During 1970’s standardized PCs running standardized software brought a big benefit for businesses: computers could be linked together into networks to share information. At Xerox PARC in 1973, electrical engineer Bob Metcalfe developed a new way of linking computers “through the ether” (empty space) that he called Ethernet. A few years later, Metcalfe left Xerox to form his own company, 3Com, to help companies realize “Metcalfe’s Law”: computers become useful the more closely connected they are to other people’s computers. As more and more companies explored the power of local area networks (LANs), so, as the 1980s progressed, it became clear that there were great benefits to be gained by connecting computers over even greater distances—into so-called wide area networks (WANs).
Today, the best known WAN is the Internet—a global network of individual computers and LANs that links up hundreds of millions of people. The history of the Internet is another story, but it began in the 1960s when four American universities launched a project to connect their computer systems together to make the first WAN. Later, with funding for the Department of Defense, that network became a bigger project called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). In the mid-1980s, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) launched its own WAN called NSFNET. In the 1980s convergence of all these networks produced what we now call the Internet. Shortly afterward, the power of networking gave British computer programmer Tim Berners-Lee his big idea: to combine the power of computer networks with the information-sharing idea Vannevar Bush had proposed in 1945. Thus, was born the World Wide Web—an easy way of sharing information over a computer network.
When the original idea for www was developed and millions of computers were being connected through the fast-developing internet and Berners-Lee realized they could share information by exploiting an emerging technology called hypertext.
In March 1989, Tim laid out his vision for what would become the web in a document called “Information Management: A Proposal”.
By October of 1990, he had written the three fundamental technologies that remain the foundation of today’s web:
- HTML: HyperText Markup Language. The markup (formatting) language for the web.
- URI: Uniform Resource Identifier. A kind of “address” that is unique and used to identify to each resource on the web. It is also commonly called a URL.
- HTTP: Hypertext Transfer Protocol. Allows for the retrieval of linked resources from across the web.
Eventually, in April 1993, the underlying code for this would be available on a royalty-free basis, forever. This decision sparked a global wave of creativity, collaboration, and innovation never seen before. Tim Berners-Lee moved from CERN to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994 to found the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international community devoted to developing open web standards. He remains the Director of W3C to this day.