By Daven Hiskey
Daven Hikey is an author at Today I Found Out.
Today I found out what the first website ever made was. Simply put, it was a website made by the World Wide Web’s creator Tim Berners-Lee, who was working for CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research).
The first ever website was published on August 6, 1991, and served up a page explaining the World Wide Web project and giving information on how users could setup a web server and how to create their own websites and web pages, as well as how they could search the web for information. The URL for the first ever web page put up on the first ever website was http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html
This link is no longer active and, unfortunately, nobody bothered to make a copy of this original page, which tended to be updated daily anyway. The earliest version of it that was recorded was in 1992 and a copy of that page can be found here.
The first ever web browser, called WorldWideWeb, was also created by Tim Berners-Lee. This browser had a nice graphical user interface; allowed for multiple fonts and font sizes; allowed for downloading and displaying images, sounds, animations, movies, etc.; and had the ability to let users edit the web pages being viewed in order to promote collaboration of information. However, this browser only ran on NeXT Step’s OS, which most people didn’t have because of the high cost of these systems (this company was owned by Steve Jobs, so you can imagine the cost bloat
In order to provide a browser anyone could use, the next browser he developed was much simpler and, thus, versions of it could be quickly developed to be able to run on just about any computer, pretty much regardless of processing power or operating system. It was a bare-bones online browser (command line/text only), which didn’t have most of the features of his original browser, but at least could be used on pretty much any computer out there at the time and allowed people to access the information on the web.
The first web server was also written by Tim Berners-Lee called CERN HTTPd, the latter part standing for “Hypertext Transfer Protocol daemon”. For those not familiar, a daemon is simply a program that more or less runs in the background on a system doing whatever it is programmed to do; in this case, listening for and responding to requests for web pages that exist on the machine it is running on; thus this daemon would be called a “server”.
- Tim Berners-Lee initially proposed a project that would later become the web in 1980. Nobody bit on the idea, so much later he decided to do it himself and wrote a more detailed proposal for the web in March of 1989 and then yet another proposal in November of 1990 with the help of Robert Cailliau; this one was finally accepted. These proposals outlined building a system based on “Hypertext”, with documents being able to link with other documents on this “web” and these documents being able to be viewed through a client browser. This system would then run on top of the already existing internet. In the original proposal, he also wanted all pages to be editable by users so that the authorship of these pages would be universal, with everybody contributing their knowledge.
- What made this system unique from existing systems of the day was the marriage of the hypertext system (linked pages) with the internet; particularly the marriage of one directional links that didn’t require any action by the owner of the destination page to make it work as with bi-directional hyper text systems of the day. It also vastly simplified the development of web servers and web browsers and was a completely open platform making it so anyone could contribute and develop their own systems without paying any royalties. In the process of doing all this, he developed the URL format, hypertext markup language (HTML), and the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP).
- Around this same time, one of the most popular alternatives to the web (and indeed much more popular than the web at that time), the Gopher system, announced it would no longer be free to use, effectively killing it with everybody switching to the web. (nice move Gopher people, you almost changed the world, but got greedy near the finish line ;-))
- A mere one month after his 1990 proposal was accepted, Berners-Lee had built the first web browser, first web server, and written the first web pages, which he subsequently put online and made available for public consumption.
- The “//” forward slashes in any web address actually serve no real purpose according to Berners-Lee. He only put them in because “it seemed like a good idea at the time.” He wanted a way to separate the part the web server needed to know about, for instance, “www.todayifoundout.com”, from the other stuff which is more service oriented. Basically, he didn’t want to have to worry about knowing what service the particular website was using at a particular link when creating a link in a web page. “//” seemed natural, as it would to anyone who’s used Unix based systems. In retrospect though, this was not at all necessary, so the “//” are essentially pointless.
- He chose the “#” for separating the main part of a document’s URL with the portion that tells what part of the page to go to, because in the United States and some other countries, if you want to specify an address of an individual apartment or suite in a building, you classically precede the suite or apartment number with a “#”. So the structure is “street name and number #suite number”; thus “page URL #location in page”.
- A similar logical thought process was used by the inventor of email, Ray Tomlinson, when he selected the “@” symbol to separate the person’s address with the domain; it seemed natural to say, for instance, “ray at tomlinson.com”.
- Most people use the terms “World Wide Web” or just “web” and “internet” interchangeably, even though these are two very different things. Simply put, the internet is a global network of networks of computers; the web is simply one of the many services available on the internet, providing facilities for accessing and connecting documents and other files available on the internet.
- Berners-Lee chose the name “World Wide Web” because he wanted to emphasize that, in this global hypertext system, anything could link to anything else. Alternative names he considered were: “Mine of Information” (Moi); “The Information Mine” (Tim); and “Information Mesh” (which was discarded as it looked too much like “Information Mess”).
- Three of the commonly held “fathers” of the actual internet were Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, who developed the “Internet Protocol” (IP) which defines how packets of a file are to be sent from one machine to another through the internet, and Paul Mockapetris, who developed the Domain Name System (DNS) which, very simply put, maps domain names to IP addresses. Though these three are some of the more famous developers of the internet, there were many others and the original internet from concept to working implementation took about 10 years, starting around 1973 and brought fully online officially around 1983, with some earlier demonstrations such as in 1977 linking SATNET, PRNET, and ARPANET.
- The concept of packet switching itself, which is integral to the Internet Protocol (IP), was invented by Paul Barran.
- What the IP protocol essentially does is provide a way for packets of information to be sent from one computer to another through the vast internet. Essentially, the packet is like a piece of mail where you’ve put the address on it; the IP protocol then is used by computers on the internet to determine, basically, what wires to send a packet through that will eventually get the packet to the computer it is addressed to.
- The first ever domain registered was Symbolics.com on March 15, 1985. It was registered by the Symbolics Computer Corp. Since that time, well over 200 million domains have been registered, about half of which are registered with the “.com” extension.
- Berners-Lee’s original browser was also an editor. His goal here was to allow people to not only browse the information available on the web but also be able to edit and add information to existing files, not unlike wiki’s, such as Wikipedia.
- Ironically, pronouncing “www” as individual letters “double-u double-u double-u” takes three times as many syllables as simply saying “World Wide Web”. So, as Douglas Adams famously noted, the shortened version of the phrase takes a lot longer to say than the actual phrase.
- If you ever wondered about the proper way to write the phrase “World Wide Web”, Berners-Lee says, “World Wide Web is officially spelt as three separate words, each capitalized, with no intervening hyphens.”
- Most web addresses begin with “www” because of the traditional practice of naming a server according to the service it provides. So outside of this practice, there is no real reason for any website URL to need to put a “www” before the domain name; the administrators of whatever website can set it to put anything they want preceding the domain or nothing at all. This is why, as time goes on, more and more websites have adopted allowing only putting the domain name itself and assuming the user wants to access the web service instead of some other service the machine itself may provide. Thus, the web itself has more or less become the “default” service (generally on port 80) on most service hosting machines on the internet.
- While the “www” is merely on convention and not strictly necessary, “http://” and “https://” specify two different protocols, one secure and one not, and thus one or the other must be included.
- The first non-British based web server was setup in the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) in December 1991.
- By November of 1992, there were 26 web servers running in the world. By October of 1993, there were about 200 web servers in the world. Today there are millions.
- Also today, there are an estimated 110 million websites available on the internet with well over 1 trillion unique URLs, according to members of the Google Search team.
- The web’s growth was at first fairly slow until the introduction of the Mosaic web browser in 1993. This was a graphical browser developed by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois. Funding for this was through a U.S. government initiative, specifically the “High-Performance Computing and Communications Act of 1991”.
- This act was initiated by Al Gore, which is what he was saying in the Wolf Blitzer interview where many claims he said he invented the internet. Even though his actual quote simply said, “I took the initiative in creating the Internet”, as in he introduced the initiative. This sentence, taken out of context, caused confusion over the context of the word “initiative” and allowed opponents to construe that he said he invented the internet, which isn’t what he was saying at all when viewed in context. Ironically, his opponents were actually right though, in a way; he is lying in the above statement. He is saying he introduced the initiative which led to the creation of the internet; in fact, the internet and the web are two very different things. He simply introduced the initiative that funded the web browser (and some other advancements in the internet itself) that helped make the web popular. The internet had been around long before these initiatives.
- Prior to Mosaic’s launch, the web was much less popular than other much older protocols for dealing with files on the internet, such as Gopher and Wide Area Information Servers (WAIS).
- One of the most important things about Mosaic was it was very easy for everyday users to install and use and the creators offered 24-hour phone support to help people get it setup and working on their systems. It also included the ability to view web pages with inline images (instead of in separate windows as other browsers at the time). Other than that though, it wasn’t nearly as advanced as some other browsers of the day. So really about all that set it apart was simply how easy it was to get setup and working for even people who weren’t particularly technically oriented.
- The first web server was run on a NeXT computer; this computer was also used by Berners-Lee to write the first web browser software.
- NeXT computers were relatively high-end workstations sold by Steve Job’s fledgeling company NeXT. NeXT computers ran a Unix-based NeXT STEP operation system, not too dissimilar to early versions of OSX. Job’s love for naming his product with trendy names was evident here as the NeXT machines were more commonly known as “The Cube”, due to the casing being a 1 ft x 1 ft x 1 ft die-cast magnesium cube. This computer was not commercially successful due to its relatively high price for what was offered. *looks at Macs*
- Apple purchased NeXT in 1996 for 429 Million dollars using the OpenStep OS as the foundation for OSX.
- Berners-Lee also founded the W3C at MIT. The W3C oversees the web’s continued development, setting standards and issuing recommendations on improvements to the web.
- Today, among a lot of other things, Berners-Lee is working on a project with the British government to provide, free to anyone, all data acquired for official uses by the UK Government at data.gov.uk.
- The “inline” console based browser developed by Berners-Lee was actually the first browser I ever used back in the seventh grade on one of my friend’s computers, who was also the only person I knew who had access to the internet itself. We used it to look up a directory of phone numbers on the web to prank call people a-la-Bart Simpson style. Not a bad “first usage” of the web for me, if I do say so myself.
- 1990 not only saw the first website go online but also saw the Hubble Space Telescope set in orbit by the space shuttle Discovery.
Featured image: Flickr