy the RAM pack: 16KB luxury! Then you discovered a new use for Blu Tac - to stop the bloody RAM pack from wobbling.

I was more interested in the 'puters than the telly but I do understand your fixation.

I had a brief job in RNAC Manadon (Plymouth, UK) as an IT bod in 1993. From my (Windows 3) PC, I could telnet the Xn (n - can't remember the number) PAD, then get myself to some box in the US and then to CERN for the www. I was asked by my boss to evaluate this new fangled www thing, compared to WAIS, GOPHER etc. I can't remember my exact findings but it looked like gopher to me because the cat pictures were not there because I was using telnet (Mosaic came later) and it looked to me like another menuing system.

I don't want to give you the wrong idea here - my bad phrasing above. As an 11-year-old boy, who'd never seen a computer before, I was more interested in the TV... I've often thought what my life would be like if my parents hadn't bought me a computer back then. It's had that much impact on my life...

[aside: story of how my parents got tired of me just using the TV]

About 3 months after xmas, I still hadn't soldered everything together. My parents laid down the law, so I eventually went into the garage and started soldering away. I took my telly with me :) Once it was all together (which wasn't really that hard) I had it plugged in and working, and I was going through the instructions to make sure it was done correctly... Then I proudly walked into the house and everyone gathered around the living room TV (the only other one in the house...) I plugged it all together and up came the boot screen.

Following the instructions, I typed in

PRINT 1 + 1 = 2 [return]

... and the computer printed '1'

At which point my father turned to me, and said "I knew something was up. You've buggered it", and walked out the room. It took a long time to get across the concept of logical true as 1 and logical false as 0...


Once that episode was done, though, computers took over my life, I graduated to the Atari XL (which Dixons sold for £129 with a disk drive) a few years later - it was supposed to be a shared computer between myself and my brother for another xmas present, but basically he never got a look in. I became the 'computer room prefect' at school when I got to the sixth form, I was obsessed.

When I went to college, I used my student grant to finance an Atari ST, and I'm convinced that my lab grades were better because of the beautiful DTP reports I came up with, when everyone else was on 80-character daisywheel printed text.

I used to regularly write code in GFA Basic, and then graduated to C, learnt unix and used my ST as a terminal, then wrote the MDK (a unix-like distribution like Slackware for the ST)[1]. I fell in love with unix at college and have never used anything else since. When linux came on a boot disk and a root disk (yes, floppies), that was when I started using it :)

Time passes, and until very recently I was in R&D at Apple. Everything from verilog for FPGA's, kernel drivers, PCIe bus drivers, system frameworks, app frameworks, and even full-blown applications. One project I worked on, I had to produce an operating system for something that didn't have a central CPU. That took me two years, but it was a lot of fun, and I believe will have enormous impact when it finally sees the light of day :)

I've been immensely fortunate in that computers (my hobby for the last 40 years or so, my degree was in Physics, but generally physicists consider themselves jacks of all trades. Pretty much everything deals with energy at some point...) are also my day job. Sometimes it's had its down-sides, but mainly it's been a blast :)

[1]: http://umich.edu/~archive/atari/Mint/Distrib_kit/Doc/readme....

The DECstation 3100 was a nice workstation at the time. When I arrived at the internship for my first hardcore software engineering job, I got our first porting 3100 for my workstation. We were a SPARC shop, but my mentor had still named the DECstation "screamer", because it was fast. Ultrix also had a few neat tools, like "dxdiff" (GUI diff program).

Wasn't it named uk.ac.kcl.ph.asterix, or had you Brits finally stopped driving on the wrong side of the internet by then? ;)


That was JANet [1], the fastest network in the world at the time, and it grew out of the packet switching research in the 60’s [2]. A few years later they upgraded to gigabit links and called <drum roll please> Super-Janet :)

You could send email to either form address, and there was an internet/JANet gateway that figured it out. Everyone decided it was easier to use one naming standard though, so we went with what we have today.

[1] https://www.jisc.ac.uk/janet/history

[2] https://www.newscientist.com/letter/mg24532640-100-how-we-ne...

You could announce your new website on USENET! There was a newsgroup just for that.

My first computer was a ZX81 with 1K of RAM, received as a soldering kit. We had the 16K extension, very sensitive and which made the system reboot at the slightest shock.

Yep, I remember it well... it’s weird that it took so long for people to realize that the solution was to decouple the two with a short n-way idc cable...

It was the motion of pressing down on the keyboard (or otherwise moving it) that caused the two rigid bodies (computer and ram pack) to momentarily lose contact, and boom - bye bye work...

Wow, I didn’t realize I’m older than the internet. When I have grandkids, I’ll tell them stories that start with your first paragraph.

Technically, older than the web. Unless you were born in the 60s or earlier...

>>Unless you were born in the 60s or earlier...

Just noticed on my most recent birthday I've hit 50 years in computing. I tell my kids "texting is so easy now, in the olden days, we had to go to the data center and take turns messaging each other on the operator console..."

I'm teasing them a bit much because we would go there and message each other, but the neophytes would go to the terminal room and we few cognoscenti would go to the machine room, just down the hall.

However I'm a second generation programmer. My mom learned to program in the era that spanned plugboard machines and mainframe timesharing. Prior to that women who worked in the industry were known as "computers"

that asterix.ph.kcl.ac.uk sounds familiar. did you host an irc server ?

Not at the time, no. All the computers in the office were named after asterix characters, but that’s probably relatively common.

Kinder eggs came out with a bunch of asterix-themed toys inside, and there was a frenzy of kinder-egg-eating to get your character to sit on top of your workstation.

We eventually got an SGI Indy, and that one was called getafix, because it was “magical”, in the Jobs sense before Steve made it a thing.

I still find the web to be so beautiful.

I can talk and meet people all around the world.

I can stream hundreds of videos around every conceivable topic, in 4K60 resolution, on-demand.

I can make a livelihood without ever stepping feet out of my home; and conversely, work from almost anywhere that'll give me a visa.

The digitized information of our civilization is just one search away.

I think people underestimate how much of the spirit of the old internet still exists.

For example, many twitch channels have an active offline chat that isn't advertised or even sanctioned by the actual streamer. I lurk/idle in the offline chat for a streamer who gets maybe 200-300 viewers per stream and there are now about a dozen of us from all over the world who have become friends over a decade. At this point many of us have met in real life or sent each other packages.

When I was younger I was very active on a small independent irc server and it was almost an identical experience.

Right? It's still so amazing. I would say more amazing than ever (thanks to new trailblazers like Alexandra Elbakyan).

I was just a kid growing up far removed from the information and happenings of the rest of the world and the web was this magical new thing that connected me to it. It was a bit of a firehose at first (well, I guess still is), but I loved it.

The only difference between now and then is that now I know how it all works. Back then the technology was completely magic. It's still just as magical in the human sense, and I am so grateful to TBL and CERN for making it happen and giving it the public! It has been so game changing for me and I grew up in the USA, I have to imagine it would be even more game changing to people curious about the world who grew up in more remote places.

Ditto. Grew up in the middle of nowhere. The Web gave me access to libraries of information and the work of great minds. It sparked my interest in computers and put me on the career I'm still on to this day. Through other Internet technologies (IRC,IM) I was able meet and interact with other like minded individuals. It's still fascinating but some of the original magic does seem lost but perhaps it's just nostalgia.

The web != all things transferred over TCP/IP.

Talk and meet? Skype, Zoom don't run on "the web" as such; need dedicated apps even if those may be based on Electron.

Video (Youtube) only has left Flash-based playback behind like 3 or 4 years ago; the resulting DRM required for video playback hasn't made purist happy, and resulted in a bitter controversy over TBL accepting interfaces to proprietary DRM into (proprietary) browsers.

Digitized information of our civilization being one search away hasn't been my experience at all in the last five years or so, with ads and ad-heavy sites being shoved onto you all the time. Even if it were, there's no strategy going forward to preserve that wealth for generations to come in times of monopolization.

As the first ever website demonstrates, the web originally was a means for easy self-publishing of digital text. Today, with platforms, verticals, network effects, the privacy minefield the web has become, and the complexity of the browsers left standing to support modern experiences as expected by consumers, it's questionable if that has actually been achieved.

There's certainly a lot more noise than ever before, but self-publishing to the web has never been easier. Yes, we must remain vigilant against real threats to the open web (social media silos, Chrome dominance & AMP, etc), but thinking back to when I was a kid where you basically had to go to the library to get any information at all, on balance we are far better off now. The fact that commercialism and greed has corrupted the original high-minded ideals and innocence of the early adopters is nothing new—that is true of every great idea through the history of civilization.

The web of today is a siloed fragmentary space, a media outlet and an amplifier of mass culture. For a minority of people it still is the “repository of knowledge” that was originally envisioned, but for the majority it is a continuation of their lowly existence in digital form.

The spirit of the early web was around building hierarchical multi-level directories of stuff, around search and categorization. The Web 2.0 ideology changed all that to transform it into a user-centric “social” experience that required you to use an online identity, build your own profile and be passively bombarded with stuff on your personalized feed.

Zoom also runs on the web browser last I checked. It's a hidden feature, but you can join meetings without the native app.

What do you mean, hidden? It's just a link.

The link is hidden. It only shows up after waiting.

Why “3 or 4 years ago”? HTML5 video has been around since at least 2007 and has been virtually unchanged since (except new formats and DRM)

I agree with you overall, but the internet never been more geofenced than what we see today. Tons of content is no longer available to me as I live in the EU and apparently american companies care so much about my privacy that I can no longer access their websites. Growing up in the 90s, I remember a internet that was without geographical limitations and people doing things for love of that thing, not the perversion we see today...

Well, the EU has passed regulations and if I'm a business and don't make money from you and it takes money/effort to even verify whether I'm compliant with those regulations (or if I simply consider them a risk), nothing personal, but I'm going to geoblock you.

That's not a comment on whether the regulations are good or bad. It's just that, as a business, if you're not a profitable customer or potential customer, I don't want to interact with you if you create any risk/cost for me.

Yeah, that makes sense. My point is just that, the web is all business now, and people use that to justify their decisions. It didn't use to be that way, but because of the commercialisation of the internet, we're now here, which means tons of people no longer has access to information they would if the web was still focusing on being open.

It's not all business although commercial activity, or would-be commercial activity, certainly dominates. But a lot of that commercial activity, e.g. most newspapers, simply wasn't online at all at first. And the pioneers in that space found that they had to find ways of monetizing if they were to remain in business. (Which most of them weren't really able to do so they went out of business or radically downsized.) I'd argue that, overall, people have access to way more information than they did 10-20 years ago even if some of that information is paywalled, geoblocked, or in some other form of walled garden.

The Internet (including the Web) of the mid to late-ish 90s may have been refreshingly non-commercial and open relative to today but it was also much smaller.

Exactly. People seem to forget that the web is just a way to instantly communicate with other humans, most of whom don’t follow the same exact vision for how things should be ran and monetized. Widespread commerce and monetization of previously 100% open (or previously non-existent) information was only a matter of time once monster-in-the-middle attacks were solved with SSL.

> the internet never been more geofenced than what we see today.

That's because it's increasingly mirroring the real world when it comes to nationalism, regulations, barriers to access, censorship, culture. That outcome was always inevitable, nothing could prevent it. Nations were never going to allow an unencumbered Internet or Web to remain in their territory.

If you think the Internet is geofenced now, just wait until you see what it looks like in another ten years. It's going to get dramatically worse. It'll be almost unrecognizable compared to the Internet of 2010. We're only maybe 1/3 the way to our fully balkanized destination.

There is also no going back. Governments now understand the technology and will increasingly tightly regulate it accordingly, no matter what it looks like or what it's called. They no longer view it as a separate entity, they view it as falling under the same exact regulatory domain as everything else in the physical space that they claim dominion over.

If you have any business or development dreams you want to pursue on the Internet, do it as soon as possible, do not wait. The Internet and Web will only suck more in the future.

I does indeed seem inevitable. That's why I'm surprised that some still believe cryptocurrencies are going to escape that fate somehow, even though money is even more critical for governments to control than information.

But in terms of suckiness I think that it's not primarily caused by regulation (although the cookie law does try very hard to inflict maximum pain for zero gain). The funding model is just broken and I don't really see a way to fix it without losing even more freedom and privcy.

It looks to me like it will get worse... I hope not.

Grab a VPN and that won't be a problem anymore.

Sure, that does solve the problem for me as an individual but what about the rest of the people who don't understand proxies and wouldn't even be able to install one with the instructions?

Third party vpns like nord or express vpn or whatever are trivial to install.

I’m not commenting on whether they are a good idea to use, but they are easy.

Express VPN is fool-proof. The most advanced thing you can do is flash your router with their firmware in order to do house-wide VPN switch for all devices.

Tor is very easy to use, just download the bundle and there you go.

It's truly one of the greatest achievements of this century... possibly ever.

I really hope TPTB don't mess it up, it seems they're always trying to.

Not enough people appreciate it, just like they don't appreciate the computing power and amount of knowledge in their pockets. I see people on buses, on the streets, in cafes, just endlessly scrolling down in Facebook or something, seeing random people's videos and images... Seems like such a waste imo.

It was last century, wasn't it?

Yeah, but it was kind of very late, and it only really picked up this century, so I decided to go with that heh

Your comment reminded me of this video of David Bowie from 1999: https://twitter.com/david_perell/status/1339427341387313155

The excerpt above it, from "The sovereign individual", is pretty depressing. A brand of techno-optimism that we now see has completely fell flat.

The Sovereign Individual is a futurist observation. Bowie sold his catalog and continued to be great. Others achieved similar transcendence.

Why do you think it's flat? Does it seem mundane now? I experienced that era and it still seems like a magical transformation to me.

Graeber's Utopia of Rules has a terrific post-mortem, eg why we don't have jet packs. Not the whole answer, but still thought provoking.

> I can stream hundreds of videos around every conceivable topic, in 4K60 resolution, on-demand.

There are tons of entirely legal topics for which this statement is simply not true. Censorship is rampant on the modern web.

Of course, one is free to self-host, but there are special bandwidth deals for the 4K60 platforms that allow them to stream to millions of users, something you won't be permitted to do from the internet connection you have presently.

Leaning through is why I really love web, there nothing you can't learn on internet, faster then it was ever possible, arguably.

I can't see anything on the linked page to suggest that the web was "born" 30 years ago today (i.e. 20 December 1990). On the contrary, it says it was invented in 1989.

Wikipedia[1] lists the official release date of the first web browser, WorldWideWeb, as 25 December 1990. Tim Berners-Lee has said that the first version was "whimsically dated 901225 although I was NOT working on Christmas Day -- it was prepared some time before closed for Christmas"[2] - so maybe that works out to 30 years ago today?

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WorldWideWeb

2: https://www.w3.org/People/Berners-Lee/WorldWideWeb.html

I found this document https://web.archive.org/web/20130605043221/https://timeline....

It says “The world’s first website and server go live at CERN” on 1990-12-20

it's weird that this page is not public anymore

the history page here https://timeline.web.cern.ch/timelines/The-birth-of-the-Worl... doesn't list this date - does list the availability of the browser in xmas day

CERN celebrated the 30th anniversary on 2019-03-12 https://home.cern/events/web30, but I do agree that celebrating the day the first (public) web server went up is a bit more symbolic than the day the proposal was submitted.

I find it fascinating that the web changed just about every industry out there, apart from the one it set out to change - academic publishing.. It's still an oligopoly, with the same, small number of players acting as gatekeepers

At least we can enjoy Libgen and Sci-Hub's effort to make those knowledge available for free to us, the motivated. We owe them a big thanks.

while i too apreciate those services, it's not like they invented publication of pirated content.

It would be great if a big band of Doctorates got together and committed to renouncing their PhDs if copyright (at the very least in the scientific domain) is not abolished.

They have the power to do that.

30 years after the great gift of the web we are still waiting, and Alexandra Elbakyan has shown us how amazing it is to have all scientific papers be available to everyone.

Why would that make for a reasonable threat to the publishers or government? The power the academics have here is much more direct, if they are organised enough to make such an action: they can simply stop using the journals (indeed many fields and subfields do not use such closed-access journals).

Your idea is better than mine.

> indeed many fields and subfields do not use such closed-access journals

This would maybe make for a good public ranking—showing a list of fields and percentage of open access journals—and hopefully academic in closed fields would adapt quickly to avoid the embarrassment.

Except I can now pirate.

RIP Aaron Swartz

What about arxiv.org ?

As a pure means of communication the LANL preprint server, which later became arxiv, made the journals in its core areas of theoretical physics obsolete basically overnight, so vastly superior was it in terms of speed of distribution and ease of access.

To me it’s one of the high points of the web and Paul Ginsparg is an absolute hero for setting it up; he reviews some of its history at https://arxiv.org/abs/1108.2700.

I think it’s an interesting social question why other fields have taken so much longer to adopt the arxiv model.

So, in a perverse view, the web is civilization's largest, most epic failure: it altered our entire civilization, yet left the one aspect it was intended to change alone.

Recurring paradox: how military command & control communication technology also fosters spontaneous collaboration. An interesting tension.

Is it as young as that? I'm surprised.

One of the earliest web sites I can remember is this one:

"The Really Big Button That Doesn't Do Anything"


I think I was led there via "Yahoo Cool Site Of The Day"

All the comments are still there! I remember laughing at the "stereo fell off the bureau" one. A comment I left there in 1994 is still there.

Indeed. I sometimes remember how living was before the Internet, before a computer in every house and in every pocket.

Paper maps, incandescent lighbulbs with less lumen output than any smartphone, CRT displays, LCD panels as thick as a MacBook Air (a modern OLED is as thin as paper!), libraries with actual books (that never had enough information), payphones... I'd say things got a lot better :D

>that never had enough information

One of the things that periodically strikes me as someone who was a product manager from the mid-80s through the 90s is how hard it was to get information. For example, I remember we paid one company a fair bit of money to fax us any data sheets they had on specific competitive products when we were about to do a product announcement. (Oh, and we paid them for each category of computer systems we wanted access to information on.) Basically, everyone sent this firm their data sheets because we couldn't really ask each other directly. That was how one did competitive analysis.

I think if I were to go back in time, I'd quit after a week because I would feel I simply didn't have access to the information I needed to do my job.

>Is it as young as that? I'm surprised.

And, really, 30 years overstates it. You need another 5 years before all the pieces came together to make something that really looks like the modern web and maybe even a couple more before it really started having an effect on even tech-savvy audiences.

Awww, I'm so disappointed that the guestbook is broken. Guestbooks were one of the best features of the early web.

And by "best" I mean "pointless nostalgia," but... :)

That site is fast. Even on a mobile connection.

For a glimpse of what discussions looked like at the dawn of the public web ("slow, mostly local connections; a growing accumulation of posts; the absence of surveillance and metrics"), Rhizome has just released a painstaking "emulation" of The Thing BBS net art discussion forum. How ironic that the "last avant garde of the 20th century" should now be enshrined forever by an NEH Digital Humanities grant when it was considered too outre for even modern art museums!

“Did We Dream Enough?” THE THING BBS as an Experiment in Social-Cyber Sculpture

And with projects like Ruffle, the Rust Flash Player emulator, we can imagine a continuous re-examination of the web's early aesthetics

RIP Adobe Flash: Five Takeaways About the Plug-in’s Legacy in Net Art


The web is just getting started, I don't see it hitting a stable point before it its 50 years old or so. More and more transactions are made online as opposed to before.

More and more jobs are available online, but it's still a small percentage. Imagine when most of everyone's shopping is done online, when half the people work remotely, and when all countries in the world not just the most developed ones have full access to fast internet.

My first web experience was remote telnet connection into just that workstation in CERN.

It was common to allow anonymous telnet logins back then. The protocol was to use the username "anonymous" as a login name and maybe your email address as a password as a courtesy.

I experimented a little. My impression was that it was very much like a gopher but not as organized and has less content. So I logged out and forgot about it. Then game Mosaic.

I find it really exciting to be part of a generation that discovered the internet (which was mostly a synonym for the www and the irc) in the mid-late 90s, as opposed to the current ones who had always internet present in their lives.

Back then, at least in my country, internet connections were very scarce, nobody had internet at home and "connecting" to the internet was actually a thing... So you can perfectly remember the first time you got into the internet, which one was the first site you visited, from where, and how you discovered that world that today almost everybody is familiar with.

I'm in the same boat as you.

I had to go to my local college when I was 11 to use their Internet. They offered it for free on weekends. There I learned JavaScript and C from the guy who I'd say basically launched my interest and therefore my career into what it is today.

I remember downloading "large" (Warzone is 250GB!) files and splitting them up, copying them to multiple floppies disks. Now I've got 1TB in my back pack!

Those were the days when websites were just tables... I miss those simple times :P

> nobody had internet at home

There were no residential ISPs in the early days. You had to work or study somewhere with internet access.

And home connectivity was all dial-up. DSL was completely unaffordable.

And even then, home computers lacked a TCP/IP stack, so you’d be dialling into a server using something like z-modem, and using that to access the internet.

The Web accelerated everything. The speed of picking up knowledge and general developments has multiplied by who knows how much. The know-how in every single vocation is no longer compartmentalized.

A chef comes up with a new trend in an Austin restaurant, a few weeks later it's all over L.A.

Thank you for visiting! Please sign my guestbook.

Part of the reason we got a covid-19 vaccine so fast is because researchers posted the genetic sequence of the virus on the web for anyone to download.


I can't find much more than that because mainstream search engines increasingly don't return relevant or useful results.

And now the web is not world-wide anymore thanks to big-tech making censored, cookie-cutter walled gardens to the general public.

I forgot the last time I typed 'www.' in an URL.

Every friend of mine have their own blog or personal website when I started out on the web around a decade ago. This spirit has largely vanished with the domination of Facebook and other social networks. What we got is remnants of the old web in "old-looking" websites now. Like here.

Your friends were a tiny slice of the public. I do get the concerns about walled gardens. But very few people had their own blogs or websites. And many of those who did still have them.

The importance of the WWW for me has been research papers and books, dev tools, and jazz & classical music.

Although I use it every day, the WWW has become something that I actively mistrust. There are too many predators, both commercial and espionage.

I scrape WWW pages from the terminal and download archives for offline reference. Just to use what TBL conceived, it has been necessary to develop multi-layered defence: router, firewall, dns doh and filters, VPN, firejail, browser extensions.

I think it's safe to say that this is not what most users have in mind when they buy a shiny new computer and "connect to the Internet".

There may be a few sites I don't know about but I wish there was a reputable resource that saved archived information. I think libraries should archive everything on the internet if they haven't already. It would be really neat to give students the ability to surf the web of 2001's ecetera.

By archiving the internet I mean everything. Search engine performance on each date, ads, social traffic.


I am also saddened that there is some things that I was too lazy to download for offline use and is now no longer available online.

"this has to be one of the worst ideas since MS-DOS.." If you can spare three and a half minutes (start time set to the relevant point) to watch the video [1]from 1997 below...


...then you might enjoy the different point of view as discussed here:


It comes up on HN from time to time, but I thought an alternative source of discussion (second link above) might add something new.

[1] if you have never watched this talk completely at least once, give it a shot and you might be very surprised.

I remember decades ago when I first dialed up to the Internet. Went for the good knowledge on telnet bbs and usenet, stayed for the memes on www.

All I particularly remember from Usenet: jms interacting with Babylon 5 fans, and Serdar Argic's ongoing efforts to invert the history of the Armenian genocide.

I remember transitioning from Prestel, where in the mid-80s I played the MMO Shades [1], to the web and then getting more and more despondent as year after year the experience seemed to degrade as everyone and their dog went online.

[1] https://www.prestel.org.uk/download.php?cat=15_Prestel&file=...

Edit to add: Prestel was an interactive service run by the UK Post Office. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prestel

Interesting that ffmpeg was started on the 10th anniversary of the web: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25487711

Crazy to think that if I were born just a decade earlier, I would have probably be in a different career. If memory serves my first machine was a rating, then a 120mhz, then p3 800mhz, then amd my dad built, then my first laptop in 2007. Growing up in a developing country, I feel myself lucky. Picked up programming at a very early age, had my first websites (can't remember the order) on virtualave.net/tripod and some regional isp, in addition to serving stuff from my own machine. Learned vb6 and asp, then .net and so on.

Crazy ride, loving every minute

The web was designed for progressive loading, so why does every page on CERN's website seem to have a custom interstitial loading indicator? This is one of those trends that should never have happened.

We're going to be remembered as the last generation before the internet.


I think roughly around my year of birth (2001 - if that makes anyone feel old) is one of the last to grow up with "proper" computers rather than just iPads and phones.

On that note, it's always funny how kids try to use old hardware like a touchscreen

Heck I’m in my 30s and I do that sometimes. I just set up a new Mac after using an iPad Pro for a few months and the number of times I touched the screen is embarrassing.

Ha, voice control was all the rage for a while... before everyone realized it's just impractical

Maybe you forgot about Siri, Ok Google, Cortana, Alexa?

From what I read on here and Reddit, the majority of people (myself included) use them to set timers, look something up and rarely, dictate messages. And not even half the time - they're useless in noisy environments. A far cry from the complete voice control and feedback we've seen in Sci-fi :/

In the mid 1980s my local public library had an electronic card catalog with a touch screen interface. It was quite granular of course, being an 80x25 character green CRT display, but it was a touch screen.

How sad it makes me that this site requires js and new browser to view... It would have been so easy to make it compatible in the spirit of the web.

The spirit of the web isn’t frozen in time.

I'd say that inclusivity and accessibility are pretty basic cornerstones though.

Before the web we had BBSs and computer friends would meet in person gasp.

They are famous and it comes up regularly, but younger people won't know about "the Usenet" or Bully Boards (BBS). They were awesome for their time: They had awesome, engaging features, maybe on a "nerd" level O:-), back then not accessible for everyone. Today we have much better ways to interact online, kind of with the whole world and somehow everyone is online, today. Locality has lost on importance, since ways to interact remotely/online became more powerful and also accessible for all. It's really interesting where this leads to in the future. E.g. WFH (work from home, especially emphasized by "Covid"): Companies might outsource development to the lowest COL (cost of living) area in that vein. Also: Everyone is globally connected, better and better, yet somehow more and more "home alone". So interesting, somehow unavoidable and it's open to see where this develops and if we manage to make these developments positive and get the negatives under control for all/most involved.

Yep, the internet is an improvement and it changed the world. We are all better off for it.

I suppose the article brought me back to a different time. That original all text green-on-black, terminal-like, view really took me back to the BBS (Bulletin Board System) days. You might not remember but modems were a thing before the internet, I can remember my Dad tying up the house phone for hours while dialed into the mainframe at the office.

And the early days of the internet probably looked like a service like Prodigy for a lot of people. Prodigy was a fancy BBS. And everything had to work at dial-up speed. Even Berners-Lee's original pages would have been data-conserving and fast.

Its interesting that the user experience in those times felt, and probably was, faster. Our fancy modern graphics take a lot of resources in comparison. While its easy to point to numerous benefits to the modern internet, we've slipped in terms of time to display info on the screen. Modern web apps treat bandwidth and storage as infinite and free resources, its really the opposite of what we used to do and maybe not for the better.

I suppose that the key difference is that Berners-Lee's WWW used the benefit of an always-connected network. Where the BBS days were all about temporary network connections. While we use WWW and Internet almost interchangeably, its the always-connected network - the concept of packet switching over circuit switching - that brought the benefit of the WWW. I'm sure in 30 more years we'll have things I can't imagine today, its the power of the network.

>Locality has lost on importance

In the BBS era, locality could still matter because of the expense of long distance charges. For quite a long time, a core group on a local BBS I subscribed to would actually get together and socialize semi-regularly.

Yes, we used to do that, too! During the summers we'd have "BBS picnics" and also gatherings a local restaurants. That is one thing I do miss about the old days... the loss of locality.

I feel lucky that as a developer I have had the chance to participate in building the web in my lifetime.

Of course I am just one person among the millions that builds it, so I am humbled but also very proud of it.

I cannot think of a single invention in human's history that federated so many people together as the web, and it is beautiful.

The web became popular to mainstream culture a few years later. Although I'd been using arpnet for over a decade due to university access, I first encountered a "web browser" while working at Electronic Arts on the yet to be released 3D0 in '93 -'94.

However, nobody cared diddly squat about "the web", it was empty or nonsense like usenet forums. We only cared about was DOWNLOADING DOOM! Id software released Doom, it it was available as an "web download link". That was the initial reason everyone at E.A. got exposure to the web, to download Doom.

My dad co-owned a small company in the early 90s and they just got new computers but he convinced the rest of the owners that they needed to invest in serial network equipment “to share files”. In reality they ended up playing multiplayer Doom with it.

I have a 1992 edition of O'Reilly's The Whole Internet. The WWW merits a very short chapter in the vein of there's this new fangled thing that came out of CERN. (But, really, let's talk about Gopher.)

It’s kind of like where Bitcoin is at (mid-90s web). Most of general public has heard of it by now, of those using most just came because “get rich quick”, and meanwhile nobody really knows if it’s even useful.

By the time the web was as old as bitcoin is now, we were already the other side of the dot com boom/bust and Amazon had a market cap of $2.25B. The web changed everything very quickly.

Would it make sense to use this link? Which references December 1990 as the first web http server and http client browser/ editor life in cern?


Rather bizarre celebration.

Its honestly incredible, thinking that my father who I still consider to be young. Was born when the web didn't exist.

There is nothing that I can think of that comes close to such a huge change.

I remember feeling frustrated in 1997 as a kid when I uploaded an image via FTP and it was displayed all garbled on the web.

I emailed the academic network admin and he wrote me back that I have to set the mode to BINARY. :)

I hope that the web can get better if it is used creatively and positively. This will require those have it to give and share best practices to those who have not, if that makes sense.

Anyone remembers "the web is dead" articles by Wired from a few years ago?

Ah good times. No adblocker needed and a sophisticated audience :D

Not that much content either at least on the "web".

Just use ublock and no-script add-ons in your browser.

Obligatory TimBL (as he was 30 years ago) and V. Cerf pic: https://qph.fs.quoracdn.net/main-qimg-656d4d361de6a7fc4104cc...

I remember when someone walked into my office about 27 years ago (in 1993) and showed me NCSA Mosaic on SunOS. I was mesmerized.

And my productivity hasn't been the same since.

The web is very fascinating space for me. Back in university years I started to realize how much powerful is web. One doesn't have to buy a lot of book in order to learn new things. It's just amazing.

And yet I am a bit pessimistic about the future of the web, in the beginning we all hoped it will created new space, where we will be able to freely speak and share our thoughts, in fact today's web turns into a space where surveillance has become a standard.

The web was created for people, not for capitalists.

The web was created for people, and capitalists are also people.

I remember using akebono.Stanford.edu

looks like yesterday I used BBS's to outdial to the web :'-) +++ ATZ

Wasn’t it back in November?


Could you please stop posting unsubstantive comments to Hacker News? We're trying for something different here.


I doubt that this was the first website and webserver. Just the first HTTP server.

Previously GOPHER did exist, also with multimedia extensions to view videos and images, and other/better types of webservers, eg. Microcosm, Memex, Xandru, Dexter or esp. Hyper-G via the HTP protocol (Hyper Text Protocol) or just via emacs. Hyper-G servers had link consistency and clients had embedded search. But worse and free was better, Hyper-G and Microcosm were proprietary.

First Hyper-G installation around 1989 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/220349551_The_Hyper...


By definition, the "web" is HTTP. Of course there were files hosted on servers prior to the WWW. Including direct predecessors such as, as you mention, Gopher. But they weren't the web.

Nope, you mix that up with WWW.

I browsed the web before CERN published their HTTP server and clients. E.g. the newsgroups were called Internet long before. The Web was the abbrevation of Internet.

WWW was the multimedia enriched variant of the web, with a XML format and a state-less server. State-less on purpose, in constrast to the existing stateful servers those days, with proper login and the server keeping each clients state. This didn't scale, so the worse and simplier WWW technology succeeded. Cookies had to be invented to catch up.

Not really, Web has always been the third W on WWW, aka "World Wide Web".

The term "WorldWideWeb" was coined by Robert Cailliau, a colleague of Tim Berners-Lee in CERN.

I've never seen your definition being used before, even by Gopher or Usenet enthusiasts.

I actually just looked at my 1992 copy of The Whole Internet from O'Reilly. The World Wide Web (WWW) is very specifically used to refer to the CERN project and not Gopher et al.

"The World-Wide Web, or WWW, is the newest information service to arrive on the Internet."

That the web is conflated with the internet in many minds doesn't mean they actually are the same thing.

I've always equated "web" with HTTP, but is it correct to define it more broadly, inclusive of things like GOPHER? Basically anything with hypertext?

No, he's confused. I was an early Internet user (starting in 1990) and nobody referred to it as the "web" before HTTP and the first web browser were available.

Gopher was probably dominant until 1993 or so when the first versions of Mosaic were available. I remember installing a version, probably in early 1994, on my Amiga and configuring SLIP to a local ISP at 9600 baud. It was truly amazing at the time.

I'm certainly not confused. I had the very first private "homepage" on our university Graz Hyper-G server before the WWW existed as such. Before the word homepage even existed. Maybe landing page or so. Or default index. I was an early usenet user in the mid 80ies, and browsed the "web", as it was called, before HTTP existed. Prof Maurer was my neighbor. I browsed via our own client and via Emacs, which had multimedia extensions. Didn't know about Project Xanadu then, which existed much earlier. CERN was major gopher center then, but mostly the internet was a web of ftp, email and usenet. The CERN gopher was far behind our services, and the early WWW servers and clients ditto. We had a VR walkthrough client on the web, before the WWW had videos. It was at CERN that I gave a public conference talk, a CAD conference, about the Internet as we knew it in the early 90ies. The CERN had an extremely annoying and broken Novell network. It felt years behind our big university networks.

It was truly amazing already before the WWW existed. But the WWW made that available to the common folks, not just to a few privileged. Just that you didn't knew it, didn't mean it didn't exist. CERN needed a multimedia web to share CAD drawings with annotations, descriptions and links, which exceeded ftp and README. I was one of the worldwide leading CAD experts then. We shared our CAD drawings and knowledge on our Hyper-G web, and had a HTTP bridge. Hyper-G was created as multimedia teaching device, to present enriched hypertext to students. Also via modem dialup, the mupid, similar to the other huge internet community in France, which was a successful BBS-like community, country-wide. Much more advanced than anywhere else. Everybody had it.

Then eventually we got annoyed in our walled garden and broke out to the free WWW. Mosaic, Netscape, Apache. The French ditto. And the BBS and Fidonet users elsewhere. This was called the WWW then, worldwide, not our little university or country webs anymore.

I believe all of this, but sorry, it wasn't called the web until HTTP and the first web browser arrived.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25486838.

And what a mess it is compared to then.

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