Over the weekend we saw the twentieth anniversary of the first website ever to be published.
A young scientist at CERN named Tim Berners-Lee worked on a better way to communicate and share research information stored on various computers through the CERN facility. The result was a browser and editor that could enable the sharing of information through a common hypertext language. This was the very first website, but certainly not the last.
Over the last twenty years we have witnessed the explosion of the World Wide Web as we know it today. I remember using the first popular web browser, called Mosaic back in 1993 because my undergraduate university in the US was a super computing facility for the government. That meant that we had faster access to the Internet – or the very beginnings of the technological infrastructure that the web uses to deliver all of our emails, websites, and other media.
It was astonishing. Suddenly I could communicate with my friends at other universities because we all had email addresses – something not easily attainable back in 1993.
Then the Internet bubble happened out in Silicon Valley. Many of us mid-1990s graduates from universities flocked to San Francisco to make our (not so big) fortune in the next and greatest gold rush for California. That was truly an extraordinary time.
Though the bubble eventually burst and the end came for the first round of the digital economy (thanks to 9/11) the lessons from that time were well learned. We were in a new age of information, content, and entertainment. Things would never be the same again.
Websites ruled the roost so to speak in what is now called web 1.0. Sites like Yahoo! built strategies based on content acquisition while Google created an easier and better way to search the web. Ebay was created to find new ways to trade with others online while companies like Netscape tried to make it all happen through bigger and better browsers. This was a time without the worries of web blocking or expense of data plans for our smart phones.
And then came web 2.0 some time around 2003/4. This was when content was even more important than before. Suddenly, having a home on the web wasn’t as important as individual and user generated content or quick access to music (thanks to iTunes) and communications of various kinds. Skype happened – or rather is still happening – and so did the rise of the web app. Soon this morphed into mobile apps and real time browsing; the sky really is now the limit.
We have the very first website to thank for all of this. Experimentation with what layout or content meant happened quickly. As users we figured out how much we hated – and still hate – pop ups and how we prefer cleaner, easier to read design over very visual and detailed websites. The user experience and how we, as users, consume information became just as important as what we were consuming.
Of course, there are others who hold pessimistic views on the so called destructive impact of the internet on our culture and the economy, not to mention the role it has played in facilitating the work of extremist groups (not least in Iraq and Afghanistan). Likewise, it has given birth to entirely new security threats such as cyber warfare and cyber crime, which were mere figments of science-fiction some two decades ago.
But we live in we live in amazing digital times there is a great deal to be excited about.
In the UK, the start up scene is growing by leaps and bounds. Kids growing up today in the UK who weren’t even alive when Sir Tim was working at CERN are developing new ways to use open data. Moreover, there are constant advances in areas like tele-medicine to online emergency services and, of course, we can communicate with our friends and family world wide without delay.
So let’s celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the first website. Thanks to that very simple way of sharing information across computers we have the growth of the digital economy that is enabling new ideas, solutions for old problems and really everything in between.
Dominique Lazanski spent over 10 years in the Internet industry in Silicon Valley and works for the TaxPayers' Alliance in the United Kingdom. She tweets at @dml