Shots All Around! The World Wide Web Is Now Old Enough to Drink

The World Wide Web can buy a drink! But the World Wide Web cannot rent a car.

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Twenty-one years ago, Tim Berners-Lee published the first webpage. Web page, in the parlance the time. This was part of a project Berners-Lee had embarked on while working at CERN, and it really was just a project: a protocol for linking documents via hypertext, one effort among many that researchers and computer scientists were experimenting with in their desire to stay connected.

The web's roots can be traced back as far as the 1980s, when Berners-Lee developed his hyptertext-based Enquire software at CERN; in 1989, he got the green light from his boss for a side project that that would devise a way to link information and to scale those links. Using a NeXT cube computer -- the cutting-edge machine designed by Steve Jobs's NeXT, Inc. -- Berners-Lee put the finishing touches on a protocol that would use hypertext (a concept that had been around since 1963) as the basis of file-sharing on the Internet (which had been around for nearly as long). The point was to make information not only connected, but accessible in its connectivity. To make his protocol workable, Berners-Lee also developed the world's first browser. And, for that matter, its first server. 

On August 6, 1991, Berners-Lee went public with his creation, publishing the web's first content to the address http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html. The page, in a manner that was both pragmatic and appropriately recursive, featured information about the web, via the web. It also -- appropriately -- asked its readers for help in its own development. On the page, Berners-Lee described the invention, which he nicknamed W3, as "a wide-area hypermedia information retrieval initiative aiming to give universal access to a large universe of documents." It contained a linked question for readers: "How can I help?"

Here's the World Wide Web Consortium's post-facto recreation of that bare-bones web page -- complete, charmingly and prophetically, with a typo. (The double-periods! Awesome.) The image is a screen cap, cut off at the right side for legibility purposes; you can see the full page, and follow its hyperlinks, here.

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The first web page, containing information about the web, on the web (W3.org)

So that's all to say: Wow, the World Wide Web is 21! 

But that's also to say: Wow, the world wide web is only 21! In human years -- in the U.S., at any rate -- the web can drive a car. It can vote. It can drink. But it can't yet rent a car. It can't yet run for Congress. It probably shouldn't buy a home or have kids or settle on a career path. It is young, and it is ambitious, and it is sometimes foolish, and it is still figuring things out. And that's okay -- because it has its whole life still ahead of it.

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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